A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Language Note: From the Midan to the Maidan

Some reporters who covered both events noted similarities between the protests in 2011 and after in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and the recent ones in Kiev's (or to be more Ukrainian nationalist about it, Kyiv's) Independence Square.

But there's a linguistic resemblance as well. Tahrir Square is, of course, Midan al-Tahrir (ميدان التحرير‎). (See my "Brief Biography of Tahrir Square," posted when Mubarak resigned). And Kiev's Independence Square is Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Майдан Незалежності), popularly called just "the Maidan." And the word has become shorthand for the protesters in the Maidan. (And "Euromaidan" has also been coined.)

Maydan is a word found from North Africa to India and on up into Central Asia. The origin, I think, is Persian, though some think it has an Arabic root, myd; at least it entered Arabic early and also Ottoman Turkish; the Ottomans spread it into the later Russian Empire and the Iranians into India and Central Asia.

My sense is that the original meaning was a large open space such as a military parade ground; it certainly meant that in Mamluk Egypt, but it came to mean any large outdoor open space, often replacing older words for square, for example. So the Midan and the Maidan are linked by more than contemporary protests.

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