Deserts in the Middle East have been crucial to our understanding of arid lands since the ancient Greek and Roman period if not before. Long viewed as a region that contained certain riches but that was hot, sandy/rocky and difficult for travel, key changes in western perceptions of Middle Eastern deserts took place during eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These changes (which cast deserts as deforested, overgrazed spaces) were driven by geopolitics, political economy and imperialism as much as by developments in natural history. As a result of European interactions with the Ottoman Empire and other parts of the Middle East, deserts came to be equated with mismanagement resulting in desertification. Advancements in arid lands ecology, however, undermine these common understandings of deserts around the world and instead point to new ways of living sustainably in the highly variable arid lands of our globe.