The Middle East and North Africa Region has probably recovered more strongly than other regions of the world from the financial crisis, thanks to the dynamics of oil prices. However, the outbreak of the Arab Spring, motivated also by economic grievances, suggests that the impact of the world economic crisis in the region is probably deeper than imagined. Despite growth and increasing investments, unemploy-ment in the region is persistent, due on the one side to the growing population on the other side to rising inequality and ineffective management of the economy (rentier state).
After saying for months that all Iranian presidential hopefuls were the same, foreign observers are falling over themselves in fine-tuning the special features of the successful candidate, Hassan Rohani. Indeed, Rohani’s profile confirms that Iran’s politics are more complex and nuanced than is normally depicted in Western media. Iran’s new president can be safely labelled as a moderate conservative; but what does this mean, and how to deal with the new government in Tehran?
In a changing Middle East, the Gulf monarchies have emerged as increasingly proactive players. Over the last decade, they have diversified their interests and relations, while deepening their cultural and economic penetration, particularly in the other Arab countries. The steady increase of the hydrocarbon prices has been a significant source of wealth for these countries, allowing them to maintain sustained economic growth rates. Paired with high public expenditure, the Gulf countries are able to make important investment in key sectors both domestically and abroad. However, the spark of the Arab Spring has revealed the deep fragility of the Middle East conservative systems. The Gulf monarchies also faced internal protests and crises, as was seen in Bahrain. To counter such threats, the monarchies adopted a very conservative – and even reactionary – approach towards the unrest within the GCC, also allocating substantial financial incentives to buy off any potential discontent. Furthermore, the Gulf Sheikhdoms faced a set of challenges stemming from the regional turmoil. Nonetheless, the recent wave of changes experienced by the region brought a series of opportunities. Thanks to the significant economic resources at their disposal, the Gulf monarchies have increased their geopolitical weight and influence especially toward the Arab countries in transition. At the regional level their relations with Turkey have gained new momentum and have found new areas of convergence, while on the international stage, the Gulf rulers are developing deep ties with East and south Asia expected to grow substantially in the coming decades.
Iraqis celebrated the “Arab spring” that changed the regimes of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen. But they are divided about the protests and uprisings in Bahrain and Syria. On the surface, it seems that this is merely a reflection of the sectarian divide in Iraq’s society and politics, or of external influence on Iraq’s politicians, be it from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or wherever.