In the 20th Century, the phrase “domino effect” brought to mind the spread of communism to vulnerable states.
Today, a popular anti-government uprising in Tunisia has turned that phrase on its head, as protesters throughout the Middle East have begun rising up against their governments in support of more democratic reforms.
Once Egypt’s populace became inspired by events in Tunisia and rose up against the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak, news and political pundits took to the airwaves, guessing who will be next. The truth is, no one can possibly know, just like no one knew that an enraged Tunisian fruit vendor from a rural town who lit himself on fire in frustration against government policies would inspire millions to take to the streets in protest of government policies and economic duress.
Below is a list with information on the major countries in and close to the Middle East region, many of whom could be vulnerable to popular uprisings similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt.
Special Section: Anger in the Arab World
There are some notable states missing, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, because a continued, large-scale U.S. military presence in each of those countries presents a different and more complicated set of variables. Additionally, most of the smaller actors in the region – like Djibouti, Eritrea and Qatar – were left off the list due to limited information or a high-level of stability.
Most of the country data was taken from the latest CIA World Factbook, which contains mostly 2010 estimates. News reports supplemented the rest of the information.
Population – 25,731,776; Arab 90 percent, Afro-Asian 10 percent; Median Age is 25.
Duration of Current Government – Run by King and Prime Minister Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud since August 2005. The country has been run by the Al Saud monarchy since 1932.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Monarchy; everyday law based on Sharia law, but several secular codes have been introduced; commercial disputes handled by special committees.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $622.5 billion (world rank is 23); Per capita GDP is $24,200 (world rank is 55); unemployment rate of 10..8 percent (world rank is 119; unofficial unemployment rate of 25 percent); world’s largest oil reserves.
Political/Popular Unrest – The government held elections nationwide for the first time in 2005 for half the members of 179 municipal councils. The rest were appointed by King Abdallah. There are occasional terrorist attacks, but the monarchy is firmly in control of its populace, for now. While the government pursues economic reform and diversification, there is little talk of truly democratizing Saudi Arabia.
After Tunisia’s uprising, there was at least one copycat self-immolation, in addition to some reports of protests, but their size and affect was limited, at best.
King Abdallah said protests in Egypt were instigated by “infiltrators,” who “in the name of freedom of expression, have infiltrated into the brotherly people of Egypt, to destabilize its security. (Protesters had been) exploited to spew out their hatred in destruction . . . inciting a malicious sedition.”
Population – 6,407,085; Arab 98 percent, Circassian 1 percent, Armenian 1 percent; Median Age is 22.
Duration of Current Government – Run by King Abdallah II since 1999. King Abdallah II is the son of King Hussein, who ruled from 1953 to 1999.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Constitutional monarchy; based on Islamic law and French codes; judicial review of legislative acts in a specially provided High Tribunal.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $33.79 billion (world rank is 103); Per capita GDP is $5,300 (world rank is 142); unemployment rate of 13 percent (world rank is 132; unofficial unemployment rate is 30 percent).
Political/Popular Unrest – Since taking the throne, King Abdallah II has adeptly parlayed Jordan’s strategic regional importance to curry favor with Arab and Western states and help consolidate his power. However, after thousands inspired by the Egypt uprising took to the streets protesting rising food prices and the current government, King Abdallah sacked his prime minister and cabinet. The difference between Egypt and Jordan, however, was the protesters in Jordan said they do not want to overthrow their king, just kick out Prime Minister Samir Rifai.
King Abdullah promised immediate revision to the laws of Jordan after the protests, and said the task of the new government is to “undertake quick and tangible steps for real political reforms. (Economic reform is also a) necessity to provide a better life for our people, but we won’t be able to attain that without real political reforms, which must increase popular participation in the decision-making. (The new government must undertake a) comprehensive assessment … to correct the mistakes of the past.”
Population – 22,198,110; Arab 90.3 percent, Kurds, Armenians, and other 9.7 percent; Median Age is 22.
Duration of Current Government – Run by President Bashar al-Assad since being approved by popular referendum in July, 2000. Bashar’s father, Hafiz al-Assad, had run the country since seizing power in a bloodless coup in 1970.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Republic under an authoritarian regime; Everyday law based on a combination of French and Ottoman civil law; Islamic law is used in the family court system.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $106.4 billion (world rank is 68); Per capita GDP is $4,800 (world rank is 152); unemployment rate of 8.3 percent (world rank is 95).
Political/Popular Unrest – Clashes between Arabs and ethnic Kurds have occurred occasionally for years but are not widespread. Syria has long been accused of being directly involved (some say lethally influencing) the political unrest in Lebanon, with Iran’s help. Although President Bashar and his security forces are firmly in control of the country, opposition figures have grown bolder since the Tunisian uprising. The uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt forced Bashar to officially call for reforms, some say for the first time, in order to head off mass protests. However, Bashar remains convinced that Syria is immune to similar uprisings.
Bashar said the Middle East is beginning “a new era, but it did not start now. It started with the Iranian revolution. What is new is that it is happening inside independent countries in the Arab world. Syria is stable although it has more difficult conditions than Egypt, which enjoys financial support from the United States while Syria is under embargo by most countries of the world.”
Population – 23,495,361; predominantly Arab, but also some Afro-Arab, South Asians, Europeans; Median Age is 18.
Duration of Current Government – Run by President Ali Abdallah Saleh since 1990, when Yemen officially took its current form after being divided in two since 1967.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Republic under an authoritarian regime; Everyday law based on Islamic law, Turkish law, English common law, and local tribal customary law.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $61.9 billion (world rank is 85); Per capita GDP is $2,600 (world rank is 174); unemployment rate of 35 percent (world rank is 185).
Political/Popular Unrest – Regime change will be challenging for any protesters as President Saleh curries much favor among Western governments. The Tunisian uprising has sparked protests by thousands throughout this largely very poor country, forcing the government to call for dialogue with opposition leaders. Yemen is also alleged to be fertile ground for Al Qaeda, who have launched attacks on the West from within its poorly policed borders, as well as occasionally against Western targets within its borders.
After calling for dialogue with the demonstraters, a statement from Yemen’s ruling party said: “We call for stopping media propagandas and urge all political parties to work together to make the dialogue a success and arrange for the upcoming elections well, the committee added. Furthermore, we urge an end to protests that ignite dissent and to avoid dragging the country into conflict or sedition, as we urge to better use rights including freedom of expression.”
Population – 7,353,985; Jewish 76.4 percent, non-Jewish 23.6 percent (mostly Arab); Median Age is 29.
Duration of Current Government – Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Parliamentary democracy; Everyday law is a mixture of English common law, British Mandate regulations, and in personal matters Jewish, Christian, and Muslim legal systems.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $217.1 billion (world rank is 51); Per capita GDP is $29,500 (world rank is 47); unemployment rate of 6.4 percent (world rank is 60).
Political/Popular Unrest – Israel’s democracy itself is relatively stable, frequently holding free and fair elections. However, Egypt, and specifically Mubarak, has been a close ally in negotiating truces and peace settlements with various Palestinian and Arab rulers. Israeli leaders fear the unrest in Egypt will most likely strengthen anti-Israeli factions in the Gaza Strip, who wage an ongoing war against Israel.
Israeli President Shimon Peres said “we always have had and still have a great respect (for Mubarak.) I don’t say everything that he did was right, but he did one thing for which all of us are thankful to him: He kept the peace in the Middle East.”
West Bank and Gaza Strip
Population – Gaza Strip – 1,604,238; almost entirely Palestinian Arab; Median Age is 18. West Bank – 2,514,845; Palestinian Arab and other 83 percent, Jewish 17 percent; Median Age is 21.
Duration of Current Government – The Gaza Strip has been run by the extremist Islamic group Hamas since 2007; exact leadership is unclear, but it is rumored to be heavily influenced by Syria, Iran and the Lebanon-based extremist group Hezbollah. The West Bank has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and their president has been Mahmoud Abbas since 2007.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – The Gaza Strip’s rule of law is unclear, but most likely follows some strict form of Islamic law. The West Bank is under the control of the more secular PA, which was designed to be an interim administrative authority decades ago.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $12.8 billion (world rank is 141); Per capita GDP is $2,900 (world rank is 170); unemployment rate of 16.5 percent (world rank is 157).
Political/Popular Unrest – Since the two Palestinian territories split in 2007 after fierce fighting between Hamas and the PA, Hamas has largely focused on fighting Israel; the Egypt-Gaza border has been a huge supply route for weapons in that fight. Politically, however, there has been little turmoil in either Palestinian territory since 2007. For now, both the PA and Hamas have largely been silent about Egypt’s turmoil, waiting to see which side wins. Hamas and the PA have violently disbursed demonstrations in their territories in support of Egypt’s protestors. Food shortages in the Gaza Strip could make it fertile ground for popular uprisings.
President Abbas told Mubarak in a phone call after protests began that he affirmed the Palestinian people’s solidarity with the leadership and people of Egypt, expressing confidence that Egypt will overcome these delicate circumstances and restore calm and stability.
Population – 77,804,122; Turkish 70-75 percent, Kurdish 18 percent, other minorities 7-12 percent; Median Age is 28
Duration of Current Government – Led by President Abdullah Gul since 2007.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Republican parliamentary democracy; Everyday law is a civil law system derived from various European legal systems.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $958.3 billion (world rank is 17); Per capita GDP is $12,300 (world rank is 95); unemployment rate of 12.4 percent (world rank is 131).
Political/Popular Unrest – Turkey has been beset by many periods of instability and intermittent military coups since its official inception in 1923. Much of the internal strife is over attempted Kurdish secession and the rise of hard-line Muslim groups. However, it is a largely secular, democratic government, for now. Over the past decade, it has undertaken many reforms to strengthen its democracy and economy. Egypt’s unrest is unlikely to affect Turkey’s government too much. Instead, it may boost Turkey’s growing role as a leading international conflict negotiator.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “For the sake of Egypt Mr. Mubarak must take the first step. He must do something to instigate change. Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change.”
Population – 2,967,717; Mostly Arab, also some Baluchi, Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, African; Median Age is 24
Duration of Current Government – Led by Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al-Said since 1970. The sultan took power after overthrowing the restrictive rule of his father.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Monarchy; Everyday law is based on English common law and Islamic law; ultimate appeal lies with the sultan.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $76.5 billion (world rank is 80); Per capita GDP is $25,800 (world rank is 52); unemployment rate of 15 percent (world rank is 151).
Political/Popular Unrest – Oman imports many foreign workers, and has experienced several bouts of unrest in recent years from them when unemployment rises. Mideast watchers said Egypt’s unrest could spread to Oman. However, the sultanate has very good relations with the west, especially Britain, and usually uses firm security measures to dispel demonstrators before they can gain any real momentum.
Population – 6,461,454; Berber and Arab 97 percent, other 3 percent; Median Age is 24
Duration of Current Government – Run by Col. Muammar Abu Minyar al-Qaddafi since he staged a successful coup in 1969.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Jamahiriya (a state of the masses) which, in theory, is a combination of socialism and Islamic law whereby the state is governed by the populace through local councils; in practice, it is an authoritarian state. Everyday law is based on Italian and French civil law systems and Islamic law; separate religious courts; no constitutional provision for judicial review of legislative acts.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $89 billion (world rank is 74); Per capita GDP is $13,800 (world rank is 84); unemployment rate of 30% (world rank is 181).
Political/Popular Unrest – A recently leaked diplomatic cable claims Qaddafi has created a decadent, money-hungry family dynasty. Considering his western neighbor is Tunisia, and his eastern neighbor is Egypt, it is no wonder the Libyan leader has loudly supported the reviled rulers of those two countries. Since Qaddafi took power, there have been brief protests throughout the country, usually over the availability, or lack thereof, of services, but Qaddafi has always been quick to use his military to squash them.
Qaddafi said he was “pained” by the protests and the fall of the Tunisian government. He claimed protesters had been led astray by WikiLeaks disclosures detailing the corruption in Ben Ali’s family and his repressive regime. The leaked cables were written by “ambassadors in order to create chaos.”
Population – 34,586,184; Arab-Berber 99 percent, European less than 1 percent; Median Age is 27
Duration of Current Government – Run by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika since 1999 with the backing of the military.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Republic; Everyday rule of law is socialist, based on French and Islamic law; judicial review of legislative acts is ad hoc Constitutional Council composed of various public officials including several Supreme Court justices.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $254.7 billion (world rank is 48); Per capita GDP is $7,400 (world rank is 127); unemployment rate of 9.9 percent (world rank is 110).
Political/Popular Unrest -After a bloody, decade-long secession battle against French colonialism ended in 1962, Algeria has been marked by repeated uprisings, military interventions and fraudulent elections. Much of it has been focused around the rise of Islamic hardliners, but terrible economic conditions and political corruption also have given rise to unrest, especially right now. Additionally, the country faces a growing Islamic extremist threat in its rural regions. The uprising in Tunisia sparked public protests throughout the country against President Bouteflika, who had the constitution changed to allow him to be elected to a third five-year term in 2009, in an election many observers declared fraudulent. He is considered very unpopular among the larger, poorer population of the country.
Population – 31,627,428; Arab-Berber 99.1 percent, other 0.7 percent, Jewish 0.2 percent; Median Age is 27
Duration of Current Government – Led by King Mohammed VI since 1999. The Alaouite dynasty, to which the current Moroccan royal family belongs, established a sultanate in Morocco beginning in the 17th century.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Constitutional monarchy; Everyday law is based on Islamic law and French and Spanish civil law systems; judicial review of legislative acts in Constitutional Chamber of Supreme Court.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $153.8 billion (world rank is 58); Per capita GDP is $4,900 (world rank is 148); unemployment rate of 9.8 percent (world rank is 109).
Political/Popular Unrest – Morocco’s monarchy has a firm grip over politics and the security forces and is quick to exercise control. However, King Mohammed’s cousin recently said in an interview that Morocco will probably not be spared the unrest sweeping the region because of economic conditions and the country’s authoritarian rule.
Population – 3,205,060; mixed Moor/black 40 percent, Moor 30 percent, black 30 percent; Median Age is 19
Duration of Current Government – General Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was elected president in 2009 after his military junta deposed the previously democratically elected civilian president.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Military junta; Everyday law is a combination of Islamic law and French civil law.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $6.8 billion (world rank is 152); Per capita GDP is $2,100 (world rank is 188); unemployment rate of 30 percent (world rank is 180).
Political/Popular Unrest – The country continues to experience ethnic tensions among its black population (Afro-Mauritanians) and white and black Moor (Arab-Berber) communities, and is having to confront a growing terrorism threat by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). After the Tunisian uprisings, there were cases of copycat self-immolations and sporadic protests, although the junta has been quick to squash discontent.
Population – 4,125,247; Arab 95 percent, Armenian 4 percent, other 1 percent; Median Age is 29
Duration of Current Government – Temporarily led by interim Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the Hezbollah-led opposition voted last month to have him replaced by Najib Mikati.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Republic; Everyday law is a mixture of Ottoman law, canon law, Napoleonic code, and civil law; the constitutional court reviews laws only after they have been passed.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $58.7 billion (world rank is 87); Per capita GDP is $14,200 (world rank is 83); unemployment rate NA.
Political/Popular Unrest – The current tempestuous political dispute in Lebanon revolves around a UN tribunal investigation into the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, Rafic Hariri, who was prime minister at the time. Many expect the tribunal to blame Hezbollah (defined by most Western countries as a terrorist group,) so Hezbollah has been seeking to politically delegitimize the tribunal by installing politicians who will reject it. There are persistent rumors of Syria’s and Iran’s support of Hezbollah, and international observers blame both for fomenting the Lebanon’s turmoil to their benefit. Additionally, the country has not fully recovered, emotionally or otherwise, from a brutal 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. Take the political disputes and combine them with tough economic conditions, and Lebanon is fertile ground for continual civil unrest into the near future.
Population – 76,923,300; Persian 51 percent, Azeri 24 percent, Gilaki and Mazandarani 8 percent, Kurd 7 percent, Arab 3 percent, Lur 2 percent, Baloch 2 percent, Turkmen 2 percent, other 1 percent; Median Age is 26
Duration of Current Government – Although the government has technically been led by democratically elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since 2005, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has been controlling state policy since 1989. He is elected by and answerable only to the Assembly of Experts, a deliberative body of 86 Islamic scholars.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Theocratic republic; Everyday law is based on the Sharia law system.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $863.5 billion (world rank is 19); Per capita GDP is $11,200 (world rank is 100); unemployment rate 14.6 percent (world rank is 146).
Political/Popular Unrest – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in summer of 2009 amid allegations of voter fraud to protest the reelection of conservative President Ahmadinejad. The demonstrations were violently stamped out by Iranian government forces, who also conducted mass arrests, the suspension of Internet and phone service and broad intimidation. Although calm recently, several news reports indicate opposition leaders are gathering and planning more protests after being inspired by the upheaval in Tunisia and Egypt.
However, Iran’s hard-line rulers have tried to take credit for the uprisings, calling them a replay of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said in a recent prayer sermon: “A new Middle East is emerging based on Islam … based on religious democracy.” Khatami added that Chants of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is Great,” from protesters signal a new Middle East based on Islamic values, not U.S. goals, is emerging.
Population – 43,939,598; black 52 percent, Arab 39 percent, Beja 6 percent, foreigners 2 percent, other 1 percent; Median Age is 18
Duration of Current Government – President Omar al-Bashir was eventually installed as president after helping lead a military coup in 1989.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Government of National Unity (the National Congress Party and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement formed a power-sharing government under the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement after a bloody civil war; the NCP, which came to power by military coup in 1989, was the majority partner; as part of the CPA, South Sudan voted recently to secede from the north; the division process is underway); Everyday law in the north is based on Sharia law, although there is some protection for non-Muslims living in the capital, Khartoum.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $98.8 billion (world rank is 71); Per capita GDP is $2,200 (world rank is 187); unemployment rate 18.7 percent (world rank is 163).
Political/Popular Unrest – Although the recent secession vote in South Sudan was peaceful, the Bashir government is allegedly still supporting violence against residents of the disputed Darfur region in the west. Additionally, the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt also recently inspired anti-government protestors in Khartoum, albeit in much smaller numbers. They were quickly beaten back by state security forces.
Population – 184,404,791; Punjabi 44.68 percent, Pashtun (Pathan) 15.42 percent, Sindhi 14.1 percent, Sariaki 8.38 percent, Muhajirs 7.57 percent, Balochi 3.57 percent, other 6.28 percent; Median Age is 21
Duration of Current Government – Asif Ali Zardari was elected president in parliamentary elections in 2008.
Constitution and the Rule of Law – Federal republic; Everyday law in the north is based on English common law with provisions to accommodate Pakistan’s status as an Islamic state.
Economic Indicators – Overall GDP is $451.2 billion (world rank is 28); Per capita GDP is $2,400 (world rank is 182); unemployment rate 15 percent (world rank is 150).
Political/Popular Unrest – Never mind that a large swath of the northwest of the country is out of the control of the central government, Islamic hard liners consistently spring attacks on the public, government officials and security forces. Most alarming, however, were last year’s devastating floods that left 11 million homeless. The Red Cross recently warned that food shortages caused by the floods could lead to revolts similar to what happened in Tunisia.CBS