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A region on the edge

A region on the edge

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Published by: chicagotribune on Feb 06, 2011
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A region on the edge

By Adam Zoll and Max Rust

The source of much of the world's oil, the Middle East has been roiled in recent weeks by a surge of protests against entrenched regimes, most notably an uprising against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. For the protesters, the argument is for a more democratic government and economic improvement. But for the United States, which has built longstanding relationships with some of these regimes, any change could significantly alter the future – and not necessarily in ways friendly to Washington.

While the economy, income inequality and corruption are problems, it is one of the region’s more open democracies, providing a political outlet for discontent. Pop.: 31.6 million Median age: 26.5 Literacy rate: 52.3% GDP per capita: $4,900 Unemployment: 9.8% Corruption rank: 85 Government: Constitutional monarchy Leader: King Mohammed VI since 1999

The popular overthrow of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14, sparked by an ailing economy, provided the inspiration for uprisings in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere. Pop.: 10.6 million Median age: 29.7 Literacy rate: 74.3% GDP per capita: $9,500 Unemployment: 14% Corruption rank: 59 Government: Republic Leader: Fouad Mebazaa (interim president)

Palestinian territories
A body politic already divided between Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, could see fallout from the turmoil in neighboring Egypt. Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and cooperation in the blockade of Gaza are among key issues to be determined. Pop.: 4.1 million Median age: 19.6 Literacy rate: 92.4% GDP per capita: $2,900 Unemployment: 16.5%

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out in support of Egyptian protesters last week, urging Mubarak to resign. Turkey’s economy is growing, and it is among the region’s most stable countries. Pop.: 77.8 million Median age: 28.1 Literacy rate: 87.4% GDP per capita: $12,300 Unemployment: 12.4% Corruption rank: 56 Government: Republican parliamentary democracy Leader: President Abdullah Gul since 2007

High unemployment and persistent high poverty have given rise to a protest movement against Syria’s authoritarian government. Demonstrations planned for this weekend will be watched closely. Pop.: 22.2 million Median age: 21.5 Literacy rate: 79.6% GDP per capita: $4,800 Unemployment: 8.3% Corruption rank: 127 Government: Republic under authoritarian regime Leader: President Bashar Assad since 2000 Black Sea Ankara TURKEY

Widespread protests following the disputed 2009 presidential election were met with a severe crackdown by the country’s ruling clerics. Pop.: 76.9 million Median age: 26.3 Literacy rate: 77% GDP per capita: $11,200 Unemployment: 14.6% Corruption rank: 146 Government: Theocratic republic Leader: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei since 1989

While not a part of the Arab world, Israel may have more at stake in the outcome of events in Egypt than any other country. The peace treaty between the two former adversaries has brought more than three decades of relative calm, most of it under Mubarak. Israelis wonder whether Egypt’s next leader will be as agreeable. Pop.: 7.4 million Median age: 29.3 Literacy rate: 97.1% GDP per capita: $29,500 Unemployment: 6.4% Corruption rank: 30 Government: Parliamentary democracy Leader: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since 2009

CORRUPTION RANKINGS Numbers are out of 178 countries. The higher the number, the higher the level of perceived public corruption, as determined by Transparency International, a nonpartisan group that fights corruption.

LEBANON Mediterranean Sea Algiers Tunis TUNISIA Rabat MOROCCO Tripoli ALGERIA LIBYA ISRAEL Gaza Strip Beirut West Bank

Caspian Sea Tehran IRAN

SYRIA Damascus Amman Cairo JORDAN Baghdad IRAQ



Tunisia may have sparked the reform wave reverberating throughout the region, but it was its spread to Egypt, the largest and most culturally important nation in the Arab world, that has given it magnitude. The key ingredients here — political oppression, income inequality, high unemployment and a large youth population — are found in many nearby countries. Pop.: 80.5 milliom Median age: 24 Literacy rate: 71.4% GDP per capita: $6,200 Unemployment: 9.7% Corruption rank: 98 Government: Republic Leader: President Hosni Mubarak since 1981



Persian Gulf U.A.E.



As in neighboring Tunisia, Algeria faces growing unrest tied to economic uncertainty and a call for democratic reforms. On Thursday the government announced plans to lift a nearly 20-yearold state of emergency. A rally by opposition forces is planned for Feb. 12. Pop.: 34.6 million Median age: 27.1 Literacy rate: 69.9% GDP per capita: $7,400 Unemployment: 9.9% Corruption rank: 105 Government: Republic Leader: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika since 1999

Because of the government’s tight control over the political system, opposition groups are weak. But lack of economic opportunity and Libya’s location between Tunisia and Egypt surely have leader Moammar Gadhafi, the longestserving Arab leader, worried. Pop.: 6.5 million Median age: 24.2 Literacy rate: 82.6% GDP per capita: $13,800 Unemployment: 30%* Corruption rank: 146 Government: Authoritarian state Leader: Gadhafi, since 1969
*In 2004

The nation’s complex internal politics have long made for fragile governments, as shown again last month with militant group Hezbollah’s withdrawal from the Cabinet and the replacement of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Ethnic and religious divisions inhibit the growth of a unified reform movement. Pop.: 4.1 million Median age: 29.4 Literacy rate: 87.4% GDP per capita: $14,200 Unemployment: n/a Corruption rank: 127 Government: Republic Leader: President Michel Suleiman since 2008

King Abdullah II, leader of this key U.S. ally in the region, has already felt the heat generated by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Last week he sacked his Cabinet and ordered reforms. Whether it’s enough to quell ongoing protests remains to be seen. Pop.: 6.4 million Median age: 21.8 Literacy rate: 89.9% GDP per capita: $5,300 Unemployment: 13.4% Corruption rank: 50 Government: Constitutional monarchy Leader: Abdullah II since 1999

Saudi Arabia
With oil wealth and low unemployment in urban areas, Saudi Arabia’s economic conditions differ from Egypt’s. There is a small pro-democracy movement, but the strict religious education Saudis receive discourages dissent. Pop.: 25.7 million Median age: 24.9 Literacy rate: 78.8% GDP per capita: $24,200 Unemployment: 10.8% Corruption rank: 50 Government: Monarchy Leader: King Abdullah since 2005

President Ali Abdullah Saleh announced Wednesday that he would not run for re-election in 2013 nor pass power on to his son, but that has done little to quell protesters seeking his ouster. Yemen, an important ally in U.S. anti-terror efforts, already faces a secessionist movement in the south. Pop.: 23.5 million Median age: 17.9 Literacy rate: 50.2% GDP per capita: $2,600 Unemployment: 35% Corruption rank: 146 Government: Republic Leader: Saleh, since 1990

Iraq’s political profile differs from those of its neighbors, many of whom share its long history of autocratic rule. Its political difficulties in emerging from the long shadow of Saddam Hussein could serve as a cautionary tale for other nations attempting to build a demoracy. Pop.: 29.7 million Median age: 20.6 Literacy rate: 74.1% GDP per capita: $3,600 Unemployment: 15.3% Corruption rank: 175 Government: Parliamentary democracy Leader: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki since 2006 Government: Emirates and monarchies

Smaller Gulf countries

(Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates)

Like Egypt and Tunisia, these countries have repressive political conditions, but their considerable wealth and relatively moderate unemployment make similar uprisings unlikely, analysts say.

Pop.: 12.3 million (combined) Median age: 23.9-30.8 (range) Literacy rate: 77.9%-94.4% (range)

GDP per capita: $25,800-$145,300 (range) Unemployment: 0.5%-15% (range) Corruption rank: 19-54 (range)

SOURCES: CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department; Reuters; CNN; Marina Ottaway, director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; news reports


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