Here are the biggest issues facing the Middle East in 2016

Published January 5th, 2016 - 21:18 GMT

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New years are synonomous with resolutions, ambitious lists of optimistic goals targeted at an improved state of being. Why should regions be exempt from an annual wish list? Will the Middle East resolve to make big changes in 2016 or opt for that other hallmark of a new year - explosive fireworks?

Here are key stories in the year ahead that have global impacts. Volatile oil prices, a refugee stampede, climate change, and the age-old schism between Shia and Sunni Muslims each contributes to destabilizing the region and obstructing efforts to end civil war in Syria, Libya, and Yemen and Afghanistan. Which way will it go?   Continue reading below »

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Saudi Arabia executed a dissident Shia imam Saturday sending out regional shockwaves and inciting violent reaction in Shia-dominated Iran. KSA then severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran; Gulf nations followed suit. Syrian peace talks may now derail as pro-Assad Iran and pro-rebel Saudi were to play leading roles. Was this the intent?
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Image 1 of 11:  1 / 11Saudi Arabia executed a dissident Shia imam Saturday sending out regional shockwaves and inciting violent reaction in Shia-dominated Iran. KSA then severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran; Gulf nations followed suit. Syrian peace talks may now derail as pro-Assad Iran and pro-rebel Saudi were to play leading roles. Was this the intent?

Enlarge
Faced with a threat of extremist victory, world leaders seem united in a focus to save Syria's security forces and civil institutions, moving on from bitter debate over what to do with the nation's president. How long can Assad remain part of the transition process? Opponents insist it can only start with him if it's agreed to end without him.
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Image 2 of 11:  2 / 11Faced with a threat of extremist victory, world leaders seem united in a focus to save Syria's security forces and civil institutions, moving on from bitter debate over what to do with the nation's president. How long can Assad remain part of the transition process? Opponents insist it can only start with him if it's agreed to end without him.

Enlarge
Russian/Turk relations got hot after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November in disputed circumstances. President Putin canceled energy projects, capped Turkish tourism in Russia, banned produce imports and new Turkish construction contracts. Russia is Turkey's largest export market after Germany. Is this knee-jerk or foreboding fiscal flexing?
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Image 3 of 11:  3 / 11Russian/Turk relations got hot after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November in disputed circumstances. President Putin canceled energy projects, capped Turkish tourism in Russia, banned produce imports and new Turkish construction contracts. Russia is Turkey's largest export market after Germany. Is this knee-jerk or foreboding fiscal flexing?

Enlarge
Last month, Libya’s warring factions unanimously adopted a resolution to form a national unity government to be the sole representative of this nation where competing entities have long vied for power. The stabilizing deal aims to also help combat a growing ISIS presence. Will it stick? Then watch Libyan oil flow again.
Reduce

Image 4 of 11:  4 / 11Last month, Libya’s warring factions unanimously adopted a resolution to form a national unity government to be the sole representative of this nation where competing entities have long vied for power. The stabilizing deal aims to also help combat a growing ISIS presence. Will it stick? Then watch Libyan oil flow again.

Enlarge
ISIS is a universal threat, making strange bedfellows of US, Russia, EU and Iran. But there's no unified approach to combat the group. Saudi formed a coalition of 34 largely Muslim nations to fight terrorism, and Turkey, as the main gate for ISIS fighters into Syria, could be pivotal in 2016. It's time for the world to work together. Plan, please?
Reduce

Image 5 of 11:  5 / 11ISIS is a universal threat, making strange bedfellows of US, Russia, EU and Iran. But there's no unified approach to combat the group. Saudi formed a coalition of 34 largely Muslim nations to fight terrorism, and Turkey, as the main gate for ISIS fighters into Syria, could be pivotal in 2016. It's time for the world to work together. Plan, please?

Enlarge
A 2015 Pew Research survey found Middle Easterners as least likely to believe that climate change is harming us. No shock given the region's dependence on a fossil fuel economy (Saudi earns 90% of its export income from oil). Scientists predict much of this region will be uninhabitable by 2100 if we don't cut CO2 emissions. Goodbye Dubai?
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Image 6 of 11:  6 / 11A 2015 Pew Research survey found Middle Easterners as least likely to believe that climate change is harming us. No shock given the region's dependence on a fossil fuel economy (Saudi earns 90% of its export income from oil). Scientists predict much of this region will be uninhabitable by 2100 if we don't cut CO2 emissions. Goodbye Dubai?

Enlarge
At least 18 Saudi women were elected to city councils last month, the first time women were allowed to run for office or vote. A landmark for this ultra-conservative kingdom long criticized for its human rights record. But women still can't drive, dress freely, travel solo, or interact with men. Is this a one-off PR stunt or is real change afoot?
Reduce

Image 7 of 11:  7 / 11At least 18 Saudi women were elected to city councils last month, the first time women were allowed to run for office or vote. A landmark for this ultra-conservative kingdom long criticized for its human rights record. But women still can't drive, dress freely, travel solo, or interact with men. Is this a one-off PR stunt or is real change afoot?

Enlarge
Oil trading was volatile this week due to growing tension between two OPEC big players, pushing already slumped prices lower. Saudi's newly severed ties with Iran have destabilized a political situation that will further complicate 2016's oil outlook. Now consider lifted sanctions in Iran, and potential Libyan production. Ouija Board please?
Reduce

Image 8 of 11:  8 / 11Oil trading was volatile this week due to growing tension between two OPEC big players, pushing already slumped prices lower. Saudi's newly severed ties with Iran have destabilized a political situation that will further complicate 2016's oil outlook. Now consider lifted sanctions in Iran, and potential Libyan production. Ouija Board please?

Enlarge
Three million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, another 6.5 million displaced in country. The EU, ideologically divided over how to handle the crisis, is bearing the brunt of refugee migration. Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Hungary have built anti-immigrant fences on their borders. Where is the Gulf state response?
Reduce

Image 9 of 11:  9 / 11Three million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, another 6.5 million displaced in country. The EU, ideologically divided over how to handle the crisis, is bearing the brunt of refugee migration. Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Hungary have built anti-immigrant fences on their borders. Where is the Gulf state response?

Enlarge
Prevailing international consensus is that solving the Israel-Palestine issue is key to stabilizing the Middle East, but the matter is muddied in the wake of ISIS. A viable diplomatic peace process has to be part of any regional anti-terrorist strategy. So let's act now. (Not a single Palestinian has been detected in IS or al-Qaeda forces.)
Reduce

Image 10 of 11:  10 / 11Prevailing international consensus is that solving the Israel-Palestine issue is key to stabilizing the Middle East, but the matter is muddied in the wake of ISIS. A viable diplomatic peace process has to be part of any regional anti-terrorist strategy. So let's act now. (Not a single Palestinian has been detected in IS or al-Qaeda forces.)

Enlarge
Risk consultant Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group now warns of a gloomy 2016 geopolitical outlook, the most turbulent since he began issuing predictions 15 years ago. He sees the failed states of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen as worsening due to Western foreign policies full of empty aspirations. And will Lebanon ever get a president?
Reduce

Image 11 of 11:  11 / 11Risk consultant Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group now warns of a gloomy 2016 geopolitical outlook, the most turbulent since he began issuing predictions 15 years ago. He sees the failed states of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen as worsening due to Western foreign policies full of empty aspirations. And will Lebanon ever get a president?

Enlarge

1

Saudi Arabia executed a dissident Shia imam Saturday sending out regional shockwaves and inciting violent reaction in Shia-dominated Iran. KSA then severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran; Gulf nations followed suit. Syrian peace talks may now derail as pro-Assad Iran and pro-rebel Saudi were to play leading roles. Was this the intent?

Image 1 of 11Saudi Arabia executed a dissident Shia imam Saturday sending out regional shockwaves and inciting violent reaction in Shia-dominated Iran. KSA then severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran; Gulf nations followed suit. Syrian peace talks may now derail as pro-Assad Iran and pro-rebel Saudi were to play leading roles. Was this the intent?

2

Faced with a threat of extremist victory, world leaders seem united in a focus to save Syria's security forces and civil institutions, moving on from bitter debate over what to do with the nation's president. How long can Assad remain part of the transition process? Opponents insist it can only start with him if it's agreed to end without him.

Image 2 of 11Faced with a threat of extremist victory, world leaders seem united in a focus to save Syria's security forces and civil institutions, moving on from bitter debate over what to do with the nation's president. How long can Assad remain part of the transition process? Opponents insist it can only start with him if it's agreed to end without him.

3

Russian/Turk relations got hot after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November in disputed circumstances. President Putin canceled energy projects, capped Turkish tourism in Russia, banned produce imports and new Turkish construction contracts. Russia is Turkey's largest export market after Germany. Is this knee-jerk or foreboding fiscal flexing?

Image 3 of 11Russian/Turk relations got hot after Turkey shot down a Russian jet in November in disputed circumstances. President Putin canceled energy projects, capped Turkish tourism in Russia, banned produce imports and new Turkish construction contracts. Russia is Turkey's largest export market after Germany. Is this knee-jerk or foreboding fiscal flexing?

4

Last month, Libya’s warring factions unanimously adopted a resolution to form a national unity government to be the sole representative of this nation where competing entities have long vied for power. The stabilizing deal aims to also help combat a growing ISIS presence. Will it stick? Then watch Libyan oil flow again.

Image 4 of 11Last month, Libya’s warring factions unanimously adopted a resolution to form a national unity government to be the sole representative of this nation where competing entities have long vied for power. The stabilizing deal aims to also help combat a growing ISIS presence. Will it stick? Then watch Libyan oil flow again.

5

ISIS is a universal threat, making strange bedfellows of US, Russia, EU and Iran. But there's no unified approach to combat the group. Saudi formed a coalition of 34 largely Muslim nations to fight terrorism, and Turkey, as the main gate for ISIS fighters into Syria, could be pivotal in 2016. It's time for the world to work together. Plan, please?

Image 5 of 11ISIS is a universal threat, making strange bedfellows of US, Russia, EU and Iran. But there's no unified approach to combat the group. Saudi formed a coalition of 34 largely Muslim nations to fight terrorism, and Turkey, as the main gate for ISIS fighters into Syria, could be pivotal in 2016. It's time for the world to work together. Plan, please?

6

A 2015 Pew Research survey found Middle Easterners as least likely to believe that climate change is harming us. No shock given the region's dependence on a fossil fuel economy (Saudi earns 90% of its export income from oil). Scientists predict much of this region will be uninhabitable by 2100 if we don't cut CO2 emissions. Goodbye Dubai?

Image 6 of 11A 2015 Pew Research survey found Middle Easterners as least likely to believe that climate change is harming us. No shock given the region's dependence on a fossil fuel economy (Saudi earns 90% of its export income from oil). Scientists predict much of this region will be uninhabitable by 2100 if we don't cut CO2 emissions. Goodbye Dubai?

7

At least 18 Saudi women were elected to city councils last month, the first time women were allowed to run for office or vote. A landmark for this ultra-conservative kingdom long criticized for its human rights record. But women still can't drive, dress freely, travel solo, or interact with men. Is this a one-off PR stunt or is real change afoot?

Image 7 of 11At least 18 Saudi women were elected to city councils last month, the first time women were allowed to run for office or vote. A landmark for this ultra-conservative kingdom long criticized for its human rights record. But women still can't drive, dress freely, travel solo, or interact with men. Is this a one-off PR stunt or is real change afoot?

8

Oil trading was volatile this week due to growing tension between two OPEC big players, pushing already slumped prices lower. Saudi's newly severed ties with Iran have destabilized a political situation that will further complicate 2016's oil outlook. Now consider lifted sanctions in Iran, and potential Libyan production. Ouija Board please?

Image 8 of 11Oil trading was volatile this week due to growing tension between two OPEC big players, pushing already slumped prices lower. Saudi's newly severed ties with Iran have destabilized a political situation that will further complicate 2016's oil outlook. Now consider lifted sanctions in Iran, and potential Libyan production. Ouija Board please?

9

Three million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, another 6.5 million displaced in country. The EU, ideologically divided over how to handle the crisis, is bearing the brunt of refugee migration. Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Hungary have built anti-immigrant fences on their borders. Where is the Gulf state response?

Image 9 of 11Three million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, another 6.5 million displaced in country. The EU, ideologically divided over how to handle the crisis, is bearing the brunt of refugee migration. Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Hungary have built anti-immigrant fences on their borders. Where is the Gulf state response?

10

Prevailing international consensus is that solving the Israel-Palestine issue is key to stabilizing the Middle East, but the matter is muddied in the wake of ISIS. A viable diplomatic peace process has to be part of any regional anti-terrorist strategy. So let's act now. (Not a single Palestinian has been detected in IS or al-Qaeda forces.)

Image 10 of 11Prevailing international consensus is that solving the Israel-Palestine issue is key to stabilizing the Middle East, but the matter is muddied in the wake of ISIS. A viable diplomatic peace process has to be part of any regional anti-terrorist strategy. So let's act now. (Not a single Palestinian has been detected in IS or al-Qaeda forces.)

11

Risk consultant Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group now warns of a gloomy 2016 geopolitical outlook, the most turbulent since he began issuing predictions 15 years ago. He sees the failed states of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen as worsening due to Western foreign policies full of empty aspirations. And will Lebanon ever get a president?

Image 11 of 11Risk consultant Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group now warns of a gloomy 2016 geopolitical outlook, the most turbulent since he began issuing predictions 15 years ago. He sees the failed states of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen as worsening due to Western foreign policies full of empty aspirations. And will Lebanon ever get a president?

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