along the southern shore of the Mediterranean from Morocco in the west to the Levant and the Fertile Crescent, extending to the Gulf countries and Iran in the east. It is predominantly Muslim. The old Christian communities in Iraq and Syria have mostly been destroyed or dispersed over the past 15 years, but bigger groups remain, especially in Lebanon. Most of the Muslims are Sunni, but the Shia dominate in Iran, are in the majority In Iraq and have a large following in Yemen and Lebanon. The Alawites in Syria are also close to the Shia. Islam’s main holy sites are Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
Except for Morocco, Iran and parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the Ottoman Empire ruled the region for centuries. In the 19th century, the North African countries (except Morocco) were occupied by France, Italy and Britain. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the Middle East was arbitrarily divided between Britain and France. That shortsighted partition remains the root cause of the constant tension and conflicts in the area.
The contrast between the richly endowed oil-and-gas economies and the resource-poor countries is an important factor in the region. Its sensitive strategic location between the East and West, along with its energy wealth, make the area vulnerable to the divergent policies and interests of global and regional powers. The interests of the U.S., Europe and Russia all clash there, as do the pursuits of Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt. Such interventions tend to exacerbate local conflicts and civil wars, which then escalate into proxy wars between foreign powers.
The unveiling of the $50 billion U.S. investment plan to secure peace in the Middle East by improving conditions in the West Bank and Gaza met international skepticism, and virulent opposition from the Palestinian authorities. But for President Donald Trump, solving the conflict none of his predecessors could would gain him the international recognition he craves – and praise from his evangelical Christian base.
Khalifa Haftar, the military leader of one of Libya’s two battling governments, tried to short-circuit a UN-sponsored peace process by launching a lightning offensive against the nation’s capital, Tripoli. Instead of a successful blitzkrieg, however, his overstretched forces found themselves stuck on Tripoli’s outskirts – blocked by a militia cartel newly united behind the Government of National Unity (GNA). Mr. Haftar’s impatience could cost him dearly.
Though the regime of President Bashar al-Assad now governs most of the country and ISIS has lost the territory it once held, there is still no end in sight for the Syrian Civil War. Opposition groups control several provinces, where violence simmers, and the complicated web of foreign interests has yet to be untangled. All of this bodes ill for stability in Syria, and the millions of refugees who want to return home.
In the cyclical fossil energy business, today’s plentiful supply of natural gas is expected to turn into tight global markets by the mid-2020s. Qatar, an LNG export powerhouse, will be ready for that phase with new extraction, liquefaction and gas-to-liquids production capacities. If the emirate also begins to offer flexible terms to customers, as American suppliers do, the repercussions on global LNG markets could be significant.