Mideast Countries Face Challenges

In 2019, Mideast Countries Face Challenges as Wars Wind Down
AMMAN: As the Middle East ushers in 2019, the decade’s ruinous conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq seem to be winding down after exacting a painful price — many thousands killed, millions uprooted from their homes and entire cities reduced to rubble.
Yet the potential for unrest remains high, including in countries that escaped civil war after the 2011 uprisings, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Millions of young people in the region remain locked out of economic and political participation as governments fail to tackle soaring youth unemployment and other deep-seated problems.
Yemen’s government made some progress with the Iran-linked Houthi militias toward a UN-sponsored peace deal last week, a first after four years of fighting. A new round of talks is set for January, with expectations that US pressure could lead to further de-escalation.
In Syria, President Bashar Assad, aided by Russia and Iran, crushed a seven-year-old rebellion and the opposition’s dream of ousting him from power. The war is not over, with major fighting still ahead in the opposition-held north. Assad’s inner circle and allied entrepreneurs stand to make a fortune from reconstruction, even if the West won’t contribute in the absence of a political settlement.
In Iraq, it’s been a year since the government declared victory over Daesh, but challenges remain, including the rebuilding of devastated cities. Rioting against corruption and poor services in the oil-rich southern region of Basra signalled the urgency of addressing Iraq’s economic problems.
In Libya, rival governments in the east and west have agreed to meet at a national conference in early 2019 to pave the way for a general election. Oil production remains below its pre-2011 levels, and lack of security still prevents major foreign investment or economic growth.
In Iran, hit hard by renewed US sanctions, the currency wildly fluctuated, but the Islamic Republic did not see the same widescale protests that opened the year.
In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million people, job creation lags far behind an explosive population growth of more than 2 million per year. Investor confidence is improving, but inflation surpassed targets set by the International Monetary Fund.
In politically paralyzed Lebanon, decades of mismanagement and corruption are finally catching up, with a debt of $84 billion heightening concerns of impending economic collapse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu started the year with a gift from Trump, who recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and then moved the US Embassy to the city in May. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas froze ties with the US administration, accusing it of pro-Israel bias concerning the most sensitive issue of the conflict, which sputtered along in 2018.
Israel kept building settlements in the West Bank, Hamas led mass border marches against a decade-old blockade of the Gaza Strip and lone Palestinian assailants carried out sporadic attacks against Israelis. Dozens were killed in 2018, the vast majority Palestinians.
With Israeli elections to be held sometime in 2019, a peace plan that calls for even minimal concessions could tear apart Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition. He might not get to run for re-election if a pair of corruption cases moves forward, after police recommended charges against him.

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