It’s Not Just the Large Countries
Smaller countries in the Middle East suffer from the same problems as their larger counterparts. Often they have fewer resources to help them weather their crises. Yemen is a perfect example.
Yemen is one of the poorest countries in an overall poor region. Its economy was based almost exclusively on oil exports. As the twenty-first century began, Yemen's oil production dropped as its population began growing. To compound matters, another problem endemic to the region afflicted the country: dwindling water resources.
Until recently, Yemen derived 70 percent of its revenues from petroleum resources—which also accounted for one-quarter of its gross domestic product. The lack of diversity in Yemen's economy became one of the government's root problems as the oil supplies diminished, and contributed to political unrest by 2011.
The Yemeni government, led by President Ali Abdullah Saleh since 1978, acted to improve the country's economy and provide jobs for its citizens. It implemented an economic reform program in 2006 to reduce reliance on non-oil products and attract more foreign investment. Three years later the program bore some fruit when Yemen exported liquefied natural gas in October 2009 as part of this diversification effort.
Natural gas is a mostly methane product that can be extracted from non-oil products, such as coal.
In January 2010 a group named the Friends of Yemen, comprising Americans, Yemenis, and Yemeni-Americans interested in promoting the country's welfare, formed to support economic and political reform efforts. The International Monetary Fund provided a big boost in August 2010 when it approved a three-year $370 million program to fund those efforts. However, the government's attempted reforms take time, which does not provide immediate satisfaction for residents’ demands for jobs and security.
President Saleh had two major problems in 2011. First, Yemenis believed he had been in power too long and did not have a full grasp of the country's problems. Second, Western countries were questioning his efforts to drive insurgents and secessionists from Yemen, where they were trying to take advantage of the unrest to seize power. As a result, Saleh promised to give up his presidency by the end of 2011; however, he reneged.
Despite the Saleh government's ambitious endeavors, Yemen continues to face difficult long-term challenges at a time when its residents are demanding short-term results.
The two major concerns in Bahrain are political and economic. Politically, if Iran gains influence in Bahrain, that could create more instability in the world's oil markets, which is a source of concern for many countries outside the Middle East. Economically, the country is not in dire straits, although its focus is changing from oil to financial services and tourism.
The first oil in the Middle East was discovered in Bahrain, in 1931. There have been no additional resources discovered since then, and forecasts suggest that the oil will be depleted in ten to fifteen years, depriving the country of a significant portion of its income.
Bahrain has gradually lost its position as the region's financial center. Dubai has achieved that distinction. Nonetheless, Bahrain has experienced steady financial growth in recent years. In the first three quarters of 2010, the rate of growth was about 4.3 percent. Nevertheless, the country has not been immune to the wave of unrest that swept the region in 2011.
Dubai epitomizes Middle Eastern countries’ struggles to balance their history, religions, and culture with the rest of the world. The country hosts the world's richest horse race, the Dubai World Cup, now worth $10 million, and boasts the world's tallest building, the 2,717-foot-tall Burj Khalifa.
The growing number of people who attend the races contributes to the burgeoning status of Dubai as an international crossroads and global transport hub. The government is transforming Dubai into a first-class tourist destination and a center of international business as it diversifies from a trade-based, oil-reliant economy to one based more on real estate and financial services.
French skyscraper climber Alain Robert ascended the Burj Khalifa on March 28, 2011. The climb was rife was symbolism. The presence of the world's tallest building in one of the Middle East's smallest countries epitomizes the region's struggle to make its mark in the world community, even if it means taking chances.
Yet, there is still strict enforcement of religious law at times, which creates a paradox as Dubai struggles to bridge the gap between the old and new worlds, between modernism and religious tradition.
More than 50,000 horse race fans attend the Dubai World Cup meeting each year, which contributes heavily to the country's economy and reputation as a tourist destination.