The Middle East: a brief political tour (2009)


The Kingdom of Bahrain is a predominantly Shia island-nation of 700,000 people situated in the southern Persian Gulf. Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the 28 kilometer King Fahd Causeway. Bahrain received its independence from Britain in 1971 and its capital city is Manama.

Government: Bahrain is a constitutional monarchy under the Al Kahlifa family. The current emir and head of state is Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

Parliament: A bicameral parliament consists of the Consultative Council (40 members appointed by the king) and the Council of Representatives (40 members popularly elected through universal suffrage). The current head of Bahrain’s government is Prime Minister Shaikh Khalīfa bin Salman al Khalifa.

Bahrain produces an estimated 49,000 barrels of oil a day and possesses 124 million barrels of reserves. Bahrain has been currently trying to diversify its economy away from its reliance on oil. Presently, oil sales account for 70% of government revenue.


The Islamic Republic of Iran was created following the Islamic Revolution of 1978. With its capital Tehran, Iran is a mostly Shia nation numbering 66 million. Iran’s geographic location places it directly on the Persian Gulf and allows it to dominate the Straits of Hormuz. Due to its strategic placement, Iran is an important regional power. In contrast to much of the rest of the Middle East, Iranians are considered Persian and speak Farsi.

Government: Iran is a theocratic republic with no secular elements. The Supreme Leader is head of state setting policy while the office of president conducts the day-to-day functions of state. Currently the Supreme Leader is Ali Khamenei and the president is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Parliament: The Majlis act as Iran’s parliament. Its 290 members are elected from a pool of candidates approved by the Assembly of Experts. The current speaker of parliament is Ali Ardashir Larijani.

Religious Oversight Bodies: Two religious oversight bodies ensure that secular forces do not influence Iranian government. The Assembly of Experts appoints and oversees the Supreme Leader; the head of this assembly is Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Council of Guardians is tasked with dismissing any candidate deemed “insufficiently Islamic” and is headed by the Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati Massah.

Iran is a major oil producing nation, generating 4.7 million barrels a day with reserves claimed to be over 130 billion barrels.


Israel was created in 1948 after the United Nations partitioned former British holding Palestine into two states. Israel has a population of 7 million and is the world’s only Jewish state. The ancient city of Jerusalem is its capital.

Government: Israel is a parliamentary democracy. The chief of state is Shimon Peres.

Parliament: Israel has a single body parliament known as the Knesset. It consists of 120 popularly elected members. The Knesset drafts laws and elects the president and prime minister. The current prime minister is Ehud Olmert.

Israel is a nominal oil producing nation, producing 5,966 barrels of oil daily and possessing nearly 2 million barrels of oil in reserve.


Kuwait is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 2.6 million and is located directly on the Persian Gulf, just south of Iraq. Well known as an oil producing nation, Kuwait possesses 10% of the world’s known reserves and produces 2.6 million barrels of oil a day making it the richest Middle Eastern country and the third richest nation in the world. Kuwait became independent from the United Kingdom in 1961, and Kuwait City is its capital. Kuwait was invaded by Iraq in 1990.

Government: Kuwait is a constitutional emirate with the Al-Sabah family ruling since 1991. The emir position is hereditary and as a result there are no elections for this position. The current head of state is Amir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah and the crown prince is Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah.

Parliament: Kuwait’s legislature is represented by the National Assembly. The National Assembly has the power to dismiss the prime minister, an office currently held by Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.S


Libya received its independence from Italy in 1951 and underwent a military coup in 1969. Known officially as the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, modern Libya is largely the product of Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi , the worlds longest sitting head of a government. Libya has a relatively small population of approximately 6 million and is predominantly Sunni Muslim.

Government: Libya has a unique style of government based upon Gaddafi’s revolutionary “Jamahiriya” vision. Jamahiriya is a term coined by Gaddafi and loosely translates into “republic ruled by the masses”. While Gaddafi holds no official office, being referred to simply as the”Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya”, for all intents and purposes Gaddafi is the head of an authoritarian state. There are no political parties in Libya.

Parliament: Libyan Legistlature consists of the unicameral General People’s Congress (760 members, elected indirectly through committees). Al-Baghdadi Ali al-Mahmudi was appointed Prime Minister in 2006.

Libya is major oil producing nation with 41.4 billion barrels of reserves and producing 1.8 million barrels of oil a day.


The Sultanate of Oman is located on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula and is home to nearly 3.5 million people. A distinct variety of Islam, Ibhadi Islam, accounts for a religious majority of between 50% and 75%. Oman is also unique for its historic connection to the island nation of Zanzibar; as a result Swahili is widely spoken in Oman. Oman is slightly unique as it was never officially a colony, establishing its de facto independence after ejecting a Portuguese presence in the 17th century. A small portion of Oman, known as the Governorate of Musandam, is separated from the rest of the nation by the United Arab Emirates.  Muscat is the capital of Oman

Government: Oman is a monarchy with Qaboos bin Sal Said as both the sitting as head of state and serving as prime minister.

Parliament: There are no legal political parties in Oman, nor are there functioning legislative institutions. However, Oman has a two-part parliament consisting of a Consultive Assembly and a Council of State. Neither wields any real power and both function only in advisory roles.

Saudi Arabia

Known as the birthplace of Islam and the site of the religion’s two holiest shrines, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a remarkably influential nation. Additionally, Saudia Arabia dominates the Arabian Peninsula and is situated between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia was unified in 1932 and is a predominantly Sunni nation of 28 million. Riyadh is the capital.

Government: Saudi Arabia is a monarchy under the Saud family. The present head of state and head of government is King Abdallah bi Abd al-Aziz Al Saud.

Parliament: Saudi Arabia has no parliament and no political parties. The Consultative Council consists of 150 appointed members (by king) and serves an advisory function only.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the world’s greatest oil producing nation, controlling 20% of the world’s known oil reserves and filling 9.2 million barrels of oil daily.


The Republic of Sudan received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1956. Sudan is predominantly Sunni Muslim and has a population of 41 million. It is the largest country in Africa and its capital is Khartoum.  The Darfur region, known for its humanitarian crisis, is found in western Sudan.

Government: Since becoming independent in 1956, Sudan has been dominated by a series of military governments. The present government assumed power through a military coup in 1989. The current head of state is President Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. Bashir presides over an authoritarian regime. Currently a power sharing arrangement exists between the Government of National Unity, the National Congress Party (party of Bashir), and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement.

Parliament: Sudanese parliament consists of two houses. The Council of States with 50 members elected through state legislatures and a National Assembly with 450 appointed seats.

Sudan recently began producing oil. Today Sudan possesses an estimated 5 billion barrels of reserves and produces 466,000 barrels of oil a day


The Tunisian Republic received its independence from France in 1956. Tunisia is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 10 million located in North Africa. Tunisia is predominantly Sunni Muslim and the constitution mandates Islam as the official religion and stipulates that the president must be a Muslim. However, remaining largely secular, Tunisia has done much to facilitate the growth of its own democratic institutions in recent years.

Government: Tunisia has a presidential republic government. The chief of state has been President Zine el Abidine Ben Al since 1987.

Parliament: Tunisia has a bicameral legislature and Mohamed Gbhannouchi is the current prime minister. The 189 seat Chamber of Deputies is popularly elected while the 126 seat Chamber of Advisors is largely appointed by the president.

Tunisia is a minor oil producing nation, producing 86,210 million barrels of oil daily and holding some 4,000 million barrels of oil reserves.


The Republic of Yemen was established in 1990 when North Yemen and South Yemen united. North Yemen received its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1918, while Southern Yemen received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1967. Yemen is located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and its capital is Sanaa. Yemen has a population of 23 million with nearly equal percentages of Sunni and Shia.

Government: Yemen is the only republic on the Arabian Peninsula. Ali Abdallah Salih was the former president of North Yemen and has been the president of a united Yemen since its inception. The president is elected by popular vote, and his General People’s Congress dominates the government.

Parliament: Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Mujawwar heads a bicameral Parliament consisting of the 111 seat Shura Council which is appointed by the president and a popularly elected 301 seat House of Representatives.

Yemen produces an estimated 320,600 barrels of oil per day and has reserves numbering 3 billion barrels.


Twice the size of France, the Arab republic of Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 70 million located in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea.  Egypt received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1922 and the Egyptian Republic was declared in June of 1953.

Government: Egypt is a presidential republic, with Hosni Mubarak serving as the current President. The president, which is both head of state and head of the government, greatly curtails the power of the legislature. Egypt has been under emergency law since 1967 and religious-based political parties are forbidden.

Parliament: Egyptian parliament, known as the People’s Assembly, consists of 454 deputies; ten of which are appointed by the president and the remainder being elected. The Shura Council is Egypt’s upper Parliament consisting of 264 elected members.

Egypt has a military of 450,000, the largest in Africa.

Egypt produces 664,000 billion barrels of oil a day and has 3.7 bilion barrels of reserves.

Boutros Boutras-Ghali (former Secretary General to the UN) and Mohammed ElBaradei (International Atomic Energy Association) are well known Egyptian diplomats.


Iraq was formed in 1932 by the League of Nations from former British holdings. In 2008, the UNSC mandate for US military presence in Iraq expired and presently US forces remain in Iraq under a bilateral Security Agreement. In October 2005, Iraqis approved a Constitution in a national referendum and, pursuant to this document, elected a 275-member Council of Representatives. On 31 January 2009, Iraq held elections for provincial councils in all provinces except those in predominantly Kurdish regions. Iraq has a population of 28 million and a Shia majority.

Government: Iraq is a parliamentary democracy, or to be more specific, a federal parliamentary representative democratic republic. The head of state is the Presidency Council. Consisting of President Jalal Talabani as well as Vice Presidents Adil Abd Al Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi, the council must make unanimous decisions.

Parliament: The Council of Representatives serves as Iraq’s legistlature and it possesses a great deal of power in comparison to the president. The head of the Iraqi government is Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The Prime Minister seat is appointed by the Presidency Council, while the Council of Representatives is elected through representation.

Presently, Iraq possesses an estimated 115 billion barrels of oil reserves and produces 2.42 million barrels of oil a day.


The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a predominantly Sunni nation of 6.3 million located on the Mediterranean Sea between Saudi Arabia, Israel and Syria. Jordan was previously known as Transjordan and its capital is Amman. Formerly part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1946.

Government: Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with King Abdullah sitting as the current head of state since 1999. Jordan has a multi-party system and the King’s veto can be overruled by two-thirds vote of both houses of parliament.

Parliament: Jordanian legislature is known as the National Assembly and its prime minister is Nader al-Dahabi. Jordanian parliament consists of two parts; a Senate (55 monarch-appointed members) and the Chamber of Deputies (110 elected members). A specified number of seats are reserved for minorities.


as “the Paris of the East” the Lebanese Republic was created by France out of Ottoman territory in 1920 and was granted its independence in 1943. Known for its variety of religious and ethnic groups, of its 4 million people, roughly 60% are Muslim while 40% are Christian. Lebanon suffered a civil war between 1975 and 1990, and Syria maintained a United Nations peacekeeping in Lebanon until 2005. The capital of Lebanon is Beruit.

Government: Parliamentary democracy with Michel Sulayman serving as President. Lebanon has a rather unique political system known as Confessionalism.  Confessionalism is a power sharing arrangement which proportionally distributes representation according to ethnic population.

Parliament: Single body National Assembly under Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Parliament consists of 128 members elected by popular vote. Political parties in the traditional sense do not exist as political blocs are typically formed along personal, ethnic, family or regional lines.


The Kingdom of Morocco was created in 1956 following a lengthy struggle for independence from France. A predominantly Sunni Muslim nation of 34 million, Morocco is located in North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The capital is Rabat.

Government: Morocco is a constitutional monarchy with King Mohammed VI serving as head of state since 1999. The king has controls the military and theoretically has the power to dissolve the government.

Parliament: Morocco has a bicameral parliamentary structure with the prime minister position appointed by the king. The current prime minister is Abbas El Fassi. The Chamber of Counselors is the Moroccan upper house consisting of 270 members which are elected indirectly.  The lower house is represented by the Chamber of Representatives with 325 elected seats having the authority to dissolve the government with a “no confidence” vote.

Morocco has an estimated 836,000 barrels of oil reserves and produces nearly 3,500 barrels of oil daily.


The State of Qatar is a small peninsular nation of less than one million. Qatar is found on the northern edge of the Arabian Peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf. Qatar is predominantly Sunni with a large immigrant population. The independent Arab news network Al Jazeera, is based in Qatar’s capital Doha. Ruled by al-Thani family for over two centuries, Qatar formally received its independence from the United Kingdom in 1971.

Government: Emirate or absolute monarchy. Head of state, minister of defense and commander of the armed forces is Amir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Thani, a Sandhurst graduate, took power from his father in a bloodless coup in 1995; they have since reconciled.

Parliament:  Qatar’s legistlature consists of the Consultative Assembly containing 35 appointed members. Qatar is slowy making a change to a constitutional monarchy aiming to include more popularly elected members on the Advisory Council, yet presently, political parties are forbidden.

Qatar possesses oil reserves numbering some 15 billion barrels and produces over one million barrels of oil a day. The pronunciation of Qatar is something like “gutter” or “butter”, but not like “guitar”.


Syria is a predominantly Sunni-Arab nation of 20 million located on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean Sea bordering Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Israel. The Syrian Arab Republic was created from holdings of the Ottoman Empire and was administered by France until receiving its independence in 1946. Syria stationed troops in Lebanon from 1976 to 2005 in a peacekeeping role.

Government: Syria is a single party republic under a military regime. President Bashar al-Asad was elected in an un-oppssed referendum. The Syrian Constitution states that the president must be Muslim.

Parliament: Syrian legislature is the unicameral People’s Council consisting of 250 members. The prime minister and head of government is Muhammad Naji al-UtriI.

Syria produces 381,600 barrels of oil per day and possesses an estimated 2.5 billion barrels of reserves.


The United Arab Emirates is a federation of seven states and was created between 1971 and 1972. The seven emirates are; Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain. Power is distributed between the central government and the individual emirates, with the central government possessing additional powers.The UAE has a population of 4.7 million with a very large number of immigrants (75%). The capital of the UAE is Doha.

Government: The UAE is a federation of emirates which functions not unlike a monarchy. An emirate is a geo-political territory ruled by a monarch or emir. The positions of president and vice president are elected by the rulers of each emirate. There is no suffrage and political parties are forbidden. The current president is Khalifa bin Zayid Al-Nuhayyan, a member of the royal family.

Parliament: The Federal Supreme Councils serves as the parliament. The FSC consists of the rulers of the seven emirates and is responsible for establishing general policies. The rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai have veto power. There is also a Federal National Council with 20 appointed members and 20 elected members who act as an advisory council.

While the UAE produces nearly 3 million barrels of oil a day and posses almost 100 billion barrels of reserves, the government has been successful in diversifying into non-petroleum ares. Oil revenues account for only %25 of government income.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s