Current Situation in the Middle East

What is currently happening in the Middle East?

The situation in the Middle East has rarely been as fluid as today, the events seldom as fascinating to watch, as well as challenging to comprehend with the barrage of news reports we receive from the region every day.

Since early 2011, heads of state of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have been driven to exile, put behind bars, or lynched by a mob. Yemeni leader was forced to step aside, while the Syrian regime is fighting a desperate battle for bare survival. Other autocrats dread what the future might bring and, of course, foreign powers are closely watching the events.

Who’s in power in the Middle East, what kind of political systems are emerging, and what are the latest developments?

Weekly Reading List: Latest News in the Middle East November 4 - 10 2013

Country Index:

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In Februrary 2011, the Arab Spring re-energized the largely Shia anti-government protesters in Bahrain. John Moore/Getty Images

Current Leader: King Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa

Political System: Monarchical rule, limited role for a semi-elected parliament

Current Situation: Civil unrest

Further Details: Mass pro-democracy protests erupted in February 2011, prompting a government crackdown aided by troops from Saudi Arabia. But unrest continues, as a restless Shiite majority confronts a state dominated by the Sunni minority. The ruling family has yet to offer any significant political concessions.


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Protesters outside Egypt's Constitutional Court
The dictator is gone, but Egyptian military still holds real power. Getty Images

Current Leader: Interim President Adly Mansour / Army Chief Mohammad Hussein Tantawi

Political System: Political System: Interim authorities, elections due early 2014

Current Situation: Transition from autocratic rule

Further Details: Egypt remains locked in a protracted process of political transition after the resignation of the long-serving leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, with most of the real political power still in the hands of the military. Mass anti-government protests in July 2013 forced the army to remove Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, amid deep polarization between the Islamists and secular groups.


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Nuri al-Maliki
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki speaks during a press conference on May 11, 2011 at the green zone area in Baghdad, Iraq. Muhannad Fala'ah /Getty Images

Current Leader: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki

Political System: Parliamentary democracy

Current Situation: High risk of political and religious violence

Further Details: Iraq’s Shiite majority dominates the governing coalition, placing growing strain on the power-sharing agreement with Sunnis and Kurds. Al Qaeda is using the Sunni resentment of the government to mobilize support for its escalating campaign of violence.


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Iran's Ali Khamenei
Iran's Ali Khamenei.

Current Leader: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei / President Hassan Rouhani

Political System: Islamic republic

Current Situation: Regime infighting / Tensions with the West

Further Details: Iran’s oil-dependent economy is under severe strain due to sanctions imposed by the West over the country’s nuclear program. Meanwhile, supporters of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vie for power with factions backed by Ayatollah Khamenei, and reformists who are placing their hopes in President Hassan Rouhani.


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Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, draws a red line on a graphic of a bomb while discussing Iran during an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2012 in New York City. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Current Leader: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Political System: Parliamentary democracy

Current Situation: Political stability / Tensions with Iran

Further Details: Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party came on top of the early elections held in January 2013, but faces a hard time keeping its diverse government coalition together. Prospects for a breakthrough in peace negotiations with Palestinians are close to zero, and military action against Iran is possible in Spring 2013.


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Hezbollah is the strongest military force in Lebanon, backed by Iran and Syria. Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

Current Leader: President Michel Suleiman / Prime Minister Najib Mikati

Political System: Parliamentary democracy

Current Situation: High risk of political and religious violence

Further Details: Lebanon’s governing coalition backed by the Shiite militia Hezbollah has close links to the Syrian regime, while the opposition is sympathetic to Syrian rebels who have established a rear base in northern Lebanon. Clashes erupted between rival Lebanese groups in the north, capital remains calm but tense.


  • The Impact of Syrian Uprising on Lebanon
  • Assassination of Lebanese Security Chief Wissam al-Hassan in 2012
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Rebel militias that overthrew Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi still control large parts of Libya. Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Current Leader: Prime Minister Ali Zeidan

Political System: Interim governing body

Current Situation: Transition from autocratic rule

Further Details: July 2012 parliamentary elections were won by a secular political alliance. However, large parts of Libya are controlled by militias, former rebels that brought down the regime of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. Frequent clashes between rival militias threaten to derail the political process.


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Current Leader: Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani

Political System: Absolutist monarchy

Current Situation: Succesion of power to a new generation of royals

Further Details: Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani abdicated from the throne in June 2013 after 18 years in power. The accession of Hamad’s son, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani, was aimed at invigorating the state with a new generation of royals and technocrats, but without affecting major policy shifts.


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Saudi Arabia

Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud. Will the royal family manage the succession of power without internal feuds?. Pool/Getty Images

Current Leader: King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud

Political System: Absolutist monarchy

Current Situation: Royal family rejects reforms

Further Details: Saudi Arabia remains stable, with anti-government protests limited to areas populated with the Shiite minority. However, growing uncertainty over the succession of power from the current monarch raises the possibility of tension within the royal family.


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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma. Can they survive the uprising?. Salah Malkawi/Getty Images

Current Leader: President Bashar al-Assad

Political System: Family-rule autocracy dominated by minority Alawite sect

Current Situation: Civil war

Further Details: After a year and a half of unrest in Syria, conflict between the regime and the opposition has escalated to full-scale civil war. Fighting has reached the capital and key members of the government have been killed or have defected.


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Mass protests in January 2011 forced long-serving president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country, setting off the Arab Spring. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Current Leader: Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh

Political System: Parliamentary democracy

Current Situation: Transition from autocratic rule

Further Details: The birthplace of the Arab Spring is now ruled by a coalition of Islamist and secular parties. A heated debate is underway on the role that Islam should be accorded in the new constitution, with occasional street scuffles between ultra-conservative Salafis and secular activists.


  • Tunisia's and Ben Ali's Corruptions: The Wikileaks Revelations
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He walks a tightrope between his party's platform of political Islam and Turkey's constitutional commitment to secularism. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Current Leader: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Political System: Parliamentary democracy

Current Situation: Stable democracy

Further Details: Ruled by moderate Islamists since 2002, Turkey has seen its economy and regional influence grow in recent years. The government is battling a Kurdish separatist insurgency at home, while supporting the rebels in neighboring Syria.


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Former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned in November 2011, leaving behind a broken country. Photo by Marcel Mettelsiefen/Getty Images

Current Leader: Interim President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi

Political System: Autocracy

Current Situation: Transition / Armed insurgency

Further Details: Long-serving leader Ali Abdullah Saleh resigned in November 2011 under a Saudi-brokered transition deal, after nine months of protests. Interim authorities are battling Al Qaeda-linked militants and a growing separatist movement in the south, with moot prospects for a transition to a stable democratic government.