Governance, Economics, and Development in the Middle East

Part of the: 
Middle East Program
Photo by Masaru Kamikura

Long-term drivers of change in governance, economics, and development in the region.

Governments across the Middle East face a diverse set of challenges, but none are as central as addressing socioeconomic issues which helped spark popular uprisings in early 2011. Reducing high unemployment rates, particularly among young people, remains a challenge across the region. Countries reliant on energy exports continue to search for paths to diversification, while energy-poor countries face the need to grow domestic markets and boost exports. Meanwhile, water scarcity is testing governments and poses a growing security challenge. The challenges of improving governance to bolster economic growth and broad-based development are increasingly urgent in the Middle East, and the CSIS Middle East Program is focused on investigating strategies to improve governance, economics, and development with an eye toward the political dynamics that shape management and change.


Featured Projects


Rocky Harbors: Taking Stock of the Middle East in 2015

In this new edited volume from the CSIS Middle East Program, chapters analyze the region’s political, strategic, and economic realities in 2015, looking at both old and new challenges, how political actors are evolving, and how policymakers can think strategically about the region.

Religious Radicalism after the Arab Uprisings

In the Middle East, conflicts that many thought were coming to an end will continue, as will the dynamism and innovation that have emerged among radical and opposition groups.

Iraq in the Balance

A production of the Brzezinski Institute on Geostrategy and the CSIS Middle East Program, "Iraq in the Balance" looks at how history, geography, power, and people have shaped Iraq's past and its potential future trajectories. Dr. Jon B. Alterman narrates this exploration of how Iraq's past affects questions about its future.


Recent Publications and Events


Middle East Notes and Comment: The Other Crisis

A Palestinian leadership vacuum will undermine both Israelis and Palestinians.

Human Capital and the Future of the Gulf

Extensive efforts to develop human capital are under way in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Persian Gulf, and they are increasingly setting expectations for how people ought to behave socially and economically that are in tension with how they are expected to behave politically.

Workforce Development in Tunisia and Jordan: Changing Attitudes under New and Old Systems

Elites in Tunisia and Jordan stress their need to invest in their human resources, because people are the only resources they have.Yet a look at recent and ongoing workforce development efforts in each country reveals that these schemes are intended to produce something fundamentally different in each country.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Popular Authoritarians

What are we to make of the rise of genuinely popular undemocratic regimes?

Gulf Roundtable: Oil, Parliaments, and the Future of the Gulf

The economies of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are diverging due to the relative power of their elected institutions, Michael Herb argues in his new book.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Al-Azhar's Perilous Resurgence

Al-Azhar is a potential resource in Arab battles against extremism, but it is one best used carefully, and sparingly.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Yemen's Misery

Yemen is not hopeless, but its rapid collapse provides just a hint of how bad things could get.

Gulf Analysis Paper: The New Energy Revolution and the Gulf

While the U.S. unconventional oil and gas boom has had limited direct effects on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), it has had important strategic effects.

Gulf Roundtable: The "Yemen Model"?

While violent extremism in Yemen draws the world’s attention, genuinely addressing its causes would require sustained commitments to Yemen’s economic and political development, according to Dr. Charles Schmitz.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Unhappy Yemen

Yemen’s problems follow many years of precisely the kinds of international mediation and support backed by targeted strikes that are being proposed for other Arab conflicts. What does it mean that it has descended into more chaos?

Middle East Notes and Comment: The Middle East Unstitched

Sectarian difference in the Middle East isn’t new, but its overwhelming importance is.

Maghreb Roundtable: What's Next for Algeria?

John P. Entelis and Robert P. Parks shared their different but complementary analyses of Algerian society and politics following the re-election of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Partnership for Egypt

While many in the United States seem content to let Egypt drift into the arms of deep-pocketed Gulf monarchies, the smarter strategy is for the United States to prioritize finding common ground with those monarchies to steer Egypt in a more promising direction.

The Struggle for Religious Identity in Tunisia and the Maghreb

Defining religious identity in the Maghreb has become an urgent challenge for governments fighting violent extremism. Nowhere is the battle as intense as in Tunisia, which is struggling to reshape its religious identity after more than a half century of state-imposed secularism.

Egypt's Foreign Policy in New Realities with Nabil Fahmy

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy spoke about Egypt's current political dynamics and foreign policy priorities at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 28, 2014.

Iraq's Parliamentary Elections: A Conversation with Lukman Faily

Iraq Ambassador to the United States Lukman Faily spoke about Iraq's upcoming parliamentary elections and political dynamics in Iraq at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 23, 2014.

Tunisia's Path Forward with Mehdi Jomaa

Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa spoke about his government’s emphasis on ensuring a smooth path to new parliamentary and presidential elections while strengthening Tunisia’s future economic growth and stability at a CSIS Statesmen's Forum on April 2, 2014.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Traditional Remedies

The Arab revolts and revolutions of 2011 provided public space for violent extremist ideology to spread and reignited a debate over how to fight it. Among regional allies, the U.S. preference for democracy seems to be on the retreat while the impulse to regulate religion appears to be on the upswing.

Maghreb Roundtable: The Geopolitics of North African Energy Trends

Declining production, rising domestic consumption, and insecurity are huge challenges for energy producers in North Africa, according to Leonardo Bellodi and Arezki Daoud.

Middle East Notes and Comment: A Deeper Difference

Once upon a time, Middle Eastern governments thought a U.S. relationship would protect them from what they feared most. Now they are less sure, and their relationships with the United States reflect that.

Morocco's African Future

Sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly vital to Morocco’s future economic growth and security. Morocco has pursued a soft power strategy in Africa for over a decade, but regional and global dynamics create a new urgency for Morocco to diversify its economic ties, boost multilateral security cooperation, and play a more active diplomatic role.

Middle East Notes and Comment: Enlisting "B" Students

The Middle East will remain volatile and subject to repeated disruption until the problems of human capital are addressed. Focusing on the “A” students may be sufficient to succeed in good times, but resilience can only come from enlisting the “B” students as well.

Jihadi-Salafism's Next Generation

Popular uprisings across North Africa have unleashed a new wave of jihadi-salafism that is increasingly mainstream and appeals to a younger generation of activists. This popular jihadi-salafism is less dramatic than al Qaeda’s version, but it will have a far greater impact on the region’s future.

GCC-Maghreb Relations in a Changing Regional Order

Arab Gulf leaders are making clear the strategic importance they attach to North Africa through offers of aid and investment. But while Gulf leaders want to shape developments in the Maghreb, it is unclear what real political impact their actions have beyond affecting public perceptions.

The Maghreb in Transition: Seeking Stability in an Era of Uncertainty

The Maghreb is in motion. Political changes underway across North Africa have created opportunities for more representative and transparent governance. Debates over the nature of authority and the role of the state that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago now shape political discourse. And yet, doubts remain.

Building Stability through Economic Growth in the Maghreb

Governments across the Maghreb are struggling to address a wide range of socioeconomic and political grievances that sparked popular uprisings throughout 2011.

Egypt and U.S. Health Assistance

The health sector is a valuable prism through which to examine these phenomena shaping the overall U.S.-Egypt economic aid relationship.

U.S. Global Health Policy in Palestinian Hands?

If the Palestinians seek full membership in the World Health Organization (WHO), the consequences could reach beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gaza's Health Sector Under Hamas: Incurable Ills?

Once seen as a religious duty and a practical recruiting tool, Hamas’s health care agenda is now one of practical governance and political survival.

Gulf Analysis Paper: Saudi Youth: Unveiling the Force for Change

A survey of Saudi youth helps shed light on the attitudes of young Saudis and underscores the interconnections between issues that will demand creative thinking on the part of the Saudi government in the years ahead.

Water and National Strength in Saudi Arabia

Of all the manifestations of Saudi Arabia's spectacular development over the past half century, none presents a starker set of contrasts than water. "Turning oil into water," as one historian puts it, has allowed the government to turn an environment of scarcity into an environment of plenty.

A survey of Saudi youth helps shed light on the attitudes of young Saudis and underscores the interconnections between issues that will demand creative thinking on the part of the Saudi government in the years ahead. - See more at:

The Washington Quarterly: The Revolution Will Not be Tweeted

As we look ahead, the limitations of social media are becoming more apparent. Social media are not evidently helpful in facilitating political bargaining in constitution-writing processes, and social media  have only played a limited role in helping form new political parties.

Getting the Message

The public protests in Egypt are not about minor changes or grievances. Mubarak's regime faces a deep process of legitimacy erosion that has been decades in the making.

The Washington Quarterly: The Revolution Will Not be Tweeted

As we look ahead, the limitations of social media are becoming more apparent. Social media are not evidently helpful in facilitating political bargaining in constitution-writing processes, and social media  have only played a limited role in helping form new political parties.

- See more at:

Clear Gold: Water as a Strategic Resource in the Middle East

The real wild card for political and social unrest in the Middle East over the next 20 years is not war, terrorism, or revolution—it is water. Also available in Arabic.

Investing in a More Robust Public Policy Environment in the Middle East

With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, the time is ripe for supporting a more robust public policy environment in the region.

Understanding Islamic Charities

The alleged support for acts of violence and terrorism in the Islamic charitable sector—and a seeming toleration of such activities—raises serious questions.

Arab Reform and Foreign Aid: Lessons from Morocco

In the years since Mohammed VI ascended the throne, Morocco has taken many steps toward social, economic, and political transformation. The heightened importance Western powers ascribe to Middle Eastern reform and Morocco's prominence as both an example and test case of that reform raise a host of issues for Americans, Europeans, and Moroccans.