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GuidanceJan 18, 2019 | 15:40 GMT
Geopolitical Calendar

Stay informed about the significant meetings and events the Stratfor team is tracking.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:06 GMT

Located in the northeast corner of Africa, Egypt lies at the heart of the Arab World. Comprised of mostly uninhabitable desert, 99 percent of the country's 93 million people live along the banks of the Nile River. This region, from the Aswan High Dam to the Mediterranean shore is Egypt's core. The Nile, while not commercially navigable, forms the basis of Egypt's irrigation-dependent agricultural sector. The long, narrow stretch of population requires expensive infrastructure development — especially related to transportation, straining the capital-poor government's resources. The desert topography demands a great deal of investment on a national scale necessitating a strong central state, helping to explain Egypt's history of authoritarian regimes beginning with the pharaohs. Egypt's main geographic challenge has been to develop beyond the narrow Nile corridor and project power eastward. The Saharan desert has largely insulated the Nile core from its western flank and contained Egypt's westward expansion. Egypt has been able to translate its strong central government and border with Israel into developing a relationship with the United States, the key foreign backer protecting the Suez Canal and the northern coastline. This area contains the majority of Egypt's offshore hydrocarbon reserves. The Sinai Desert has traditionally been the overland route of foreign invasion, but its more manageable geography also accommodates Egyptian attempts to interact with the Levant and Arabian Peninsula and competition with Saudi Arabia for the role of regional Arab hegemon.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:30 GMT
United Arab Emirates
United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates is located on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. To its west is Saudi Arabia and to its east is Oman. Iran is only a few miles north, across the Persian Gulf. With desert in its west and south, dry mountains in its east and the warm waters of the Persian Gulf to the north, the United Arab Emirates' climate is unable to support agriculture beyond small-scale oases and camel herds. The country is divided into three broad regions: the coastal harbors of the Gulf, bounded by the sandy desert of the Rub al-Khali, or Empty Quarter; the interior, where settlements cluster around oases; and the northeast, which is broken up by the Al Hajar Mountains. There are no natural rivers and few timber supplies in the United Arab Emirates, and nearly all the country's drinkable water is trapped beneath oases. In the premodern era, citizens mainly survived off piracy, trade and pearling, and the most powerful settlement was the emirate of Ras al-Khaimah near the Al Hajar Mountains. After the discovery of oil in the 1962, power shifted permanently to the more southern Abu Dhabi, which holds 94 percent of the country's proven oil reserves. These coastal cities are the core of the country. Founder Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan established the United Arab Emirates -- the Arab world's only successful federation -- in 1971 and ruled until his death in 2004. At that time, his son and current president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan took over power. The United Arab Emirates seeks to maximize its independence while warding off the influence and control of more powerful regional players Saudi Arabia and Iran. To do this, it has leveraged its energy supply and strategic location to secure alliances with extra-regional powers like the United States. Utilizing its oil receipts, the United Arab Emirates has imported foreign labor from South and East Asia, as well as the Arab world. Combining that labor with global technology, the country has rapidly transformed itself from a desert backwater to a key transport hub, tourist destination and regional military power.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:18 GMT

Libya lies in the middle of North Africa’s Mediterranean coast, bordered by Tunisia and Algeria to the west and Egypt to the east. Across the Sahara Desert, the country’s southern edges touch Niger, Chad and Sudan. Libya is divided into three geographic regions: Fezzan, the desert interior; Cyrenaica, the Mediterranean hills running east to the Egyptian border; and Tripolitania, the coastal deserts and oases of the west. Because the country’s two largest cities, Benghazi and Tripoli, are separated by a long stretch of sparsely populated coast, Libyan power tends to split between east and west. Libya has no year-round rivers or lakes, and it boasts only small forests in Cyrenaica. Though it is the fourth-largest country in Africa by landmass, Libya ranks 36th by population, home to a mere 6.2 million people. However, the state has the ninth-largest proven oil reserves, making trade and secure sea lanes critical to Libyan prosperity and security. From gaining independence in 1951 to the outbreak of civil war in 2011, Libya used its energy resources to import technology and goods that transformed its economy. Chief among these projects was the Great Man-Made River, which brought underground water supplies from the desert to the coast, improving Libya’s trade capabilities and boosting its influence across Africa. Because Libya has no natural geographic barriers to fortify its land borders, its governments often struggle to establish order across their territory while protecting the country’s long, exposed coastline from other Mediterranean powers. Friendly ties with European countries are therefore vital to Libya’s security, because the state cannot defend its coastline from Continental navies. Libya’s primary geographic challenge is thus to guard its winding coasts and borders while using its substantial energy resources to develop the country.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:27 GMT

Modern Syria is located along the eastern Mediterranean Sea, bordering Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. Syria’s main geographic challenge is uniting its diverse ethnic groups under one domestic power. This is the result of mountainous terrain and ethnic cores that contradict the state’s current borders. Syria’s population is composed of Sunni Arabs, Alawites, Kurds, Druze, and Christians, among others. The traditional core of Syria's ruling Alawite minority sits on the northern coastal plain to the west of the Jabal an Nusayriya mountains and to the north of the Anti-Lebanon mountains. Between these two ranges, the Homs Gap has often been the point of invasions from the Mediterranean Sea. The interior region is dominated by the majority Sunni Arab peoples. The Syrian Desert divides this area into two competing regions with strong local identities. The first, Damascus, is the historical capital and the modern seat of power for the Alawites. The other, Aleppo, is situated in the agricultural heartlands of the Aleppo plateau. The Euphrates river divides this plateau from the much more arid Jazirah plateau and allows for irrigation in an otherwise desert region. Syria’s modern boundaries fall short of the historical concept of Greater Syria—spanning from Lebanon to the west and Jordan and Israel to the south. Its current borders were set by the League of Nations' French Mandate, following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Lebanon, especially Beirut, has always been important to Syria because of its trade ports and access to Mediterranean markets. Syria’s recent civil unrest is the latest example of its geographic challenge. Maintaining unity remains difficult so long as its current boundaries continue to overlap regional and ethnic fault lines.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:33 GMT

Yemen is located on the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, across from the Horn of Africa. With Saudi Arabia to the north and Oman to the east, Yemen’s land borders are largely isolated by the Empty Quarter, a vast, uninhabited desert that stretches through the region. Across the Red Sea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia are linked to Yemen by trade, religion and culture. From its vantage point on the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, Yemen overlooks one of the world’s biggest trade routes. Yemen has three geographic regions: the northern and western highlands, anchored by the capital Sanaa; the southern coastal harbors around Aden; and the eastern desert of the Hadramawt. For most of its history, the country’s civilization centered on the highlands, where enough rain falls to sustain agriculture. Because they lack oil and mineral resources, Yemen’s highlands are dependent on these farmlands. Meanwhile coastal harbor cities like Aden survived off trade and piracy, while the desert interior developed a Bedouin trading and raiding culture that siphoned wealth from the two nearby regions. Dwindling water supplies threaten this balance, however, as skyrocketing populations and shifting agricultural practices strain the demographic sustainability of the highlands. Nearly 20 million of Yemen’s 26.8 million people live in or near the highlands, which envelop and isolate Sanaa. So for outside powers, ports along the Red Sea trade routes of the south tend to make for better targets than the Yemeni capital. Throughout history, states from Rome to Great Britain have tried to capture Aden and its environs. The vulnerability of the city and its southern surroundings to foreign influence and meddling has repeatedly opened rifts between Yemen’s north and south. During these times of tension, the Hadramawt east often slips from the grasp of the central government. Yemen’s geographic challenges, then, are threefold. First, the country must ward off foreign encroachment on its exposed southern flank. Second, it must find a way to manage its increasingly scarce resources. And third, Sanaa must keep the Hadramawt -- known for its ability to threaten national unity -- under tight control.

Regions & CountriesJanuary 18, 2019 | 13:14 GMT

Israel lives under difficult geopolitical circumstances. A small country with limited resources and surrounded by potentially hostile neighbors, Israel survives by allying with powers that do have the resources to manage the balance of power in the Middle East — namely, the United States. Its geographic position also means that Israel must manage complex relations with its Muslim neighbors by quiet collaboration, by exploiting divisions, and by parlaying its technological and economic advantages into create strategic dependencies. To navigate all the challenges presented by the Middle East, Israel will remain agile in its diplomacy and, when the situation warrants, steadfast in its pre-emptive strikes, its covert activities and its economic relationships.

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