Tracking the Trends and Numbers: Islam, Terrorism, Stability, and Conflict in the Middle East

Far too much of the current U.S. debate over immigration and terrorism is focused on fear, rather than on an effort to understand the forces driving unrest and extremism in Islam and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, or on the data available on the trends involved. The Burke Chair at CSIS has prepared a detailed overview of these trends and the data available in graphic and map form in a report entitled Tracking the Trends and Numbers: Islam, Terrorism, Stability, and Conflict in the Middle East. This analysis is available at the CSIS web site at

The trends involved are complex, and there are many uncertainties and gaps in the numbers. Any survey also necessarily understates the very sharp differences between countries, and a focus on the MENA region necessarily ignores the trends and forces shaping instability and extremism in other parts of the Islamic world like Sub Saharan Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, and East Asian states like Indonesia and Malaysia.

At the same time, enough data are available to make several key points:

1. The MENA region is a region of instability and unrest. (pp. 7-9)

  • The MENA region may be a key source of violence and terrorism, but this is only one of many threats in the region, almost all of the violence is contained within the region and consists of Muslims killing Muslims, and the threat of terrorism and extremism is far broader than either ISIS/ISIL/Daesh, or al Qaeda and any of its affiliates.

  • U.S. strategic partnerships with the governments of MENA states are critical in fighting violence and extremism and deterring threats like Iran. 12 of 17 countries have some form of strategic partnership with U.S.: Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Only Iran and Syria are “hostile.”

  • The threats to stability in the region go far beyond Islamist extremism and affect every nation in the region:

o Morocco and Algeria: Spanish Sahara and Polisario

o Algeria: Islamist unrest and terrorism, human trafficking

o Libya: Civil war and ISIS

o Tunisia: Uncertain stability, some ISIS attacks

o Egypt: Repression, border problems, Islamists, Sinai war Israel vs. Palestinians in Gaza, West Bank, Sinai issues, Hezbollah

o Israel: Gaza, Hezbollah/Lebanon, Syria. Palestinian Authority, Iran, Sinai, US MOU [U.S. Memorandum of Understanding].

o Lebanon: Confessional struggles, Hezbollah vs. Army, border clashes

o Syria: ISIS, Arab civil war, Kurds, Turkey, Iran, U.S., Russia

o Iraq: ISIS, Arab civil war, Kurds, Turkey, Iran, U.S.

o Jordan: Internal tension, refugees, Israel-Palestinian, Syria, Iraq

o Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE: Iran, ISIS/AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], Iraq, Syria, Shi’ite vs. Sunni, internal divisions, 40-60% cut in petroleum revenues

o Iran: Arab threat, Baluchi and Arab internal vs. expanded regional influence, missile, asymmetric sea-air missile, nuclear, Gulf-Gulf of Oman-Indian Ocean

o Yemen: Civil war, Houthi, Saleh, Saudi and UAE, Iran, AQAP, ISIS

o Turkey: Erdogan, Russia, NATO/US/EU, ISIS/Extremism, MENA stability, Kurds, Iran, Afghanistan/Central Asia...

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