Neighbouring countries

We have also provided separate profiles on the 2 major Middle East powers, Turkey and Iran, which don't fit into the 3 main sub-regions above.

We also include profiles of MENA's neighbouring countries in the Horn of Africa, in which MENA countries are playing increasingly active roles.

Iran is currently in discussion over the 2015 Nuclear Deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This was a 159-page agreement Iran signed with 5 world powers - China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States. In 2017, the Trump administration certified Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA but the US withdrew from the deal in May 2018. President Trump claimed he could reach a better deal but left office without having done so. Analysts believe that Iran has come closer to developing a nuclear weapon in subsequent years.

Iran and Turkey have a significant influence across the whole of the MENA region. In particular, Iran and its proxies play a significant and, according to critics, disruptive role in the politics of neighbours including Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Countries in the Horn of Africa have intricate and close relationships across the Red Sea. Gulf states are operating with increased assertiveness in the Horn, establishing military bases and ports and providing increased military and economic aid. They have also sought to resolve some of the Horn’s more intractable conflicts. An example of how the politics of these regions are often intertwined is that of Ethiopia's controversial Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile which has led to serious tensions between Ethiopia on the one hand and Egypt and Sudan on the other.

Turkey has also been playing an increasingly active role in the Horn of Africa. The skylines of Djibouti and Mogadishu are today crowned by the minarets and domes of Turkish built Ottoman style grand mosques. It shows the extent to which Turkey has increased its profile in East Africa. Of course, Turkey distinguishes itself from Africa’s Chinese, European and US partners by often sharing the religious and cultural identity with countries in East Africa. In particular, Djibouti sees Turkey as an important “strategic partner”.

Of course, Turkey is the bridge between Europe and Asia – stretching from the eastern Balkans to the borders of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Georgia. Since 2005, Turkey has been negotiating to become a full member of the European Union. In 1995, it signed a customs union agreement with the EU and was recognised as a full candidate for EU membership at the Helsinki European Council meeting of December 1999. But talks have subsequently ground to a standstill amid allegations by the EU that Turkey has moved away from it and has introduced policies that break the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership.

In 2017, Turkey also upset NATO allies with its purchase of the S-400 mobile ground to air missile system from Russia, which is said to pose a threat to the US F-35 multirole combat jet. Turkey’s interventions in Syria to confront Kurdish militants have also increased tensions in the region and led to fierce skirmishes with Syrian government troops.