2017 has been an interesting year for the countries in the Middle East. Indirectly, the year started with the presidential win of Donald Trump in the United States. Trump campaigned on an America First policy and his anti-Muslim rhetoric rocked the region. Many, including most of American allies in the region were unsure how their relationship with the U.S would be.
Then, came his first international trip which he toured the region and promised to cooperating with them economically and in defeating ISIS.
Then, came the decision by top countries to block trade from Qatar with the key grievance being its funding of terrorists and its close cooperation with Iran.
Then, came the decision from the Saudi Arabian king to anoint the next crown price going for the 32-year-old Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. With his powers, the prince worked to remove the conservative order in the country. For example, he allowed women to drive.
His most ambitious deal has been the fight against corruption where he arrested several prominent businessmen, ministers and princes. It is estimated that this move will net the country more than $100 billion.
Another major issue in the Middle East was Trump’s decision to dismantle the Iran nuclear agreement that was signed under Obama. To him, the deal gave Iran too much while other countries received nothing.
Last month, he moved to move U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that could escalate in the new year.
In addition, this year, the ISIS group has been decimated in Iraq and Syria.
In 2018, the focus in the Middle East will be about these issues.
First, the decision on Jerusalem is expected to lead to conflict and potentially war in the region. Turkish president, Erdogan has called the decision a red line and Trump’s allies in Saudi Arabia have called it a big decision. This week, the UN is expected to have a vote to condemn the United States for its decision. Trump and his administration have remained adamant.
Second, the Iran deal could have significant implications in the Middle East. Trump’s decision to declassify the Iran deal led to opposition from most of American allies including the European Union, Australia, and China. Trump has called for a renegotiation which has not been accepted by the partners who helped negotiate the deal. In the coming year, Iran is expected to restart its nuclear programs and potentially exit the deal.
Third, the conflict in Syria is likely to end. Already, Russia and Iran have started withdrawing its troops from the country. By doing this, the two countries are calling for talks on having a political settlement with the two countries supporting Assad to remain in power. In the coming year, there is a likelihood that a political settlement will be made.
Fourth, in Saudi Arabia, the purge of corruption is likely to continue as the new crown prince flexes his power. This will not be easy as those targeted yield so much power in the country. His moves will likely be helped by the current high oil prices. In Yemen, traders will hope that violence will stop.
For traders, the Middle East is very important, not because of their currencies or stocks, but because of crude oil. Escalation of violence may mean disruption in oil production and supply which could lead to higher oil prices.