In Depth

The safest and most dangerous countries in the Middle East

Syria no longer at the bottom of the worldwide peace rankings, but there is little to celebrate

Tensions in the Middle East are ever-present, amid failed efforts to end the Syrian civil war and the spiralling tanker crisis in the Gulf.

Rhetoric between the US and Iran has intensified since President Donald Trump retreated from the country’s nuclear deal last year and toughened economic sanctions against Tehran. The UK has been dragged into a tanker tit-for-tat of its own, with a British-flagged oil vessel seized by Iran in the Gulf last week.

Meanwhile, air strikes continue to rain down on Syria despite hopes that its drawn-out civil war would soon come to a close after Islamic State was pushed back.

According to the Global Peace Index (GPI) 2019, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace's initiative, Vision of Humanity, the world's least peaceful region remains the Middle East and North Africa.

“It is home to four of the ten least peaceful countries in the world, with no country from the region ranked higher than 30th on the GPI,” says the institute.

Although it became “marginally” more peaceful last year, the Middle East and its conflicts have been the “key driver of the global deterioration in peacefulness”, it says.

Iran recorded the largest deterioration in the region since the previous annual report, putting it at 139 out of 163 countries for peacefulness. Even so, it is not among the five most dangerous.

Borne of a colonial, European perspective, even the term “Middle East” can be “as contentious as the region it identifies”, and disagreements persist regarding the exact geographical definition of the region, notes Thought Co.

The GPI takes a fairly expansive view, including 20 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Here are the five safest and five most dangerous.

Safest

1. Qatar (worldwide rank out of 163: 31)

Approximately 130,000 Brits visit Qatar annually and most visits are trouble-free, according to the UK Foreign Office (FCO). It is scheduled to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022, although human rights campaigners have expressed concern about its suitability. The peninsular Arab country also tops the world’s richest list with a well-developed oil exploration industry.

2. Kuwait (43)

A much smaller number of Brits, around 10,000, visit Kuwait each year. The FCO warns visitors to take care in conservative areas such as Jahra and notes that there are high levels of crime in the town of Jleeb Al Shuyoukh, close to Kuwait international airport.

3. United Arab Emirates (53)

The UAE is a popular destination for British tourists, with around 1.5 million visiting each year. However, the FCO does warn holidaymakers to respect the local Muslim customs to avoid serious penalties, and says that terrorists are “likely to try to carry out attacks”. Diplomatic tensions with Qatar have led authorities to ban showing sympathy for its rival Gulf state - and, earlier this year, a British football fan was detained for wearing a Qatari team shirt to a match.

4. Oman (69)

“Oman has always been a country that bucks the regional trend. Neither hurtling on a crash course to high-rise hypermodernity nor turning in on itself,” says The Daily Telegraph. It offers idyllic beaches and beautiful panoramas, although the FCO still recommends maintaining a high level of security awareness.

5. Jordan (77)

EasyJet launched a new service from Gatwick to Aqaba last year, making Jordan a cheaper destination to fly to for Brits. However, the FCO warns against all but essential travel to within 3km of the border with Syria and notes that there have been a number of terrorist incidents since 2016, some serious. While it makes it into the top five for the region, Jordan is deemed to have a “medium” state of peace in the GPI ranking, while the others are classed as “high”.

Most dangerous

16. Sudan (worldwide rank out of 163: 151)

After Sudan’s president was removed in April the situation across the country has remained tense. Last month, at least 30 people were killed when security forces dispersed protesters. Opposition groups have since agreed to a power-sharing deal with the ruling military council, but the agreement is still in its very early stages. The Foreign Office advises against “all travel” to several regions and “all but essential travel” to three further regions.

17. Libya (156)

Brits have been told to avoid all travel to Libya since 2014, amid an ongoing conflict between rival factions fighting to gain control of territory and oil. Terrorist attacks and kidnappings of foreigners remain a high threat, including from Isis, al-Qaeda and other armed militias.

18. Iraq (159)

Iraq announced the defeat of Isis in December 2017. It's now beginning to recover from the militant group’s hold, but there is still a risk of terrorism and kidnappings across the country. The FCO advises against “all travel” to several regions and “all but essential travel” to the rest of the country.

19. Yemen (160)

“Yemen remains the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” notes Vision of Humanity. More than 24 million people, equivalent to 80% of the population, need protection and help but aid has been repeatedly blocked. “Four years of military stalemate between the Houthi rebels and the Saudi-backed and US-armed Yemeni government continued into 2019,” it explains. Brits are therefore warned to avoid all travel to the country.

20. Syria (162)

Syria is no longer the world’s least peaceful country, with Afghanistan sinking to the lowest spot on the rankings in 2019. Still, there is little to celebrate. Its brutal multi-sided civil war continues, with an estimated total of 470,000 people left dead. There are high levels of violence across the country, including full-scale military operations - and a number of chemical weapons attacks have taken place. The Syrian government does not have control of significant parts of the country and a small area in the east is still under the effective control of Isis. The FCO therefore advises against all travel to Syria.

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