Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

What Is MENA?

MENA is an acronym for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The region is typically considered to include around 19 countries, but the definition can be stretched to include up to 24. The MENA region accounts for approximately 6% of the world's population, according to World Atlas, along with 60% of the world's oil reserves, and 45% of the world's natural gas reserves. Due to the region's substantial petroleum and natural gas reserves, MENA is an important source of global economic resources.

Key Takeaways

  • The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region includes approximately 19 countries, according to World Atlas.
  • The region has vast oil, petroleum, and natural gas reserves.
  • Due to these reserves, MENA is an important source of global economic resources.
  • The region is afflicted by persistent civil wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, with the United States and Russia supporting opposing sides and providing military resources.

Understanding MENA

Many of the 14 OPEC nations are within the MENA region. While there is no standardized list of countries included in the MENA region, the term typically includes the area from Morocco in northwest Africa to Iran in southwest Asia and down to Sudan in Africa.

The following countries are often included in the MENA region: Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Palestine, and Yemen. Ethiopia, Sudan, and Western Sahara are also sometimes included.

Economic growth in the MENA region fell by 3.8% in 2020 according to the World Bank.

Key MENA Economies

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

By far the largest economy in the MENA region, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reported a Gross Domestic Product of $792.97 billion in 2019, according to Statista. The country is highly dependent on petroleum and natural gas, which provide some 90% of the country's export earnings, according to the CIA World Factbook. Although it controls the world's second-largest proven oil reserves, Saudi Arabia has announced efforts to reduce its dependence on petroleum exports through investments in the technology and tourism sectors.

Islamic Republic of Iran

Iran is the second-largest economy in the MENA region, despite a strict sanctions regime that makes it difficult for exporters to earn foreign currency. Like Saudi Arabia, petroleum exports play a major role in the country's economy, though it is more diversified than many other oil exporters in the Middle East.

State of Israel

With a GDP of $395 billion in 2019, Israel is the fourth-largest economy in the MENA region. Unlike many of its neighbors, Israel is not an energy exporter; instead, the economy is largely centered around industrial manufacturing, diamond cutting, and high technology. Although it is a comparatively advanced industrial country with high average incomes, Israel's position has been complicated by several wars with its neighbors, as well as its ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.


With a 2019 GDP of $302 billion, Egypt represents the largest economy in North Africa, but only the fifth-largest in the MENA region as a whole. Following the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the Egyptian economy began to undergo significant market reforms, ​which helped attract outside investors and address domestic unemployment. In addition to hydrocarbons, Egypt is a major exporter of textiles and agricultural products.

Investing in the MENA Region

With more than half of the world's proven oil reserves, most investment opportunities in the MENA region are focused on the energy industries. There are many financial products allowing both retail and institutional investors to gain exposure to specific countries' oil and natural gas markets, as well as ETFs that target North Africa, the Middle East, or the MENA region as a whole.

Several MENA economies are deliberately re-orienting their economies to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel exports. For example, the United Arab Emirates has a burgeoning tech sector, and Qatar is expanding into financial services.

Fast Fact

There is no specific boundary for the Middle East, North Africa, or the MENA region as a whole. Borderline cases like Turkey, Afghanistan, and Sudan may or may not be included in the MENA region.

Major Conflicts in the MENA Region

Due to the strategic importance of their oil reserves, countries in the MENA region have been affected by major local conflicts as well as interference by foreign powers. Notably, the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan caused major disruptions in regional economic activity, while the 2011 Arab Spring protests caused a number of revolutions and civil wars, most notably in Libya and Syria, as well as what the World Bank described as "the biggest refugee crisis since World War II."

Other major conflicts in the area include the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, ongoing wars in Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a growing rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

MENA Frequently Asked Questions

What does MENA stand for?

MENA stands for the Middle East and Northern Africa, referring to the countries between Iran in the East and Tunisia and Morocco in the West.

What Countries Are in the MENA Region?

There is no clear definition of which countries are included in the MENA Region, but it is typically considered to include at least Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, and Yemen. Ethiopia, Sudan, Malta, Somalia, Western Sahara, and Mauritania are also sometimes included.

What Are the Countries in the Middle East?

The Middle East is generally considered to include the countries on or near the Arabian Peninsula, including Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Lebanon, Oman, the Palestinian territories, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. Turkey, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are often grouped together with the Middle East, but they are not typically included in considerations of the MENA region.

Which Countries Make up North Africa?

The countries of Northern Africa typically include Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. This term may also be extended to include some or all of Western Sahara, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia.

Article Sources

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  1. World Bank. "Iran Overview." Accessed May 19, 2021.

  2. Organization for Economic Cooperation. Egypt Country Profile. Accessed May 19, 2021.