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 27. The World Bank includes 21 countries as being part of MENA and based on their 2020 population reports, the region accounts for approximately 6% of the world's population. According to a 2012 OPEC speech, the MENA region produced about 58% of the world's oil reserves, and 43% of the world's natural gas reserves. As of 2018 data, the region still provides 55% of world's oil 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 21 countries, according to The World Bank.
  • 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 13 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 (not an exhaustive list): 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.

Facing a tough recovery due to COVID-19, 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 $700 billion in 2020. The country is highly dependent on petroleum and natural gas, which provide some 90% of the country's export earnings. 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 fifth-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 $407 billion in 2020, Israel is the second-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 2020 GDP of $365 billion, Egypt represents the largest economy in North Africa as well as the third-largest economy in the MENA region. 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.

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, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, and Yemen. Also sometimes included are Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, Turkey, and Western Sahara, to name a few.

What Are the Countries in the Middle East?

The Middle East is generally considered to include the countries on or near the Arabian Peninsula. According the CIA World Factbook, the Middle East includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Gaza Strip/Westbank, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. 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 Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. This term may also be extended to include certain East African countries such as Djibouti and Somalia.

Article Sources
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