Demographic Change in the Arab/Persian Gulf: A Case Study by Country

It is hard for anyone who has not traveled extensively in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) over a period of decades to realize just how much each nation in the region has changed in terms of basic demographics. There has been a massive increase in population in every MENA country since the end of World War II and the colonial period, and the nations in the Arab/Persian Gulf are no exception.

The Emeritus Chair in Strategy has prepared a three-part analysis of the MENA’s demographics and detailed how population pressure has impacted the region’s stability. This first part is entitled Demographic Change in the Arab/Persian Gulf: A Case Study by Country. A downloadable copy is attached at the end of this transmittal, and it is available on the CSIS website at

There are no precise figures for population growth that are fully reliable, but the broad trends are still clear. Many MENA countries have never had a credible census, and even reliable broad estimates of population trends only became available for many countries in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Work by the UN and World Bank is now reliable enough, however, to show that all MENA countries experienced massive increases in population through 2021 and that the resulting pressures on their economies, governance, and social stability have been—and will be—a key factor affecting their stability.

The World Bank and UN estimates summarized in the graphs in this report do indicate, however, that there is a near certainty that population pressure will present growing problems through at least 2020. The same is true of the other demographic data and estimates the authors could find.

What is far less clear is how well given nations can adapt and how some alternative forces will change the nature of each country’s population problems. The World Bank and UN estimates do not address the interactions between population growth and the level of stability and violence in given countries, and this presents major problems in Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya.

These projections do assume that population growth rates will be affected by the cost of living in urban areas but do not assess the impact of problems in development, job creation, and urban services. They do not address key limits on growth like water supplies or the impact of climate change and the growing concern of experts that many MENA states will come under pressure for climate migration by 2050.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Paul Cormarie

Research Intern, Emeritus Chair in Strategy