What is the most powerful Muslim country in the world?

5Pillars editor Roshan Muhammed Salih has compiled a subjective list of the most powerful countries in the Muslim world.

He judged them on nine criteria – the strength of their economies, internal cohesion, their political systems, levels of corruption, natural resources, human resources, the strength of their militaries, international alliances, independence, global influence and Muslim influence.

Using the above criteria he came up with a Top 10, and concluded that Turkey comes first.

This is of course a completely unscientific and subjective judgement and please feel free to disagree. But we hope it might spark off a bit of a debate.

1. TURKEY

ECONOMY: 6

Turkey is a modern country with good infrastructure but has suffered from inflation over the years and recent US sanctions have hurt its economy.

INTERNAL COHESION: 5

Turkey faces a serious Kurdish insurgency and a divided political landscape among secularists and Islamists. It also has a history of military coups.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 7

Fairly developed democracy with powerful military waiting in the sidelines.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 5

Ranked the 97th most corrupt country in the world. So an average business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 5

Turkey has to import the majority of its energy requirements. Agriculture is a key contributor to the economy but suffers from low productivity. Turkey also possesses large renewable water resources.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 7

82 million people. Average age of 30.

MILITARY: 9

Ranked number 17 on the Global Firepower Index, the highest ranked Muslim nation.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 6

Turkey has moved from having a “zero enemy” policy to having plenty of enemies in recent years such as Syria and the Kurds and to a lesser extent Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its relations with the US also blow hot and cold.

INDEPENDENCE: 6

Being a member of Nato and having CIA bases in the country puts a question mark over Turkey’s independence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 6

A significant cultural influence across the world and especially among Turkish diaspora communities. Also a member of Nato.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 8

Turkey has significant religious, cultural and political influence over the Sunni world and has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood movement. It also has significant influence in Iraq and Syria.

TOTAL: 70


 

JOINT 2ND: IRAN

ECONOMY: 3

Years of US-led sanctions have exacted a heavy toll on Iran’s economy, together with internal mismanagement. But despite that, visitors will confirm that Iran is not an impoverished nation and it is even quite modern in many ways.

INTERNAL COHESION: 8

Iran faces unrest in Sunni and Kurdish majority provinces but they do not pose a serious threat as yet.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 8

Limited democracy with Supreme Leader overseeing everything. Lots of checks and balances in the system though.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 4

Ranked the 50th most corrupt country in the world. So generally not a great business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 9

Iran is oil and gas rich.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 7

82 million people. Average age of 30.

MILITARY: 8

Ranked number 13 on the Global Firepower Index. Significant experience in fighting wars and proxy wars.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 4

Iran has plenty of powerful enemies, the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia among them. Its allies include China and Russia.

INDEPENDENCE: 7

Iran prides itself on its independence but its vulnerability to powerful enemies does make it dependent to some extent on China and Russia.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 5

Little major influence outside the Muslim world but has made strides in Africa and Latin America.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 6

Iran has significant religious, cultural and political influence over the Shia world.

TOTAL: 69


 

JOINT 2ND: SAUDI ARABIA

ECONOMY: 8

You don’t get more resource-rich than Saudi Arabia and with their small population they do indeed have money to burn. However, the economy is overly dependent on foreign labour and the oil will run out eventually.

INTERNAL COHESION: 7

No existential threats although the Shia-majority Eastern province is restive. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s power grab is also upsetting many within the regime and could lead to internal strife.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 4

Hereditary monarchy but with many divisions.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 6

Ranked the 123rd least corrupt country in the world. So generally not a bad business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 10

The world’s major energy producer.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 3

33 million people. Average age of 30. However, foreigners make up the majority of the population and local Saudis are poorly educated and skilled.

MILITARY: 5

Ranked number 26 on the Global Firepower Index. Plenty of expensive weapons but lacking in manpower. Recent fighting experience in Yemen, but have basically outsourced their security to the United States.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

Allied with world’s most powerful nation – the USA. Also indirectly allied with Israel. Biggest enemy is Iran.

INDEPENDENCE: 4

Long considered an American vassal state, but Saudi Arabia has recently emerged as a more independent actor. But if America withdraws from the region they could be in serious trouble.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 7

Petrodollars go far and Saudi has significant investments and influence in the West.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 8

Saudi has significant religious, financial and political influence over the Sunni world but there has also been a backlash against Saudi influence. It also has the prestige of being home to Makkah and Medina.

TOTAL: 69


 

4. INDONESIA

ECONOMY: 6

Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia but has seen a slowdown in growth since 2012, mostly due to the end of the commodities export boom. Still widespread poverty though in rural areas.

INTERNAL COHESION: 7

No serious threats but has experienced ISIS activity.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 7

Indonesia is stable politically and has a presidential system of democracy. A comprehensive push for decentralisation has seen much power transferred to the regions.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 5

Ranked the 83rd most corrupt country in the world. So an average business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 8

Indonesia is a rich archipelago with an abundance of natural resources, including oil. Indonesia’s rainforests — the world’s third largest — are home to more than 3,000 known species of animals, and 29,000 species of plants, and the livelihoods of 50-60 million people depend directly on these ecosystems.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 7

267 million people. Average age 28.

MILITARY: 7

Ranked number 15 on the Global Firepower Index.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

Since independence, Indonesia has sought to avoid involvement in conflicts among major powers. It pursues a reasonably independent, moderate foreign policy. As one of the founding members of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Indonesia has put ASEAN as the cornerstone of its foreign policy and outlook.

INDEPENDENCE: 7

Fairly independent nation free from overbearing foreign influence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 4

Significant regional influence but little global influence.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 3

Indonesia has influence over Muslims in its region but not globally.

TOTAL: 68


 

5. UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

ECONOMY: 8

Gas and oil aplenty coupled with a small population. So money to burn. Ranked the world’s 8th richest country in 2018. But overly dependent on foreign labour and resources which will run out.

INTERNAL COHESION: 7

No serious threats to the federation as yet, but federations do tend to break up.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 5

Federation of emirates each run by a royal family.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 7

Ranked the 159th least corrupt country in the world. So generally a good business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 10

Oil and gas aplenty.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 3

9.5 million people. Average age 33. The UAE is dependent on foreign labour within a small, poorly-skilled local population.

MILITARY: 3

Ranked number 65 on the Global Firepower Index. Battlefield experience in Yemen.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

The UAE is allied to the West and especially the Americans, British and French. Its major regional ally is Saudi Arabia and its major regional enemy is Iran.

INDEPENDENCE: 4

Saudi Arabia and Western countries have huge influence in the UAE putting into question its independence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 6

The UAE has significant business dealings with Western countries and hosts a large expatriate Western population. It has made Dubai and international tourism, media and business hub.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 5

The UAE does have financial and political influence over the Sunni world.

TOTAL: 65


 

6. MALAYSIA

ECONOMY: 7

Malaysia boasts one of south-east Asia’s most vibrant economies, the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability. The country is benefiting from a growth in manufacturing, and is a major tourist destination.

INTERNAL COHESION: 7

No significant internal threats.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 7

Malaysian politics takes place in the framework of a federal representative democratic constitutional monarchy. Executive power is exercised by the federal government and the 13 state governments.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 6

Ranked the 118th most corrupt country in the world. So not a bad business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 7

Malaysia is well-endowed with natural resources in areas such as agriculture, forestry and minerals. It is an exporter of natural and agricultural resources, the most valuable exported resource being petroleum.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 5

32 million people. Average age 28.

MILITARY: 3

Ranked number 44 on the Global Firepower Index.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

Malaysian foreign policy over the past five decades or so, broadly speaking, has emphasised the importance of fostering of closer bilateral ties with neighbouring states, the expansion of the country’s role in regional and global fora, and an attempt to maintain equidistance between major powers, including the United States and China.

INDEPENDENCE: 7

Fairly independent nation free from overbearing foreign influence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 4

Significant regional influence but little global influence.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 3

It has influence over Muslims in its region but not globally.

TOTAL: 63


 

7. QATAR

ECONOMY: 8

Gas and oil aplenty. And coupled with a small population. So money to burn. Ranked the world’s richest country in 2018. But overly dependent on foreign labour and resources which will run out.

INTERNAL COHESION: 7

No serious threats to the ruling emir, although coups are in the country’s DNA.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 5

Hereditary monarchy.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 6

Ranked the 151st least corrupt country in the world. So generally a good business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 10

Oil and gas aplenty.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 3

2.7 million people, mainly foreign workers. Average age 31. Qatar is dependent on foreign labour within a small, poorly-skilled local population.

MILITARY: 0

Ranked number 100 on the Global Firepower Index.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 5

Qatar is a tiny nation surrounded by bigger ones (such as a hostile Saudi Arabia and a less hostile Iran) so is inherently vulnerable. That is why it has outsourced its security to America and Turkey. But any country that does that is playing a dangerous game long term. It has been blockaded by fellow Gulf countries for several years now.

INDEPENDENCE: 3

America and Turkey have big says in Qatar and it is dependent on them for its security.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 8

Qatar punches hugely above its weight globally thanks to visionary leadership and plenty of money. Al Jazeera put it on the map and it has significant influence in groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as well as in Libya, among Syrian rebels groups and in Western capitals where it is a heavy investor. However, it is also now the subject of an ant-Qatar propaganda campaign spearheaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Will host the World Cup in 2020.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 6

Qatar has significant political influence over the Sunni world and has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

TOTAL: 61


 

JOINT 8TH: EGYPT

ECONOMY: 3

Basket case economy. Heavily dependent on tourism.

INTERNAL COHESION: 5

ISIS insurgency in the Sinai.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 4

Military dictatorship.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 4

Ranked the 63rd most corrupt country in the world. So generally not a great business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 4

Egypt is rich with natural gas, gold and coal mines. Egypt also has the Suez Canal, the River Nile and the Red Sea.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 7

100 million people, Average age 25.

MILITARY: 8

Ranked number 12 on the Global Firepower Index.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

Traditionally closely allied to the USA and Saudi Arabia. Peace treaty with Israel. Increasing ties with Russia.

INDEPENDENCE: 3

American and Saudi influence in Egypt put big question marks over its independence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 5

Quite significant cultural influence in the Arab world, but not internationally.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 6

Egypt does have reasonably significant religious and cultural influence over the Sunni world.

TOTAL: 56


 

JOINT 8TH: NIGERIA

ECONOMY: 5

Nigeria is a middle-income economy and emerging market, with expanding manufacturing, financial, service, communications, technology and entertainment sectors. It is ranked as the 30th-largest economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP.  Still lots of poverty though.

INTERNAL COHESION: 3

The government faces the growing challenge of preventing Africa’s most populous country from breaking apart along ethnic and religious lines.

Thousands of people have died over the past few years in communal attacks led by the ISIS-aligned Boko Haram. Separatist aspirations have also been growing.

Nigeria’s insecurity has added to its economic woes, hindering foreign investment.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 6

Nigeria is structured as a democratic federation, a structure it inherited from its British colonial rulers. It has thirty-six states, one federal territory, and 774 municipalities. Yet power resides in the central government, which controls most of the country’s revenues and resources.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 2

Ranked the 31st most corrupt country in the world. So a bad business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 9

Apart from petroleum, Nigeria’s other natural resources include natural gas, tin, iron ore, coal, limestone, niobium, lead, zinc and arable land. The oil and gas sector accounts for about 10 per cent of gross domestic product, and petroleum exports revenue represents almost 83 per cent of total exports revenue.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 7

197 million people. Average age 17.

MILITARY: 3

Ranked number 43 on the Global Firepower Index.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 7

Traditionally aligned with the West but now balancing with China.

INDEPENDENCE: 7

Fairly independent with no overbearing foreign presence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 4

Significant regional influence but little global influence.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 3

It has influence over Muslims in its region but not globally.

TOTAL: 56


 

10. PAKISTAN

ECONOMY: 2

Basket case economy. Currently seeking another IMF loan.

INTERNAL COHESION: 5

Unrest in Baluchistan and a Taliban insurgency.

POLITICAL SYSTEM: 5

Unstable democracy with powerful military waiting in wings.

LACK OF CORRUPTION: 4

Ranked the 61st most corrupt country in the world. So not a great business environment.

NATURAL RESOURCES: 4

Pakistan has large gold/copper ore deposits. There are large deposits of rock salt and its mineral resources include reserves of gypsum, limestone, chromites, iron ore, silver, precious stones, gems, marbles, tiles, sulfur, fire clay, and silica sand.

HUMAN RESOURCES: 8

201 million people. Average age 22.

MILITARY: 10

Ranked number 17 on the Global Firepower Index, but the only Muslim nation to have nuclear bomb capability.

INTERNATIONAL ALLIANCES: 6

Traditionally closely allied to the USA but now pivoting towards China.

INDEPENDENCE: 3

America, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China all have their say in Pakistan which puts a huge question mark over the country’s independence.

GLOBAL INFLUENCE: 4

Not much global influence apart from that exercised by large Pakistani diasporas.

MUSLIM INFLUENCE: 5

Pakistan does not have significant religious or political influence over the Muslim world, but does exercise some cultural influence through its music and through its diaspora.

TOTAL: 52

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