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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Coronavirus isn’t just wreaking havoc on our health, livelihoods and economies, it’s now poised to feed Middle East unrest and, possibly, terrorism.

The big picture: The oil-rich region is being ravaged by the novel coronavirus and low oil prices that have dropped even more due to the pandemic cutting off global demand and a related price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

How it works: Nations in the Middle East depend heavily on oil revenue for a large portion of their economies, so persistently low oil prices sap government money for a vast array of public services, including health care and education.

  • The less money they have to provide services for their populations, the greater the risk of unrest that could, experts say, eventually lead to more terrorism, both in the region and abroad.

What they’re saying: Experts generally agree the one-two punch of COVID-19 itself and resulting lower oil prices will significantly exacerbate problems in the region, particularly Iran and Iraq, both which are already dealing with a host of other problems.

  • “What happens with failed states, is you have young, unemployed men with nothing to do and access to extreme ideology,” said Helima Croft, global head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets. Referring to the unrest that ultimately helped set the stage for the 9/11 attacks, Croft added: “Problems in the Middle East often don’t remain in the boundaries of these countries.”

By the numbers: If current oil-market conditions continue — oil prices hovering at or below $30 a barrel — some oil-rich nations could see their oil and gas income fall by 50% to 85% this year, the International Energy Agency and OPEC said this week in a joint statement.

  • That would be the lowest levels in more than two decades, according to a recent analysis by IEA, an intergovernmental research group.
  • The countries in IEA's analysis include (but not limited to) Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and Venezuela. Those are members of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, except for Qatar, which recently left.

“The lower the prices go, the greater chance of Middle East upheaval,” said Peter Atwater, a behavioral economist and adjunct lecturer at William & Mary.

Yes, but: Civil unrest has declined in key oil-rich Middle East nations since 2011 protests, largely because some governments have become more repressive since then, said Niamh McBurney, who leads the Middle East and North African analysis for global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecrof.

What we’re watching: How low oil prices go and how long they stay there.

"If [low prices are] short-lived, most governments in the region will be able to hold off on cuts to social welfare systems and essential services,” McBurney said by email. “If it persists through to the end of the year, countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Oman, Iraq, Kuwait will have difficult decisions to make.”

Go deeper: OPEC-Russia oil price war escalates as Saudi Aramco announces supply increase

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI told news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.