Signs of a promising new era for the Middle East

Countries should observe the principles of dialogue and diplomacy to forge economic partnerships and stimulate trade exchanges

  
Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Baghdad, Iraq, June 27, 2021.

Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Baghdad, Iraq, June 27, 2021.

REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
 

International observers have begun paying far closer attention to the challenges facing the Middle East in recent years in the light of increasing dangers.

In this context, given the spiraling tensions, a strong spotlight should be shone on these challenges. While overall these are or at least should be straightforward to meet, a central fact to which the world has paid far too little heed — with dire consequences — is that there is no region on the planet more pivotal or more complicated than the Middle East. Its crises are compounded by a combination of failures in development, politics and security, as well as growing imbalances.

There are multiple challenges that should be discussed and tackled from within the framework of international crisis management. The first challenge is the fragility of regional states and the unwelcome violation of their sovereignty by hostile foreign actors. Due to this challenge, states like Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Libya lack even a rudimentary functioning political system or stable institutions capable of performing their duties to the fullest extent. This has led, in turn, to a political vacuum that has encouraged other foreign countries, terrorist groups and various entities to seek to further their own interests at the expense of the region’s peoples, further weakening states and undermining their sovereignty.

The second challenge is the difficulty in agreeing upon and establishing a consensual political system supported by the people. The interference of externally backed non-state actors, each with their own ideological and often sectarian goals, has obstructed national projects, such as drafting consensual constitutions and establishing agreed-upon political systems. The infringements of these non-state actors have meant that many regional countries have turned into subordinate states, with their wishes and aspirations not considered or respected.

This appeared most evidently following the fall of some Arab regimes due to the political vacuum created by the events of the so-called Arab Spring.

The third challenge that poses both a present and future danger in the Middle East is the dispute over regional leadership. A primary rule in the field of international relations is that a balance of power reduces the likelihood of entering into conflicts. In other words, when neighboring countries are balanced, inclusive and possess well-run national forces, each state averts the potential for conflict and is uninclined to engage in military disputes whose outcomes are uncertain. This calming balance, unfortunately, does not exist in the region for the time being.

Following the experience of the Arab Spring, new countries and configurations have emerged and are attempting to tip the balance of power in their favor. This has led to a transition from regional states using soft power to a far greater reliance on hard power or military tools.

This foreshadows a new wave of covert conflicts via the deployment of sectarian militias, maritime piracy, ballistic missile attacks, drone attacks, cyberattacks, assassinations and other similar strategies. All of the aforementioned could lead to a war, shifting from a small-scale conflict to full-blown warfare, with rapid and disastrous ramifications.

In light of the above, several solutions can be proposed to address the region’s pressing threats and challenges.

The first solution is to foster national spirit and establish a state of social justice through promoting and enhancing the values of tolerance and dialogue, narrowing the gap between generations and forging a national consensus regarding the challenges among all groups within society.

In fact, historical experience has proved that embracing a positive united national spirit has always been the only way to build a unified and genuinely powerful state — as opposed to relying on foreigners and transboundary ideologies, which undermine the state and alter its compass.

The second solution is to combat corruption. There is no hope for economic growth or national well-being without a functioning justice system and judicial oversight to prevent corruption. In addition, there is a need for the fair distribution of wealth, effective and wise management of resources and an effective system to ensure transparency and accountability. This requires political will, organized work and modern tools.

The third solution is to respect the sovereignty of all nations. According to international law, each state has sovereignty over its own territories and people. Any foreign nation’s violation of a state’s sovereignty is considered a first step toward undermining that state’s institutions, impacting its strategic decisions and diverting it toward achieving the interests of the intervening nation.

The fourth solution is to ensure effective and balanced strategic communications between regional countries — which is particularly vital in the Middle East in light of the racial and ethnic differences between populations and, to some extent, the sectarian binaries.

Despite the multiple crises that will continue to fuel conflicts, there is a geographic inevitability largely due to the proximity of regional states and this should mean a common will to take into consideration the need to respect one another’s boundaries and laws through agreement on mutual interests and respecting each other’s sovereignty.

Countries should also observe the principles of dialogue and diplomacy to forge economic partnerships and stimulate trade exchanges. They should engage in media and cultural exchanges and empower the youth to benefit from their dynamism and innovative ideas. The Middle East is blessed with a youthful population.

To conclude, there are no other realistic solutions to satisfactorily address regional threats and challenges except to embrace and pursue a rational approach, particularly in the midst of international crises and rapidly changing behaviors. This rational approach depends on addressing the structural weaknesses of regional regimes, satisfying the overall interests of all parties, attempting to resolve crises, tackling the loopholes that lead to the exploitation of the young, and strengthening development projects — which will make it much more likely to achieve positive regional outcomes.

When it comes to the role of Saudi Arabia in this context, the nature of its positions at the G20 on many international issues and its adoption of positive policies at all social, economic and political levels strengthen its efforts to prevent the region turning into a pawn for foreign powers and throwing it into a vortex of violence and chaos.

Not so long ago, regional powers sought to play a dark zero-sum game with the Kingdom. Despite this game, Saudi Arabia has embraced moderate rhetoric and pursued a transparent policy that has had a positive effect and strengthened its relations regionally and internationally.

This prompts us to say, with cautious optimism, that there are signs of a dawn of a new era, whose pillars will be based on a moral contract between regional states. This contract will consider their collective national interests and reject expansionist projects, foreign ideologies and sectarian orientations.

  • Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami is President of the International Institute for Iranian Studies (Rasanah). Twitter: @mohalsulami
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