Abu Dhabi conference tackles MENA geopolitical challenges

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, spoke of the need for a unified Arab stance.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Beirut Institute founder Raghida Dergham speaks at the second Beirut Institute Summit. (Caline Malek)
New dynamics. Beirut Institute founder Raghida Dergham speaks at the second Beirut Institute Summit. (Caline Malek)

ABU DHABI - The Arab region’s priorities, the emerging landscape of geopolitical realignments and the American-Russian dynamics in the Middle East were top issues tackled during a high-level conference in Abu Dhabi.

More than 200 Arab and international delegates met to discuss them and other subjects earlier this month during the second Beirut Institute Summit, organised by regional think-tank the Beirut Institute under the theme “Constructing the Arab Region’s Engagement in the Emerging Global Future.”

With conflicts ravaging much of Syria, Yemen and Libya, the summit was timely in establishing a framework for trying to shape the region’s coming years.

 “It’s about whether we can think of constructing this engagement in the future, while conflicts are ongoing or must we, as a precondition, resolve conflicts in order to build a future,” said Raghida Dergham, founder of the Beirut Institute. “It’s not an exercise in fancy wording. It’s an exercise in a serious situation that is consuming part of this region.”

 “The Gulf part of the Arab region is very stable and they’re joining the future in a very organised way,” Dergham said, “but they cannot be divorced from the larger identity with the Arab region, so you cannot pretend that the Gulf states are totally disconnected from what’s going on in Yemen — it’s in their neighbourhood — or even in Libya or Syria.”

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the Arab League, spoke of the need for a unified Arab stance. “If we have a unified will, we will go forward,” he said.

“The Arab League is working based on the concept of consensus, but the norm of the Arab approach is not to turn things into majority and minority because the minority will always feel they were deprived of their rights.”

Experts spoke of the transformations that took place in the Arab region in the past decade. Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, chairman of the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic Studies’ board of directors, mentioned the presence of carcinogenic cells that have been inserted into the Arab region.

“We, as Arabs, should have a development project to combat and counteract this intervention and these cells that are trying to benefit from our problems,” he said.

Lebanese Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nohad Machnouk said: “The Iranian intervention is one of the major causes of the dysfunction happening in the region. It has always been a destabilising activity.”

David Petraeus, chairman of the KKR Global Institute and a former director of the CIA, explained that the region did not need to be redefined. “What you need to do is acknowledge the extraordinary number of centrifugal forces working to try and tear apart the [Arab] region and those that comprise this particular region,” he said.

Technological leaps, regional security, the role of Arab women, as well as innovation, productivity and the future of jobs were high on the summit’s agenda.

Parag Khanna, a geo-strategist and best-selling author, spoke of the manner in which technological revolutions are shaping our world. He said societies of the future would be measured by how connected or disconnected they were and the best-connected societies will be the most successful.

“Stable regions will be best able to connect internationally, with less concern over their stability at home,” Khanna said. “So we must strive for this region for that kind of stability so that it can focus on its international connectivity with partners around the world.”

“It’s important to realise that this region, given its central geography, has to think globally in terms of who it is connected to economically,” he said. “The UAE has done very well to get connected, to attract investment and to develop a strategy around the latest technologies but it has the responsibility to take the lead in spreading these technologies for the benefit of the region.”

Experts shared their thoughts on the future of the Arab world, many mentioning hope in the youth’s role in shaping that future, while others called for changes and addressing deep-rooted challenges to ensure a stable and prosperous region.

“We can look at the future in a positive way in the Arab world but there is still a lot to do, especially as we are in turmoil in many of our countries,” said May Chidiac, a former journalist and founder and president of the May Chidiac Foundation in Lebanon. “We need help to have stability in our region but, to have good governance, accountability is something we have to work for ourselves.”

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, said the UAE and Saudi Arabia were ready to shoulder their responsibility in helping the rest of the region. “It’s a place of hope for the youth, who are the ones changing the name of the game and bettering society,” he said.

According to al-Faisal, the United Nations and the Arab League are no longer functioning. “After seven years now, we’ve still got a few more years of bloodshed in Syria and that’s totally unacceptable,” he said. “Russia, the US, Turkey, Iran, Europe and the rest of the world community, who are contributing to the military campaign there, have the capability to impose on all of Syria a ceasefire and that is what is needed. Stop the killing, because it’s the Syrian people who are paying the price, and the world community isn’t doing that, which is not just shameful, it’s criminal.”