Arab leaders stress need for unity, reform at strategy forum
DUBAI - The Arab world is in a bipolar landscape and much reform will be needed to ensure it regains stability, regional officials said.
Speaking December 9 at the 12th Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai, former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the region cannot get out of bottlenecks it faces without serious efforts.
He spoke at a session titled “The Future of the Arab Region 2030” that scrutinised the geopolitical landscape of the Arab world and offered projections on the dynamics over the next decade.
Siniora spoke of a receding Arab role, saying serious efforts needed to be implemented that require resilience and patience, two qualities that have been absent of late.
Since the “Arab spring,” several attempts at reform in Arab countries have failed, increasing citizens’ distrust of government. “Politicians in Lebanon have taken the reins of power to boost their profits at the cost of the people,” he said. “If this corruption continues and leaders in power disregard the people’s demands Lebanon will remain vulnerable to economic and security issues. Corruption needs an institutional remedy.”
He called for legislation to eradicate corruption, while senior officials and public sector employees should be transparent in handling governmental affairs.
“We need to have an honest, open and transparent dialogue between decision-makers and citizens to successfully implement reforms in the region,” Siniora said. “The young generation cannot find adequate jobs and governments will need to re-examine how to provide opportunities for the youth and job seekers in the private sector.
“Without close cooperation on both sides, reforms cannot be successfully executed.”
Marwan al-Muasher, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Jordan, said citizens in Iraq and Lebanon were increasingly dissatisfied with gradual reforms and no longer willing to accept the authoritarian regimes or political systems in power.
“They have called for an end to sectarian regimes and their representatives,” he said. “The Arab world is stuck between the rock of reforms and the hard place of the current situation. If we remain as we are, the world will be way ahead of us in 10 years.”
“We are lagging behind in the Arab world,” Muasher said, calling for an end to discrimination against women at the legislative and social levels for Arab countries to be able to progress. “We need equal citizenship and we need economic models that will stand for equal opportunities for all nationals,” he said.
The region has undergone a second wave of protests in the past year, with demonstrations in Iraq, Lebanon and Sudan because of dissatisfaction among citizens on what they describe as their governments’ corrupt behaviour.
Muasher said that, when regimes failed in their role, unrest became on many regional countries, with most protests, other than in Tunisia, ending up, so far, in inefficient situations. “We can see countries that were oil producers as well as oil importers in the Arab world ruled by regimes that subsidised their services,” he argued.
“These systems need to be reviewed because they could afford it in the past but, with the drop in oil prices, it is no longer possible. Young generations now find themselves not only unable to take an active role but also in finding jobs and we need to change that.”
He said that efficient reform would have been successful if regimes had involved their people more, given them more power and more voice, while creating jobs and opportunities for university graduates.
“We have seen this in Iraq and Lebanon, where people are increasingly dissatisfied,” he added. “We need to try to resolve problems by ourselves. We cannot keep complaining about external interference if we are not doing anything about our issues. Internal change needs to be initiated to happen.”
Siniora noted that Arab countries will keep feeling the need for protection from regional or international powers, as long as they are divided.
“We need to have a sound viewpoint by reaching out to Iran, provided it does not interfere or make any aggressive act towards the Arab region and to develop economic interests with [Tehran],” he said.
“In Lebanon, as long as Hezbollah does not understand the actual need for changing its behaviour and coping with these new requirements from the youth, then it looks like we have bleak prospects.”
Muasher stressed the need for Arab countries to “do the job” themselves and defend their home. “In the past, we relied on foreign powers to [address] domestic challenges,” he said.
“It is evident to everyone that US President Donald Trump’s administration has not supported Arabs on many occasions — when Gulf countries were challenged by Iran, the United States did not step up — the [Gulf Cooperation Council] GCC could be more united in this matter and it’s high time to look at people as people and not as belonging to religious sects.”