Since our last meeting, in 2015, the World community succeeded in one of its greatest struggles A global agreement on tackling Climate Change. This happened in December, at the Paris COP21, and was sealed in New York, exactly one month ago, when 175 countries signed the Agreement.
It is not a small achievement!
And its true value will be better understood in the light of the future generations.
Unfortunately, the list of global and regional problems remains rather long, maybe even longer if we look at the effects of record-low oil prices or the way migration impacted EU cohesion.
Within the seven minutes I was given, I can’t even hope of covering everything, from the future job loss due to wide spread use of robotics, or the way societies change because of the social media and fast information, to the nuclear threat of rouge dictatorships like Kim Jong-un, or the spread of new diseases like the the Zika virus.
We are in Doha, in the middle of a region that marks this year’s centenary of the Arab revolts of 1916, which set in motion many of the nationalist trends of the 20th Century in the MENA area.
This memorial comes in a time of big change for the Arab world. Unfortunately, in many instances, this change is not for the better.
Today’s headlines speak of internal strife, proxy wars, mass migration, the greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, and international interests colliding in the region.
As Chair of the EU – Qatar Parliamentary Friendship Group and Vice-Chair of the Mashreq Delegation I would like to concentrate more on this area.
I feel that the MENA region, unwillingly, is the aim of today’ greatest threat, not only to its internal well-being, but also to the global peace and security.
We all saw the implications of only one incident: the downing of the Russian Sukhoi bomber aircraft near the Syria–Turkey border on 24 November 2015.
Without assumed answers and a determined implementation of these answers, a “perfect storm” is very possible!
Such a perfect storm would not only compromise achievements like the one I mentioned in the beginning, but also would bring chaos and havoc over a huge area, inhabited by hundreds of millions of people, dragging into it half of the world.
First, the dire reality must be acknowledged!
For example, for a Syrian girl, who was born in a refugee camp, in Jordan, at the start of the conflict, she is now ready to enter school. Her memories will only be about the hardship of being a refugee and the uncertainty about the future.
The war and insecurity is destroying not only the present. IT IS DESTROYING THE FUTURE!
We all agreed already that the root causes of today’s conflicts are the scarcity in access to education, lack of economic opportunities, poor infrastructure, and week state capacity.
I was talking about these one year ago, at the very same Forum.
The conflict zone, which spread from North Africa to the tip of Arab Peninsula, is successfully doing exactly these: keeping the youth far from attaining education, killing the local economy and spreading poverty, destroying vital infrastructure, multiplying the collapsed states.
What are the chances of today’s kids in the future? What are the chances of these countries in the economic competition of tomorrow?
If nothing is done, the front page of newspapers, 30 years from now, will still be about the conflict in the Middle East. If not of something much worse!
We all hoped that years of negotiations and the successful coming into action of the Nuclear Agreement with Iran will bring hope, ease the tensions and offer new economic opportunities in the region.
Instead, it complicated and heightened the regional rivalries, namely the sectarian tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
In the whole MENA region, regardless of whether we are talking about the battles in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon or elsewhere, they can all be viewed not only as conflicts within the country, but as proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
At first sight, they are all part of the centuries-old battle between Sunni (Saudi Arabia) and Shia (Iran).
But, as with most religious conflicts, it really comes down to a battle for power and control.
Even if it would not solve the entire problem, breaking the link between Iran and the funding of terrorist organizations, or its habit of stirring up sectarian unrest in other countries, would bring the entire region closer to a much needed equilibrium between the predominantly Sunni Gulf states and the Shia Iran.
In such a desired future, of course there is competition, probable suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.
Coming to proxy wars, in the last 12 months, we witnessed how regional tensions drew in other actors, which are taking sides, upscaling the conflict to a global level.
Russia’s return to the Middle East, with its military deployment to Syria, has rekindled memories of the Cold War when Moscow and Washington confronted each other across the region. Though, its today’s presence in the region is not an ideological motivated one, but an opportunistic pursuit of national interests. Obviously, Russia’s help towards Bashar al-Assad’s regime is just prolonging the war. The very same war which produced millions of refugees and spurred the rise of Daesh and the militant group’s expansion into Iraq, Libya and other oil-producing nations.
The lengthening of the conflict destabilizes Europe and brings dissensions between its member states because of the millions of refugees. It also brings an opportunity for Daesh to infiltrate EU immigrants’ communities.
An unstable Middle East and, maybe, a conflict contamination to other countries in the region seems, in Moscow’s eyes, the only thing that can push up the oil prices. Today’s oil prices represents an immediate threat to national security for Russia.
Not the least, the Russian military presence in Syria, offers bargaining chips to Moscow, in its diplomatic efforts to lift the economic sanctions that followed the Crimea annexation.
I believe that the experience and capacity accumulated in the one hundred years that passed from Al-Thawra al-`Arabiyya, offers to the countries in this region the means to solve on their own the internal conflicts, without allowing others, like before, to play their proxy wars and “Games of Thrones”.
A new generation of Arabs are already questioning the status quo, both in politics and business.
Not only war, conflict and strife are changing the Middle East.
We live in the digital age, where there is a much greater boldness to express ideas and concerns. More than 100 million people access Facebook on mobiles across the MENA region today. The same area is one of the fastest growing on Twitter and Instagram.
Young people, between ages 15 and 29 represent close to 30% of the population. This means over 100 million citizens transitioning into adulthood. The largest number in the region’s history. This generation is relying increasingly on entrepreneurship and the private sector.
Job creation in the MENA region is dominated by young companies. These businesses need support to provide sustainability in their job creation and bring new opportunities.
I feel that countries like Qatar, Oman or the United Arab Emirates are showing how legitimacy by competence is the best way forward while modern national identities are being formed.
Some have focused their attention on redrawing borders, challenging the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916.
I consider that the main focus must be upon the people living within the borders.
The main duty of the leaders and governments must be towards these people, their security, well-being and freedom.
I am sure that a Middle East without conflicts will benefit everyone more. It would be a great place to do business, to innovate, to visit and to live in. More than a Middle East hunted by proxy wars and endless conflicts.
From the yesterday’s opening speeches, I feel that there are leaders in this world that have this kind of vision for the future.
It takes strength for someone to face today’s storms, but it takes COURAGE to stop them.