Elif Selin Calik
“Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me,” says Nelson Mandela in his autobiographical book Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela takes the readers by the hand and shows them that everyone is equally subject to oppression and that liberation is a collective need. Regarding this point that Mandela made, today people in the MENA region need leaders who foster an environment of freedom and liberty rather than fear.
Last Sunday, President of Al Sharq Forum Wadah Khanfar clearly pointed out the importance of powerful leaders in the MENA region in his keynote speech of the conference entitled “Towards New Security Arrangements For The Mena Region” organized by Al Sharq Forum and AMEC. “There will be hope if we have proper leadership to transform the region,” he said. He underlined the importance of authentic leadership to successfully guide new public management and public governance goals and offered only one way of envisioning and constructing a real balance for the future of the region. “Leadership in a crisis situation is very different from leadership in a time of normal conditions. We have been in need of a proper leadership to transform the society and to resolve the multiplying deep conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa since the 2011 Arab uprisings”.
- Outsiders and regional powers in the MENA region
The crisis in the MENA region is multi-dimensional and runs very deep. Since the Arab uprisings, the number of conflicts has increased. But, the main problem is that the region’s lack of unity at its birth has remained the leitmotiv of its troubled existence, with its divisions inviting more foreign interventions, which in turn generate more and more divisions and conflicts.
As Joost Hiltermann, the MENA Programme Director of Crisis Group, said in the first session of the conference, “Outside powers have had multiple interests in the Middle East and North Africa: its stability, its hydrocarbon resources, individual states’ forced allegiances with superpowers, its markets, and at times, its products and its labor.” Regarding this, we can look at the conflicts in the MENA region and see many outsiders (the U.S., Russia, the EU and its member states). There is a real danger in us not focusing on the deeper drivers of these conflicts. Therefore, the outsiders’ role and impact on how conflicts evolve must be understood from the perspective of interventionist and therefore destabilizing policies in the region.
As far as security is concerned, the MENA region is in freefall. Regional disorder and chaos, compounded by the power vacuums at the heart of the region, have encouraged greater competition between the remaining strong states and also emboldened them for more unilateral interventions or as part of makeshift coalitions. The Saudi-led interventions in Yemen, and Iran’s role in supporting the Assad regime in Syria, are symptomatic of the new strategic realities in the MENA region. In the absence of other strong, outside states, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as two regional powers, may become more visible and more active. And, it is undeniable that outside powers cannot tackle local conflicts, but local actors, on the other hand, cannot find solutions if outside powers do not let them. This should not mean that efforts at resolving local conflicts should be dismissed until global and regional powers find new ways to accommodate their competing interests. Much important groundwork can be done in the meantime. But, it is clear that no material progress will be achieved until global and regional conditions ripen.
- Energy and security challenges for the Middle East
As stated during the part of the conference on energy, the MENA region, which has some of the world’s largest fossil fuel-producing countries, has been an important player in supply energy (mainly in the form of oil and natural gas) to the world. According to a report published by Aramco, the MENA region has the largest proven natural resources globally, with 57% of the world’s oil and 41% of its natural gas. But, today we see multiple challenges when it comes to energy in the MENA region. There is a massively growing demand from the countries of the region.
According to Dr. David Jalilvand from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, the MENA region is paradoxically experiencing “energy security challenges as countries struggle to balance export revenues, domestic consumption and power sector development. To address the challenges, demand- and supply-side resource management will be increasingly important. Implementing energy efficiency measures and removing fossil fuel subsidies could curb demand in the region, manage expected increases in expenditure on imports (for net importers) and free up resources to continue securing revenue from exports, as well as achieve environmental goals."
In the third session, “Energy and Security Challenges for the Middle East”, former Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources of Jordan Malek Kabariti made an important point that "in the region our major problem is to use properly and efficiently the natural sources especially water. As the industrial revolution changed everything in the 19th century, ‘the green revolution’ will change everything in our region because the prices of oil have been increasing. But, on the other hand, the prices of renewable energy is dramatically decreasing.” His point is very crucial in that the Middle East does not have any choice but to be successful in wielding renewable energy because in the oil producing heart of the Middle East, the investments we have seen in renewables at increasingly reasonable costs are really game-changing. Making investment in this area will show that the region is following a growing global trend. According to IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), one trillion dollar has been invested in renewable energy around the world and the sector has outpaced the investment in fossil fuel generation in the last five years. In addition to that, it would be worth mentioning that in November 1896, Thomas Edison uttered important words about future developments, such as renewable sources of energy. He said, “I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power. I hope we don’t have to wait till oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” The region definitely has things to learn from this prescient statement of Edison. As the MENA region is a rapidly growing energy consumer and the rise in regional energy consumption comes at increasingly greater economic costs, (also keeping in mind that the rising oil prices in the world markets, since the early 2000s, have raised the cost of imported oil) renewable energy options, such as wind and solar energy, overlooked for decades owing to nonexisting commercial incentives, could offer the region a valuable energy alternative to fossil fuels.
On the other hand, deepening the dialogue between oil and gas producers and consumers will enable all energy players to handle uncertainty more effectively and help the industry mobilize much-needed investment. The aim should be to improve market transparency by developing more effective ways of exchanging information, and co-operating on policies to enhance the efficiency of the oil and gas sector. During the session, Kabariti addressed that issue by underlining the importance of achieving mutually beneficial outcomes in the region. “Producing countries are as much concerned about security of demand as consuming countries are about security of supply. Working together, consumer and producer governments can improve the mechanisms by which we meet our common challenges. But they need to identify this objective as a priority and take the first steps,” he said.
We must admit that a stable MENA region will invite broader engagement and provide a positive catalyst for regional cooperation despite the growing energy self-sufficiency of outside powers, whose aim is to get a slice of this regional cake while the innocent nations are trying to build security in the region.
In conclusion, we can say that with no grand bargains or even lasting local settlements in sight, the distressing diagnosis is that the world may face prolonged instability in the MENA region, spread over multiple battlefields, such as Syria and Yemen. As it was stated during the sessions, the current set of intersecting conflicts worsened by external interventions bear some resemblance to the Thirty Years’ War of Europe, which was perhaps the first “world war” or appeared that way to Europeans: it involved their entire interconnected universe. This suggests that none of the actors is going to be victorious, and the bloodshed in Yemen and Syria and these conflicts will not take them anywhere.
The conflicts in this region will never end with the victory of one party, one regime, or one country. Therefore, the region should seek a new identity, or series of identities, that embrace its rich diversity and are not expressed in ethnic or sectarian terms. It seems that this is obviously a long-term regional rebuilding challenge.
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