Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The 12th Al Jazeera Forum: Session 7 - Where is the Gulf Headed?

Political Stability or a New Wave of Change?

On April 28-29, 2018, Al Jazeera held its 12th Forum providing an opportunity for leading scholars and other experts to discuss a variety of topics affecting the Arab world.  The website for the forum, @aljazeeraform, provides additional information and links to the videos of each session.  You can follow the Twitter coverage at #AJForum.

As I noted in my first post in this series, I am working from my notes, so I apologize in advance if I incorrectly paraphrase the remarks of any speaker. I was also reliant on the quality of the translation services and their audibility. Therefore, I am happy to make any needed edits to this summary.

For summaries of the other sessions see:
Session 7: Prospective Scenarios Facing the Middle East

Session focus:

This session will review the key ideas discussed in prior sessions from a futuristic perspective.  Where is the Gulf Crisis headed to?  Could the "deal of the century" be a fair solution to and permanent settlement for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

On what basis will the countries destroyed by wars and internal conflicts -- like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya -- be rebuilt if the current regional and international enterprises persist?  Could the countries that witness crisis and social tension maintain their political stability or are we headed toward a new wave of change?

How can the expected scenarios be dealt with?  Will the region develop its own vision for the future or will the region continue to be directed by foreign interests and agendas?

  • Moderator: Mohammed Cherkaoui, Professor of Conflict Resolution and Peacebuilding at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and member of the Center for Narrative and Conflict Resolution.
  • Basheer Nafi, Professor of Middle East History and Senior Researcher at Al Jazeera Centre for Studies.
  • Mohamed Jemil Ould Mansour, Chairman of the National Rally for Reform and Development in Mauritania (Tawassoul).
  • Abdul Aziz Al Ishaq, Qatari journalist at Al Rayn and Columnist at Saqr Magazine.
  • Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah, Professor of Political Science specializing in Political Theory and Islamic Political Thought.
Key points:

Basheer Nafi:  The blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt will end, but perhaps not until the end of the year. Created a crisis of trust and confidence.  Reflects US policy in the region.  Iran remains a central concern.

Three factors in play in the region:
  • The regional backlash or counter-revolution is at a stalemate.  It stopped democratization of regional governments. 
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  No one expected this move by the Trump administration and the Palestinian factions did not plan for it.

No one can lead the region through effective alliances.  They are waiting for a new system.  But, it will lead to conflict and instability.

Countires untouched by the Arab Spring have tried to find alliances among themselves and launched counter-revolutions.  But, they could not provide solutions for the people, so the underlying grievances remain.  So, Egypt, Yemen, and Syria are worse off than before the Arab Spring.

At no time previously has the region been this volatile.

Mohamed Jemil Ould Mansour:  Agrees that the region is volatile.  We cannot predict the future.  Nonetheless, the speaker says:
  • The Gulf crisis did not achieve the goals of the countries starting the blockade.  Qatar found options and created new alliances.  The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is now form over content.
  • The "deal of the century" promised by Trump for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may unfold in stages.
  • The crisis in Yemen, Libya, and Syria reflects the interference of outside actors with complicated solutions.
  • The counter-revolutions were a failed response to the Arab Spring revolutions.
  • The Arab world is "empty."  Instead, you see the influence of Israeli [?], Iran, and Turkey.  Creating a "triangle" of influence.

Abdul Aziz Al Ishaq:  Until April 2017, a diplomatic process existed among the countries of the Gulf.  Will the blockade persist?  If it does, then the "gloomy triangle" of influence evolves into a square with the fourth side now represented by the interference of other countries.

Qatar/Iran relationship exists, but is not as strong as the Qatar/Turkey relationship.   

Crisis will end.  The GCC should persist to:
  • support US security.
  • counter Iran.
  • resolve small problems with unity among six countries. 
  • increase relationships between people in affected countries.
  • prop up rulers' legitimacy.

Formal solution to the blockade:  International pressure that focuses countries on the Iranian threat through:
  • a summit.
  • GCC sub-committee creating outreach.
But, the countries will compete perpetually. 

Real solution needed that restore the status quo ante that existed prior to the blockade.  International guarantees from the US, Russia, Europe, or Turkey to ensure a lasting solution.  Should prevent re-occurrence of the blockade.

Saudi Arabia sees Qatar as threat to its legitimacy.

Gulf countries have no real integration, like a common currency.

Inter-GCC conflict may lead to war in Lebanon or Jordan.  Splits conflicts in the region.

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia and will end in the Gulf.

Saif Eddin Abdel Fattah:  A need exists to shape the future.  Three changes have affected the region.  First, the Arab Spring revolutions.  People waited a long time for those events.  Second, the counter-revolutions or backlash occurred.  Third, the underlying factors that led to the revolutions still exist.  Thus, change is inevitable.

Speaker notes that "The Middle East" is not an Arab term.  It reflects the position of the region in relationship to other parts of the world, especially Western powers.

Regional systems are experiencing conflict.  This conflict is evidence of the ongoing move towards change.

After the Arab Spring, "regimes started to tremble."

Speaker calls for a "strategic vision."

"Deal of the century" is not in the interest of the region or its people.  Will meet with strong resistance.  Currently, Palestinians are staging protests every Friday.  The deal sets a bad precedent for other groups subject to colonization.

The Qatar blockade represents "big countries trying to smother a small country."


Arabs have a hard time seeing the Iranian invasion of Iraq and Syria and its support for Houthi rebels in Yemen as innocent.

Iran expanded into Iraq without any cost.  US bore the cost.

West cannot constrain Iran with military intervention.  But, it can limit the flow of dollars into the country.

Turkey is "manufacturing" status by identifying foreign policy opportunities.

Turkey cannot act as a balancing factor to those who opposed the Arab Spring.

Qatar and Turkey can be the center of an alliance that protects the will of the Arab people.

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