Looking Beyond the Horizon: A Few Words about the 6th Valdai Club Middle East Dialogue

21.02.2017

The discussion of what is happening in the region requires a certain breadth: from the discussion of the global world order and international terrorism to the increasing migration flows; from attempts to understand the balance of power in neighboring Iraq and Syria to the comparison with alarming and difficult situations in Yemen and Libya.

There are many places on Earth, where conflicts and wars have a thousand-years continuing history. But the Middle East certainly stands separately even against the very troubled background. It's hard to find regions with such long-standing conflicts with a long tradition of participation of a countless number of actors of very different calibre: from small, almost marginal groups, to the major world powers. Therefore, it is particularly impossible to surprise anyone by discussing the problems of the Middle East. But it is also impossible not to discuss them, because the situation in the region is variable and can surprise the most experienced observer.

One year passed since the last Middle East Dialogue, organized by the Valdai Discussion Club together with the Institute of Oriental Studies, and much has happened both in the world and in the Middle East.

Above all the whole situation in the world changed, positions of many leading players changed and still alter. The Trump administration came to power in the US and is likely to revise many of decisions taken by the Obama team. The first change is already quite obvious - it is a more tough position, at least the rhetoric, against Iran. And this can change the entire balance of forces in the region, because Iran is directly embroiled in the most visible and the most painful Syrian conflict. However, relations with Iran is not the sole difficult issue. There are problems in relations with traditional US allies in the region. Recent statements by Donald Trump regarding the system of two states in Palestine are significant. It is a clear evidence, that a bumpy road to peace will not be easy.

The European Union countries are also experiencing major changes, and Brexit was the first one. Of course, formally Brexit is not associated with the EU Middle East policy, but indirectly it is a clear sign of weakening the European Union’s unity. We are on the eve of the elections in Netherlands, France and Germany. And each of these elections will cover such significant topics as refugees from the Middle East, domestic situation in the countries of the region, the role of Europe as a whole.

Recent years seriously changed the ratio of the internal problems in certain countries to the foreign policy, the world situation as a whole. And it happened because of globalization, which continues despite all the resistance, and because of the general, really tectonic shifts in the world. There is an obvious crisis of understanding of human development goals. If before the developed countries steadily offered the Middle East models of democratic, liberal development, seemingly needed for sustainable, profitable growth, now there is an evident split on these models in the developed countries themselves.

And I must say that nothing is more disorienting when an authoritative teacher suddenly confesses that he is not only unable to describe our world confidently, but even about his beliefs he speaks in uncertain and inconsistent whisper.

In general the expectations regarding positions of the leading global players in the Middle East definitely require discussions and clarifications, because they affect the common understanding of what is going on.

Significant changes are taking place in the region. It is no secret that connotations of what is happening in the Middle East are connected with the global social processes.  A traditional society with its stable and rigid mechanisms of socialization disintegrates before our eyes. Tens of millions of young people are experiencing acute frustration, they are looking for a new identity, a new justice, new possibilities of self-realization. Big problems cover the whole region. There are acute economic and political inequalities. Some countries are rapidly developing, investing billions of dollars in technology, while their neighbors suffer of poverty.

Regional problems are not only caused by the clashes in Syria and Yemen. They are also connected with development, the image of the future, which will bring together most of the Middle Eastern population, enabling it to find stability and not to lose identity, to live in peace, but not at the cost of external management and rejection of their own way.

ISIS (terroristic organization banned in Russia) with all its brutality seems to be important issue, but it is not the most important problem. Yes, there is violence and dehumanization, but to understand what is happening in the region we need to look at a whole bunch of problems, to build a kind of multidimensional matrix, see all the variety of relationships between several phenomena.

That is why the discussion of what is happening in the region requires a certain breadth: from the discussion of the global world order and international terrorism to the increasing migration flows; from attempts to understand the balance of power in neighboring Iraq and Syria to the comparison with alarming and difficult situations in Yemen and Libya, which the destructive forces seem to have in their crosshairs; from the comparative discussion regarding the economies of the Middle East countries to attempts to understand the regional identities.

In a way, the analysis of the Middle East problems is comparable to the general discussion of the global agenda: the situation in the region clearly reflects and even models the global processes. In general, discussing a part, one can comprehend the whole.

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