In Search of a New Middle East

A liberal wave initiated by the youth engagement and supported by middle classes ended up in an unstable Middle East, squeezed between resilient authoritarian regimes and collapsing states facing terrorism.

In the run-up to the conference “The Middle East: From Violence to Security”, due to be held by the Valdai Club in Moscow on February 25-26, held a series of interviews with prominent experts in regional affairs. Hamadi Redissi, professor of Political Science, at the Institut d’Etudes Avancées in Nantes, France, shared his view of the ways to tackle the multiple problems faced by one of the most important regions of the world.

Redissi is skeptical about attempts to predict the regional dynamics. “A liberal wave initiated by the youth engagement and supported by middle classes ended up in an unstable Middle East, squeezed between resilient authoritarian regimes and collapsing states facing terrorism, apart from Tunisian democratic experience in stand-by,” the scholar said. “Given this situation, any endeavor to explain what is happening and anticipating what the Middle East might be in the coming years is unsure, and probably a useless exercise,” he added.

The Middle East has been facing terrorism for decades, but it was to a large extent a “residual” phenomenon rejected by local public opinions, Redissi said. “That is why Egypt resisted it for years, Saudi Arabia succeeded to digest the terrorist attacks in 2003, and Pakistan is living as usual, to take only few examples. Yemen could not follow the suit, because it is a weak state. Therefore, here is the clue of the matrix: political Islam undermined Arab revolutions, but terrorism is currently acting in new conditions where the states have been for some reasons weakened,” he elaborated.

Some of these states even collapsed, the scholar went on to say, citing Libya, Yemen, Iraq and Syria, which followed Somalia and Sudan. Therefore, he said, the picture is gloomy and any dynamics to fight terrorism from that point of view has to consolidate the current states.

“Nevertheless, this comes at a price: first, a strong state is not a fierce state, but the one able to negotiate its authority with social actors, moderate its politics, and improve political and liberal reforms, not rely only on maneuvers to remain save. How can an unpopular state coalesce social forces or join an international coalition to fight terrorism without any endogenous support of social actors, popular consultation and national consensus?” Redissi asked.

According to the scholar, terrorism can only fought by addressing the roots of terror. “These are the social roots (poverty, unemployment and marginalization of regions and youth), the cultural roots (religion, education and media),” he said. “In other words, improving economic development and social welfare are fundamental. Petrol-states need to diversify their economies, and diversified-economy to meet the challenge of globalization,” Redissi stressed.

When asked about the opportunities for cooperation between global and regional powers in the Middle East, Redissi said these opportunities were numerous, but politics, national interests and diplomatic maneuvers narrow them.

“To be honest, there are few regional powers in the area,” Redissi said. “Turkey, Iran and Israel are the only ones who have enough capabilities and innumerable resources to play a key role. Unfortunately, the three are non-Arab states. Egypt has lost its weight with the decline of the Arab League. Saudi Arabia is too much depended of oil and blinded by religious Sunni fanaticism. Qatar is making a lot of noise just to gain a reputation in compensation to its smallness. The international players are more easy to identify: these are the United States, the European Union and Russia. Unfortunately, it is hard to coordinate between them. Turkey abandoned its initial programme based on three pillars: “zero-problems policy”, soft power and neo-Ottomanism. Excited by the Arab turmoil, Turkey falls into irrational politics. Freed from the Arab tumult, Iran promoted a pragmatic and discrete diplomacy, while Israel is a key player but cannot play a positive role unless it makes peace with Arabs,” he explained.

Redissi believes that any new regional security system must be based on three pillars. “These are the sovereignty of current states in their borders provided that they grant autonomy to minorities and initiate political and democratic reforms; the mutual recognition of Israel and Arabs conditioned by a fair solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem; and a multilateral commitment to improve prosperity in the region,” the scholar concluded.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.