Mideast Valdai Conference, Session 1: The Middle East in a Whirlwind of Change
Moscow, Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall
List of speakers

On February 25, 2016, the Valdai Discussion Club opened the conference titled " The Middle East: From Violence to Security".

The first session, " The Middle East in a whirlwind of change", was dedicated to the key problems of the region, prospects for their development and settlement of regional conflicts.

The session began with a speech by Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, who read out a greeting letter from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the conference participants. In the letter the main challenges and conflicts in the Middle East were identified . Sergey Lavrov also highlighted Russia's contribution to their solution.

5 years have passed since the beginning of the so-called "Arab Spring". This period was marked by a significant increase of extremist activity by terrorist organizations in the Middle East. According to Nabil Fahmy, former Egyptian Foreign Minister (2013-2014), the term "Arab awakening", which is often used in the media, is not entirely correct, because such phenomenon manifests itself differently in each Middle East country, and, therefore, each country should have its own model of conflict settlement.

The Arab world is not a stable system. Revolutions happen very quickly, and evolutions are too slow. Arab countries have not achieved what they wanted - they need more time.

The region was not prepared for the modern reality. The social contract between society and the state was not sufficiently effective. The management system in the region was also ineffective, resulting in attempts to solve problems by force. Moreover, the Arab countries have shown a high degree of dependence on external actors, for example, in the economy.

Stability can be achieved by establishing a balance between internal and external policies, as well as between the observance of international law and the desire of individual states to leadership, Fahmy said. Failure to comply with these principles, violation of national borders, undermining the systemic institutions and ignoring the demands of the population lead to chaos.

The "Awakening" is an inevitable process, but requires an understanding of the Arab countries specifics. Sooner or later the Middle East should be stabilized, it will transform into a mature group of states, rather than to be an eternal source of problems, said former Foreign minister of Egypt. The region needs to play its own role in world politics, because the global events, such as changes in world trade, have a direct impact on its development. The Middle East countries need a variety of international contacts and partnerships.

During the conference, participants reviewed the situation in individual countries. Speaking of Iraq, the participants stressed that the situation in the country is the result of external intervention. The political conflict escalated into a confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites.

The situation in Libya is also very tense, it is not possible to achieve stability there, but there are some positive signs: on December 17, 2015, an agreement was signed to form a government of national unity. The new power structures have yet to get popular support.

There is no end of the conflict in Yemen. However, in this case, the panelists noted some progress, for instance, in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the country. Chaos in Aden continues, power is in hands of terrorists and smugglers of oil. The Yemen conflict can not be resolved in the short term, restoration of state institutions is necessary.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen, highlighted three main features of the conflict in Yemen: government determination to overcome it with international support, the importance of a long-term road map of its resolution and the need of the international community consolidation. The political dialogue must be inclusive, with the participation of all political players.

During the session the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was also discussed. The clashes between the sides recently became more active. 183 Palestinians were killed , and 32 Israelis. Israel describes the escalation of the conflict as a third intifada and continues its policy of settlements building. The participants of the conference concluded that the negotiation process should be continued.

The crisis in Syria continues since March 2011. According to panelists, Syria can be attributed to a number of countries, where foreign forces attempted to overthrow their leaders (in the same row are Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Egypt and Algeria). As it was noted by Bouthania Shaaban, an aide to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, peculiarity of the conflict in Syria is a contradiction between the "picture" in the mass media (primarily Western and some Arab ones) and what actually happens in the country. State institutes in Syria are weakened, the power vacuum can be filled by the terrorist groups. Foreign players from the outside are trying to resolve the internal problems of Syria, pursuing their own interests.

According to Bouthania Shaaban, the US is trying to divide and destroy the Arab world under the pretext of the struggle for democracy. In the case of Syria, these efforts led to the longstanding conflict.

The problem of Syria is also in a significant number of participants confronting each other. US, Turkey and Kurdish rebels operate in the north of Syria. The Syrian government and Kurds are fighting for territory, liberated from ISIS militants. The Syrian Democratic Union is one of the biggest parties of the country, but Turkey tries to make the United States recognize it as a terrorist organization, despite the lack of aggression against Turkey.

Battle for Aleppo has a fundamental nature. It is the second most important city of Syria, its fate can be decisive for the Syrian conflict. Russia and the United States are in a position to put end of the conflict in Syria, if they manage to coordinate their positions.

According to Bouthania Shaaban, Russia has made significant progress in the resolution of conflicts and contradictions between the Middle East countries. In 2011, Russia and China vetoed the intervention in Syria. Support for the Syrian government on the part of Russia undermined the military potential of terrorists. Russia launched the Vienna peace process. On February 25, 2016 leaders of Russia and the United States agreed on a ceasefire, the Syrian government and opposition forces must confirm their willingness to comply with this agreement. After 6 months, according to the agreement, a new government should be formed in Syria.

Russia actively helps Iraq to overcome difficulties by providing weapons to fight against extremists. In Iraq, together with Russia, Syria and Iran, the information center to coordinate the fight against ISIS has been established. But the turning point in fight against the radicals is a distant matter and requires inter-ethnic harmony.