On February 27, Dean Nabil Fahmy returned to Moscow to participate in the two-day long Sixth Annual Middle East Dialogue Conference organized by the Valdai Discussion Club. This year’s conference, The Middle East: When Will Tomorrow Come? focused on examining whether the new leaders in Europe and the United States would be able to let go of their old ideological ways, cherish realism in their foreign policies and re-calibrate their Middle East strategies to more effectively respond to the realities of the region. Dean Fahmy joined various statesmen, politicians, experts, diplomats, scholars, journalists, and civil society activists from around the world to exchange views about the future of the region in the context of globalization and the shifting political landscapes throughout the world.
Dean Fahmy was invited to speak in a session aptly entitled “Global Players: to Leave or not to Leave, That is the Question” along with Major General and Chairman of Stand up America, Paul Vallely, and P.R. Kumaraswamy, Professor of Middle Eastern studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University. Addressing the attendees, he pointed out that the post-World War II world order is being challenged by globalization and the emergence of new stakeholders creating a more complex and constraining context for state action and angering those frustrated with manufacturing jobs being moved to Asia and with state autonomy being affected by regionalism and cosmopolitanism.
Dean Fahmy explained that the Middle East, being part and parcel to the world, is being affected by global processes as well. However, he further added that inefficient governance and over-dependence on foreigners have exacerbated problems in the Middle East in the age of globalization. According to Dean Fahmy, this has resulted in the region experiencing societal frustration between different constituencies: ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, even among the majority. With a huge youth bulge, high unemployment, increasing educational levels, rapid urbanization and extremely significant economic and social inequalities exponentially magnifying the already precarious situation and causing a powder keg that already exploded once in 2011. Dean Fahmy also pointed out that the over-dependence on foreigners has resulted in foreign interests and agendas being superimposed on regional and domestic ones, exacerbating the existing frustrations and thus creating much more complex political, social and economic landscapes in the region.
He suggested that four hot wars – Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen –, the resulting refugee flows, combined with the seemingly dormant Arab-Israeli conflict and the rapid spread of extremism and terrorism make establishing regional stability more complicated than ever. Dean Fahmy reminded that the rise of populism is simultaneously shaking up entire political systems, spreading xenophobia and damaging social cohesion in the United States and the European Union putting a strain on international institutions and norms.
Continuing onwards, Dean Fahmy emphasized the necessity for leaders in the Middle East to seize the moment in this global political atmosphere, to adapt to the fast changing world and to take control of their own security affairs to a much larger degree. He reminded that given the interrelatedness of today’s problems, it is unrealistic and imprudent not to include the international community and international powers in the resolution and reconstruction processes in the region arguing that great power isolation and disengagement is simply not possible. Moreover, he continued to point out that Middle East cannot and doesn’t have the resources or means to solve its problems alone.
Dean Fahmy advised that the multi-stakeholder nature of the Syrian conflict requires including international players as shepherds, guarantors an power brokers in the reconciliation process and as supporters of reconstruction of the country. He admitted that the possible rapprochement between Trump and Putin could be a good development for Middle East and possibly mitigate geopolitical tensions in the region and deter players from extensively flexing their muscles in Syria. Then again, as Dean Fahmy pointed out, Syria also cannot be solved if the Sunni-Shia animosities in Iraq aren’t dealt with. According to him, both theaters require dealing with terrorism and extremism, which themselves cannot be dealt with nationally or regionally. He urged the international powers to take military action against ISIS and prioritizing support for Iraqi troops in their efforts to regain and sustain control over Mosul. Dean Fahmy warned however that combating extremism and terrorism requires much more than military action.
Dean Fahmy pointed out that eradicating violent fundamentalist Islam requires first and foremost Arab and Muslim countries to take up initiatives aiming to transform their societies socially, economically and politically and to promote dialogue that aims to counter extremist agendas. He also reminded the conference participants that the world at large has to more proactively tackle racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic rhetoric in the media and public discourse in order to avoid fueling terrorist propaganda.
In his final remarks, Dean Fahmy discussed the lack of Arab diplomacy and the fact that none of the conflict resolution efforts of the four hot wars in the region are being led by Arab or regional players but rather by international players. He advised influential outside powers to try to rebalance Arab-Arab and Arab-non-Arab relations by incentivizing cooperation and de-isincentivizing regional military adventurism and attempt to dissolve the nation state system. The objective according to Dean Fahmy is to recreate a healthy political, economic and national security capacity balance in the region to ensure sustained stability and security for all. This can only happen by including international players and institutions, by better empowering regional players to take control of the regional security matters, and by following and accepting international norms.