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An Opportunity for Arab Participation in the World's Affairs
Published in AL HAYAT on 27 - 11 - 2009

While the Arabs were busy with the “Sports War”, or the sport of hatred and incitement that accompanied the football crisis between Algeria and Egypt, around 700 people isolated themselves in Dubai at the Summit on the Global Agenda for three days of continuous work, in order to reach recommendations that will be addressed to political leaders and decision-makers at a meeting hosted by Qatar next April. These recommendations will constitute the axes of the main line of the Global Redesign Initiative launched by the World Economic Forum, better know as Davos. This select group of the most prominent and influential thinkers in the world, from academic circles, the business sector, the governmental sector and civil society were spread among 76 Global Agenda Councils over the most prominent urgent issues facing the world, among them issues of strengthening regional and global security, looking into the roles of businessmen and businesswomen in the values of society, the future of the media, the future of the Middle East, and the dangers of countries becoming fragile and of fragile states becoming failed states. What was noteworthy at the Global Agenda Councils' summit in Dubai was the increased fear of the danger of allowing a growing number of counties to turn into failed states, which affects not just the country concerned but also its neighborhood. Several ideas emerged over what the next phase will require in terms of unconventional policies to address problems such as this one, which is nearly equivalent to fears of the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Also noteworthy was this degree of precedence in making decisions for the future and of global responsibility in the various sectors entrusted to the G20, a group which includes the leading countries in economy and regional standing, among which the only member from the Arab region is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the G20 has become a fundamental and indispensable key to resolving the various issues that challenge the world today, as well as the new framework at the security, social and economic levels. The Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa include a sufficient portion of fragile states at the economic, social and security levels, and in fact also of countries in danger of turning into failed states. What Arab leaders, in government first and also in the private sector, should do is think deeply and carefully about the meaning of fragile and failed centers in a region like the Arab region, rich in resources and skills. And what would it require to resolve this before it is too late? Indeed, Somalia has unfortunately become the model of the failed state, about which the world is only concerned when pirates or others capture its attention. Iraq will not turn into a failed state, but it is of the utmost necessity for its Arab neighbors to invest in it with strategy and determination, so that it may cease to be fragile and become a normal partner that would regain its abilities and would once again help others after having recovered. As for Yemen, it is in the direst need for its neighbors, Saudi Arabia in particular, to provide a momentous security and economic strategy, one that would prevent it from turning into a dangerous failed state, dangerous for Yemen itself as well as for Saudi Arabia and the Arab region, and perhaps for the entire world if Yemen becomes a Somalia that follows Afghanistan.
This is what should be arousing the concern of the Arabs, as governments, media and peoples, instead of stooping to a painful/comical level of battles of dignity in sports wars. Because the Summit on the Global Agenda will be held on a yearly basis in Dubai, in collaboration with the Dubai government, and because the Global Redesign Initiative has a permanent foothold in Qatar, being sponsored by the governments of Qatar, Singapore, Switzerland and Tanzania, this represents an exceptional opportunity for Arab contribution of a different kind, at the level of Arab participation in world affairs and at that of global group thinking over issues that are cause for concern in the Arab region.
Restructuring political, economic and security frameworks in the Middle East, the Gulf and North Africa has become inevitable. This region might not be ready to think about a notion of joint sovereignty – not in a preemptive manner – that would approach – and in fact equal – interfering in the affairs of neighboring countries, yet in the sense of a partnership of neighborhood with countries threatened with fragility or with failure, in order to protect their sovereignty and prevent them from turning into failed states. Yet it is this region's duty to think on fresh bases about the necessity of appointing – or redefining – the position of national security advisor, as well as that of encouraging the establishment of intellectual institutions that would conduct studies and open-minded research and would provide opinions and advice to national security councils over challenges and available opportunities at the security level.
Group thinking allows for options and creative ideas over how to turn predicaments into opportunities. Yemen for example could be a great predicament, and it could also be aimed at implicating Saudi Arabia in a direct manner, so that it may be a direct party in a war which Iran would be participating in by proxy, and which would be fought by a dangerous mix of volunteers from Al-Qaeda and similar groups alongside extremist Houthis.
Nevertheless, developments in Yemen today may represent the seeds of an opportunity for resolve and determination, instead of a war of attrition and slipping into an exhausting quagmire. This may be what the decision-makers have in mind, and it could indeed be the reasoning that they have adopted and coupled with a strategy.
Even if this is a reality, there is dire need for innovative thinking over the necessity of abandoning the methods of extreme secrecy and of explaining goals and some of the means to achieve them, not in military terms, but rather in economic and social ones. Indeed, it is of the utmost necessity for the military aspect to be coupled with an aspect of reassurance for people who are likely to participate in the goals, by explaining the partnership and through a generous and comprehensive economic/social program. Indeed, one of the main pillars of the stability sought after in a country in conflict is that of transparency in economic aid, in order to encourage good governance and to prevent the aid from becoming a gift and an investment in yet another round of internal wars, wars of attrition and wars by proxy.
The war in Iraq and Afghanistan has proven that military operations alone have limits that prevent them from causing the change sought after, and that there is a need for a civil strategy that would accompany military strategy.
Today in Iraq, and after Arab interest has been absent or been made absent for a reason or a pretext of one kind or another, there is interest on the part of some governments and the Arab private sector in strategically investing in Iraq. The “Bloom” company for real estate, under the management of Abu Dhabi, has begun talks with the Iraqi government aimed at developing real estate in Karbala for billions of dollars. Investing in Iraq is in itself important and necessary. Investing in Karbala, a Shiite city and religious site visited by about two million Shiites a year, is a wise and strategic decision and a lucid investment in a future of healthy relations in the Arab region. Moreover, it is encouraging for investors from the United Arab Emirates to be responsible for commitments of future spending in Iraq of more than 37 billion dollars, i.e. around a quarter of pledges to invest in Iraq for this year. And the need for others remains dire.
In other words, the economic, security and political crises which have afflicted and continue to afflict the Arab region sometimes require distributing roles in investments and security notions with a complementarity that does not disparage legitimate competition in the arenas of investment. Indeed, group work is sought after and sometimes necessary, yet group work is not an end in itself and could find benefit in balanced steps taken by players in different regions and fields.
The new security agenda for the Arab region requires a strategy of restructuring Sunni-Shiite relations within every Arab country and Sunni-Shiite relations between Arab countries. Thus, if a partnership is reached between the majority and the minority, regardless of whether it is Sunni or Shiite, within the Arab region, this is how repairing relations and rearranging the Arab house would begin. This is also how the progress of Sunni and Shiite extremism can be stopped, whether it comes through Al-Qaeda, extremist Houthis in Yemen, Salafist extremism or extremist Jihadists of all sorts. This is how it will be possible to start a new chapter in Arab-Iranian relations.
The new security agenda at the global level certainly goes through the issues that are a security concern for all countries and the regional issues that affect the world's security, most prominently the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the dangers of fragile states, and the tragedies of failed states, from which terrorism and chaos are unleashed on the rest of the region or the world.
The G20 is directly concerned with such an agenda, and there are those who call for and now demand expanding the role of the G20 to include the new security agenda, instead of the G20 remaining a pioneer in economic matters alone. Indeed, a discussion took place at the Summit on the Global Agenda about a new design to improve the world's situation by strengthening the system of international cooperation, and it seems that the G20 is the body qualified to formulate and lead it, after the remaining international organizations have drowned in the massiveness of their own bureaucracies. The mechanism of the G20, on the other hand, is still being tested, and this is why there is a need for regional contributions, so that they may have an effective role if it truly becomes the mechanism of designing the future.
The Summit on the Global Agenda of the Global Agenda Councils in Dubai is extremely useful because it represents deep thinking into the meaning of leadership, into how to create vision, into the means of implementing the recommendations, and into the structure of redesigning the world.
The idea for this global think tank comes from Klaus Schwab, CEO of the World Economic Forum, which will meet in Davos in January to discuss the recommendations of the 76 councils. Mohammed Ali Al-Abbar, Summit Co-Chair and Chairman of Emaar Properties, described the recommendations and suggestions as “really the blueprint of the future direction of the global well-being”. André Schneider, Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer of the World Economic Forum, said that the “intellectual heart” had set out from Dubai towards Davos and then Doha. Senior Adviser for the Global Redesign Initiative Lord Mark Malloch Brown said that what the Dubai summit had resulted in was “Forum.com.org.govt”, pointing to the interpenetration between the forum, organizations and governments in search of a good idea, “the power of [which] is that some of these leaders will take some of the ideas and pick them up and run with them”.
What everyone agreed over is that global redesign is an inevitable future reality. However the question remains: will we play a role in redesigning the world in the best interest of future generations? And the answer is: yes, we will indeed.


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