Moderates Key to Defeating Extremism in the Middle East

  • 31 March 2015

Moderate Arabs and Muslims are the only ones who can defeat the forces of extremism in the region, a former Lebanese prime minister said on Tuesday.

Fouad Siniora said they should focus on three major areas, including the Palestinian cause – considered the root of regional problems – initiating dialogue with Turkey over Syria and Iraq, and reforming religious institutions across the Arab world to counter extremism through communicating the true meaning of Islam.

“If we take a good look around us in the Arab world and think back at how many times we have been distracted from the primary challenges and what is really important, these challenges remind us that we should go back to basics, maintain our focus and think of the future,” he said at the opening of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) annual conference.

He said that “we are in a situation that has brought the whole Arab region to a difficult and painful place, to this state of convulsion that our people are going through”.

He added it was vital for moderates to return to the core cause, which is Palestine.

“Reaching a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a necessity that ensures an independent and free state for Palestinians on the basis of the Arab initiative for peace,” Mr Siniora said. “Healing this open Palestinian wound, which is still haemorrhaging, is a prerequisite for enhancing future relations between Arab Muslims on one hand and the world on the other.”

Turkey was also highlighted as playing a pivotal role in the region.

“Its role can be positive in Syria and Iraq and it could help [balance] the region,” he said. “This should encourage us to consider strategic dialogue with Turkey. To achieve all this, we must restructure the Arab League to enable it to play effective roles, and if all these areas coalesce together, that will be an important milestone towards regaining a strategic balance in the region.”

He said more weight was needed to be brought to Arab efforts to avoid allowing world powers and other strategic players in the region to use the Arab world to achieve their own goals and interests.

Mr Siniora also called on combating extremism and initiating religious reform to “rescue” Islam from such crimes.

“One of the first initiatives is a reform in our religious institutions across the Arab and Muslim world to reflect [the true] Islam,” he said.

He said it was up to Muslim clerics to make the discourse more tolerant. “They have a lot of work to do to reform Islamic education and encourage critical thinking,” he said.

During the conference, “The Middle East: Shifting Roles, Interests and Alliances”, Dr Abdullah Al Shaiba, deputy director general of ECSSR’s community services, said socio-economic and security issues were interrelated in the region.

“Terrorism is escalating,” he said on behalf of Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi, ECSSR director general. “It is one of the most critical dangers facing peace, security and development in the region and the world at large.

“Despite the international coalition against terrorism, we are looking for real opportunities to defeat this challenge and eradicate it.”

Mohammed Orabi, Egypt’s former foreign minister, said the UAE was one of the strongholds of joint Arab efforts.

“There is a dire need for coordination among Arab nations to face risks and threats,” he said on behalf of Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

“The rise of new challenges from terrorist organisations makes the idea of solidarity more urgent in light of the exceptional circumstances we face in the Arab world.”

He said sectarian and ethnic conflicts threatening the internal stability of many regional states created a strategic vacuum in the region.