Region's Ills Blamed on US, Lack of Arab Unity, Growth

  • 1 April 2015

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora blamed the USA and the lack of Arab unity and economic development for the conflicts in the Middle East.

Former Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Al Orabi also believes that sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the Arab world are provoked by international powers. Slow economic development in most of the Middle East countries leaves the growing population fighting for jobs, thus allowing temptations, especially for unemployed youth, to join extremist groups.

Who is fighting who and what are the political interests in the Arab world were the topics of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research’s (ECSSR’s) 20th two-day conference which opened in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday under the theme ‘Middle East: Shifting Roles, Interests and Alliances’.

“It is not a secret that complicated intertwined relationships between states in the region and the rapidly changing political and security landscape of the Middle East affect each country, as well as their interests and alliances; political shifts also leave deep divisions in the public opinion,” stated ECSSR director-general Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi.

In the opinion of Arab politicians at the conference, education reforms, economic development and leadership focused on the well-being of the country and its people not only spared the UAE of conflicts and any rise of sectarian groups, but it made it a model to follow. The emirates were also the first country to adopt a law, in August 2014, combating terrorism and cross-border crimes.

“The experience of the UAE shows that unity creates strength and the ability to stand the test of time,” said Siniora, referring to the creation of the federation by the late Shaikh Sultan bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 1971 and the successful development of the country ever since.

Yet, all of the Middle East is now in a state of ambiguity, which creates instability in the region and, according to him, it is not just economic and geopolitical ambiguity, but a new, even more dangerous dimension, the rise of extremism in the name of Islam.

One particular nation, the USA, was held most responsible by Siniora for the state of the Arab world today.

“The first invasion of the US in Iraq was a disaster. The Americans […] destroyed the Iraqi state and left behind an undeclared civil war in Iraq,” he said.

“It is clear today the USA is inconsistent with its occupying and withdrawing from the region, thus helping terror groups to rise to power,” added Siniora.

In his opinion, Iran is another major player in the region, accusing Teheran’s political power of being a “corrupted and destructive hand” interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.

The former Lebanese prime minister’s opinion was echoed by Dr Paul Salem, vice-president for policy and research at the Middle East Institute in the USA.

“When the Arab Spring happened, Iran hoped to see a new Iranian Revolution in the Middle Eastern countries, but instead the Arab Spring was more similar to the 2009 Iranian uprising. When it became clear that no Iranian Revolution will be replicated in the Arab world, Iran began supporting extremist groups,” said Dr Salem.

“Iran is dangerous not because of its nuclear power, but because of not accepting good relations in the region, supporting mass murder for its own interests; its support for instability may soon be witnessed in Bahrain and parts of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

What will save the Middle East from conflicts and instability, according to both Siniora and Al Orabi, is social and economic development, as well as unity and cooperation between nations.

“We invite the government of Iraq to enhance its cooperation to its Arab nations; Egypt is ready to help train Iraqi army, enabling it to protect the country,” mentioned Al Orabi.

Siniora also called to return focus on “what matters”, that being the Palestinian cause.

“Reaching a solution for the Palestinian cause is a necessity that would heal the opened Palestinian wound, a prerequisite to heal relations between Arabs and Muslims of different nations and also between the Arabs and the rest of the world,” he stressed.

Siniora also called for a civil state in Arab countries that would guarantee rights for all ethnic and religious groups, and for “moderates” to return to power, as well as an Islamic reform.

“It is high time for Muslims to engage in a reform of the Islamic religion to protect its true values by bringing back the values of knowledge and open up to the world,” said Siniora.