Regional security architecture in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is in disarray. Counter-revolutionary forces are battening down the political hatches, while the failings of erstwhile national social contracts (in the form of substituting ‘cheap meat’ for ‘social justice’) and more broadly, the regional system, can no longer be hidden. People of all hues from Jordan, Lebanon, and Sudan to Iraq and Algeria continue to yearn and call for structural transformation.
The region continues to face a myriad of material and interconnected challenges ranging from ‘food insecurity,’ to a lack of sufficient clean water and energy, persistent unemployment amid population growth, and climate change. Militarization has been on the surge and is allowing ruling elites to collect strategic rental fees from their external allies. Authoritarian regimes are busy licking their wounds, intent on using ‘reconstruction’ to reconsolidate their rule. Mass exodus from the region continues unabated and is escalating the ‘brain drain’: Ten thousand Tunisian engineers have reportedly left the country due to worsening financial situation since 2016, whilst a Gallup report found that 27% of Jordanian youth and 29% of the “highly educated population” want to emigrate. It is not unfair to imagine that a considerable number of Iraqis and Lebanese want to do the same. The region teems with armed militias whose magnitudes and fate are anyone’s guess but will certainly be difficult to tackle.
Currently, the aging political and economic structures, old-fashioned ‘politics of baraka’, an archaic leviathan state (which etatized all political practice and opposition movements and nationalized civil society), and ramshackle regional cooperation institutions cannot meet any of these challenges, without extensive transformation. International actors either continue to prop up the regional status-quo or focus only on such shortsighted objectives as stopping migration flows into Europe or containing and neutralizing ‘radicals’ in conflict zones. China, Russia, the European Union (EU), India, and the United States of America (USA) continue to support authoritarian regimes in the region either in the name of hackneyed ‘support for stability’ and ‘respect for territorial integrity’ or under the guise of ‘non-interference policy’. Among several other international forums and meetings, the first-ever summit meeting between the EU and the Arab League in Sharm el-Sheikh in late February 2019, only bolstered international legitimacy of an authoritarian leader. The Trump administration does not even attempt to hide its glee at the chance to work with authoritarian strongmen in the region.
The Al Sharq Forum has mobilized a taskforce to take stock of the architecture of the regional security in the MENA region with a view to proposing tangible recommendations for future steps. In doing so it has identified four major themes: 1. state and non-state dynamics; 2. regionalism and regional security institutions; 3. regional order within the global context; 4. energy and security. Joined by five research fellows and a research assistant, this taskforce has hosted several workshops and held a major conference with the participation of more than three hundred experts from twenty-five countries in May 2018. Additionally, there have been study visits to Lebanon, Singapore, Russia, the USA, Belgium, and Qatar as well as interviews with dozens of academics, intellectuals, experts, and former politicians in the year following the conference. Within the same timeframe, the taskforce has published eighteen expert briefs and analyses with translations in Turkish and English.