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New Middle East being re-shaped — analysts

By Dana Al Emam - Jul 18,2016 - Last updated at Jul 18,2016

Panellists participate in a conference on ‘Re-ordering the Middle East? Peoples, Borders and States in Flux in Amman on Monday (Petra photo)

AMMAN — Local and regional actors are shaping the future of the region by re-arranging the populations and re-drawing borders, analysts said on Monday.

Despite external interventions in countries like Iraq and Syria, the current situation is different from the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided the Middle East to serve the colonial ambitions of France and Britain without considering the people’s aspirations, experts said at a conference in Amman.

At the “Re-ordering the Middle East? Peoples, Borders and States in Flux” conference, political experts and academics highlighted the collapse of authority in some countries in the region and the rise of non-state actors as factors contributing to changes in political and border-related dynamics.

The director of the University of Jordan’s (UJ) Centre of Strategic Studies (CSS), Musa Shteiwi, said redrawing the region’s map was “unthinkable” a few years ago, but has become a valid discussion over the past five years.

He cited the spillover of internal conflicts to neighbouring countries as a phenomenon in the region, pointing to the 6 million displaced Syrians who form up to 30 per cent of the populations of host countries. 

Another factor contributing to the redrawing of borders is the spread of militancy and extremist groups that function as “very strong non-state actors” and aspire for a different political order in the region, Shteiwi said.

“Another outcome is the breakdown of regional trade routes,” he added, citing industries and vital sectors like tourism that have been affected in many countries in the region, especially those with high population growth due to the influx of refugees.

Organised by the CSS in cooperation with the New-Med Research Network and the Italian Istituto Affari Internazionali, the conference featured participants from Jordan, Italy, Turkey, the US, Egypt, France, Iraq, Lebanon and the UK.

Ettore Greco, from the Rome-based institute, said the Middle East is in a state of “flux” due to political transformations and their dramatic impacts, citing the rise of radicalisation and sectarianism as additional factors.

He added that the New-Med Research Network seeks to bring together a multidisciplinary group of scholars to examine regional dynamics and to provide advice to policymakers.

Greco said current issues being studied include migration, the sustainability of Arab states and the phenomenon of failing states. 

Meanwhile, Shibley Telhami from the University of Maryland said that the rise of sectarianism is a result rather than a driver of the collapse of states in the region, adding that sub-national identities have always existed in the region.

The scholar identified the role of foreign powers as “critical” in shaping the region.

In a poll Telhami conducted in the United States, the majority of those surveyed said US foreign policy played a major role in the formation of the Daesh terrorist group. Along the same line, they said Daesh and Al Qaeda were among their top concerns.

But overall, according to his poll, the American public has “low” interest in the Middle East, so it is not likely that the foreign policy of the new president will focus on the region, Telhami said.

UJ President Azmi Mahafzah said the past five years witnessed historical changes in the region and had an “unprecedented” impact in light of the absence of strategic planning as well as socioeconomic crises.

He cited a collapse of the concept of the “nation state”, attributing that to the lack of democracy and the failure to manage diversity.

 

Meanwhile, he highlighted the need for genuine popular involvement of all people in the making of the future of the region, adding that the Sykes-Picot experience should not be repeated through a Lavrov-Kerry peace proposal or any other agreement. 

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