Top diplomats, regional experts, academics, private sector actors and media representatives called on governments, NGOs, and other stakeholders to assert the role of the multilateral system and work towards a reformed and fit-for-purpose application of its principles to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace in the MENA region.
On November 30th, IPI MENA hosted a webinar on “The Deepening Crisis in the Middle East and the Role of the Multilateral System.”
Opening the webinar, IPI MENA Senior Director Nejib Friji referenced the many crises plaguing the region, from Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Sudan, to Palestine. He emphasized that these situations have one important thing in common: human suffering on a massive scale costing current generations decades of development delays.
He reminded the audience that the multilateral system emerged from a desire to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, but past decades have dealt major blows to people’s confidence. Multiple internationally-led conflicts have continued with no blessing or intervention by the Security Council.
“In the face of continuing conflicts and suffering, some instinctually reject the multilateral system. But we at IPI MENA believe there is a critical need for the vision it offers of the world – maybe more than ever.”
H.E Taïeb Baccouche, Secretary General of the Arab Maghreb Union and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Minister of Education for the Republic of Tunisia, referred to the Israel-Palestine conflict, focusing on the way out of the current crisis. He said that the situation is defined by grave injustice, highlighting the continual encroachment on Palestinian territory by Israeli settlers.
He reflected on changing attitudes and approaches to the crisis amongst Arab leaders, outlining how they strongly rejected the 1947 partition plan and later accepted peaceful initiatives including the 1991 Madrid Conference and the Oslo Accords.
In terms of solutions, Mr. Taïeb Baccouche suggested a return to the starting point, disregarding all illegally gained territory. He offered two models: either two states or one multiconfessional state. He emphasized that the UN must play a key role in helping both parties move towards a peaceful resolution.
Referring to the situation in his country, Libya, H.E Mohamad Dayri, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs for the State of Libya said: “The outcome of the regime change in 2011 led to serious concerns for Libya, its neighboring countries, and beyond in Africa and Europe.” He noted that the situation has been marred by civil wars and security dysfunctions, allowing terror groups to take sanctuary in Libya. The threat of these groups has since diminished. Nonetheless, Libyans were subjected to multiple unlawful acts at the hands of local militias, including killings, kidnappings, and torture.
Mr. Dayri enumerated the internal and external factors that led to the current state of Libya. Poor governance and the plundering of public funds worsened living conditions for Libyans. In addition, the influence of foreign stakeholders and their conflicting priorities have compounded the complex landscape in the country. He emphasized that, despite an extended finger-pointing exercise, all parties have contributed to the current situation.
Moving to the role of the international community, Mr. Dayri highlighted that, despite the multifaceted nature of the situation, mediation efforts led by the UN have exclusively resulted in power-sharing packages, ignoring other substantial components and priorities for the people of Libya. He concluded with his recommendations, including a national reconciliation process facilitated by the UN.
H.E. Mr. Luis Amado, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Minister of Defence for the Portuguese Republic pointed to the wider implications of geopolitical crises in the MENA region and beyond. He outlined the core challenge at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict: how can we address an old, crystallized conflict in a new geopolitical context, with changed regional dynamics and forces?
Taking a step back, he referred to the “dynamic of confrontation” between the great powers – the US, Russia, and China – that shapes and imposes global crises. This dynamic imposes on all the power structures of the world, creating circumstances that expose the weaknesses of all multilateral institutions, e.g., repeated impasses between veto powers in the Security Council.
Mr. Amado emphasized the importance of envisioning a role for the multilateral system, sketching out a long scenario of confrontation between the great powers given the conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and a looming cold war. Speaking more optimistically, he suggested a post-Western, multi-polar world emerging.
He concluded by affirming that the Israel-Palestine crisis must be faced on a UN legal basis. “We need to go back to the law. We have no alternative in political terms.” However, he implied that returning to past decisions is easier said than done, especially when it concerns removing 800,000 new settlers – is it possible to go back and undo the negligence of the international community over the past?
In answer to Mr. Friji’s question about the connections between the Libya crisis and the freezing process of the Arab Maghreb Union, Mr. Dayri referred to adverse effects on Tunisia, Algeria, Chad, Niger, and Sudan, stating that the disintegration of Libya has negatively impacted the integration of the Maghreb countries.
Mr. Naman, a reporter from the Gulf Daily News asked about how certain Middle Eastern countries’ economic ties to Israel affect their response to the crisis and whether an energy shift could lead to a geopolitical shift in the region.
Mr. Luis Amado responded, pointing to the experience in Europe where only economic integration could solve repeated clashes between France, the UK, and Germany. He said a similar integration could be a path forward for the Middle East. However, he stressed that regional economic integration requires parallel political stability, and this dynamic must be balanced to make a difference.
Ms. Desiree Custers, Project Manager at the Centre for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient (CARPO), reflected on what channels could be opened to increase communication or capacity for dialogue, especially given a discrepancy in values and ideas for the future.
Anuja Jaiswal, IPI MENA Intern, unpacked an emerging strand in the discussion. She argued that given the various time scales at play, solutions rooted in transitional justice should be placed alongside those rooted in conflict resolution.