Tag Archives: Middle East

For a West Asia future integration: regional powers strategy and European support

21858067-map-of-western-asia

 

The human suffering caused by proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya will be probably remembered as the biggest failure of the international community to defend civilians in civil wars, worst than the Balkans or Rwanda at the end of 20th century. But sooner or later also these wars will have to end, like it happened in the past long wars of Europe, with peace negotiations among major regional powers, local factions and international community. And it is in time of despair that we need stronger and longer visions: the Middle East (or better West Asia, as West Asia is a European construction) will not be the same anymore, the post-Ottoman order have arrived to an end after one century, and a new regional order has to rise.

The regional powers will have to think strategically on how to build a new regional order based not on an unstable balance of power but on a gradual future integration. The powers with vocation of global actors, in particular Turkey and Iran, will have to understand that only together will be able to play a role in the future complex world. As it has been for Europe last century, also West Asia, if it wants to abandon the past of violence and underdevelopment, will need some type of grand bargain among the regional powers. An economic, political but also security integration, like it has been for the CEE and NATO, as development and security go hand in hand.

Therefore the question that rise for the future of West Asia in comparison to the European past is: could Iran be what Germany has been for Europe, a strong engine, Turkey what France has been, a democratic light, and Saudi Arabia what Italy has been, an understanding bridge? And could the EU help to facilitate this process like the US did in Europe with the Marshall Plan and NATO? Comparison are always a risk, as every region and history is different, but lesson learned, principles and best practices can be adapted to new times and different spaces. Especially if we look at long term trends in this decade of 2020s.

Iran was back in the international community since the nuclear deal was signed, but it is now in a much different situation. Nevertheless, it will always have the potential to become the economic cornerstone of a future “West Asian Economic Community”, at least when the Ayatollah regime will disappear, or will be radically transformed to accept the existence of Israel and the presence of US military bases in West Asia. Turkey neither is today in a cooperative attitude, with its desire to cast its influence in the Levant and the Mediterranean. But Turkey, besides being the connector between Europe and the West Asia, has the potential to be the “light on the hill” for the region, with its history of multiculturalism in the Ottoman times and democratic growth in the Republican ones. Turkey represented the most trusted country in the West Asia for long time: the country to who the Muslim world would look up to.  Governments and regimes pass but countries’ history and identity remain, so Turkey will have to rediscover the good elements of both the Ottoman times, with its history of cohabitation, and the good ones of its Republican history, with its roots in secular democracy. It will have to make a great bargain not only with the Shia power but also with the Arab world, from where the revolution against the Ottoman empire came. Finally, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries sooner or later will have to see that their role is the bridge between the Maghreb and the Southwest Asia: the region to which they belong historically, geographically and ontologically is the space between the Levant, the North Africa and the Indian Ocean. And they are the custody of the Muslim holy cities, so they can be humble enough to understand the different perspectives of the other Muslim brothers and sisters. It is there that they have to find a new Renaissance with a new approach between religion and politics, instead of keep trying to fight an impossible battle with the Shia crescent, either in the Levant or in the Arabic Peninsula. Egypt, like the other North African countries, being Muslim Arabs and so similar for religion and ethnicity to the Arab part of West Asia, could support Saudi Arabia but from an external point, as all North Africa is part of Africa and should re-learn the pan-Africanism that will be important for the future greater integration of African Union.

Another similarity with European history is that Iran and Saudi Arabia sectarian division is not so different from the Catholic-Protestant division in Europe, which started with a 30 years religious war and ended centuries after with two world wars, before France and Germany finally agreed to integrate in an economic union. A similar religious war is actually happening with proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia, supported by their global partners, but to avoid a major armed conflict, regional powers in West Asia will have to be enough visionary to understand that they can have more benefit if they collaborate than if they compete, in particular in globalized times. If Iran, S. Arabia and Turkey will understand that cooperating with each other for economic development and mutual security will be more beneficial than competing for sphere of influences, as Germany, Italy and France finally understood, this will create the leadership that the West Asia desperately need since at least one century. And most importantly, the Muslim world will have the leadership needed to live in peace with Jews and Christians, recreating that harmony of faiths that recognize Abraham as their first prophet.

All this is a long process, but long paths have to start somewhere and like the Treaty of Rome followed the Ventotene Manifesto on Europe, also the West Asia needs some new “Manifesto”. The intellectual and political figures of West Asia need to come out with a visionary role that may take the lead to trace the road. The Islamic intelligentsia should start to reflect and talk about the future regional order, and international organizations like the Organization of Islamic Cooperation should play a role in this too. Concepts like the Islamic banking and finance, based on similar political or economic values, could be an important starting point to make the regional powers see that they share more than what they differ.

The integration of West Asia cannot happen though without also the inclusion of Israel. Israel is the compass of the region, it is the only state with a stable democracy in West Asia, even if with its flaws in the discrimination towards Arab citizens and the Palestinian state (actually like US has been for centuries: a new great democracy in the world, but not towards the Indians and the black slaves). Therefore there will not be integration of the West Asia without inclusiveness of Israel and with that process Israel will finally get the legitimacy to be recognized as a partner by the leaders of the West Asian Muslim world but will have to democratize for all its citizens, including Arabs, not having second class ones.

This task will not be possible without some external supporters, to facilitate the diplomatic efforts and the security environment needed for an economic and political integration (like the US has been for Europe with NATO). This can be done if external powers enter in the scene as mediators and guarantors, not as invader like in the past, and the first of this actor should be the EU. The EU could do for the future “West Asian Union” what the US did for the birth of the EU, including security and economic support. This could represent an occasion also for the EU to recover from the economic, social and cultural crisis that is living right now. But the EU should first of all change its foreign policy towards the region and start using a “constructive engagement”. “Constructive engagement” was a term used by the Reagan administration during the 1990s, as an alternative to the economic sanctions to South Africa during Apartheid. A constructive engagement could be possible also in the West Asia, using incentives as a means of encouraging diplomatic tools and regional integration. The demonstration that this strategy can work is the fact that the US and the EU were able to arrive to a deal with Iran after a long “cold war”, and at the same time didn’t lose the alliance with their main allies in the region. This therefore is the time in which the Western powers can amend from the past actions in the West Asia and to paraphrase the famous book of David Fromkin, help to build a real “peace to end all wars.”

Diplomacy requires time and patience, and ability to find a balance among the parts. It is not an easy game but is needed to extend the “shadow of the future”, to think about the long term in order to open prospective for convergence. It seems a far stretch right now to think about a West Asian integration but the European Coal and Steel Community also seemed impossible during the worst times and it started only in the 1957 in order, as Schuman said, “to make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. The same could happen in the ME in the long run, putting in common the energy resources, and the regional powers will have to take the lead during this century. And better sooner than later, first for the people of the West Asia, that are always the victims, and second for all humankind, that will need to solve quickly these ancient tribal problems, before to think to its own survival with global solutions for global threats of climate change, nuclear war and technology disruption, as the famous scholar Harari argues.

It is in time of suffering that we need clear strategies and long visions. It is in time of war that we need political will and new ideas. It is in times of chaos that we need the realism of the mind and the optimism of the heart.

 

Where our Western democratically (or not) elected leaders will bring us?

Like one century ago we are living troubling times. Europe, in its broadest definition (including Russia) is passing again from economic, democratic and identity crisis and so is searching for a scapegoat, with new imperialisms, new xenophobia, under the forms of Islamophobia or migrantophobia, and a new fascist renaissance. The recent victory of Le Pen in France, but also other fascist style leaders, as Orban or Putin, send bad sensations in that direction. But this time similar trends seems to happen surprisingly also in this other side of the Atlantic, at least if we look at the increasing support to Trump, that has been defined as a new ‘soft’ and ‘joker style’ Hitler or Mussolini. And in the unfortunate case he would be elected as Republican candidate, and moreover in the possible tragedy to be elected President, we should really start to reflect on the mechanisms of democracy. Because in a democracy the political leaders need the follow “the logic of political survival” (Bueno de Mesquita, 2003) that means they need to be elected and when elected to keep their power. In order to do so they have to use deeds and narratives to fulfill the needs and instincts of their constituencies, including fears and xenophobia.
Even if personal and historical analogies are not more than what they are, analogies, sometimes it is useful to study them deeply. As Nye says “historical analogies, though sometimes useful for precautionary purposes, become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inevitability” (1914 Revisited, Project-Sindicate, 1/13/1914). So will we go downhill again towards clashes and authoritarianisms, with these kind of leaders exploiting fears with hate narratives, even if not exactly in the same way, as one century ago? Fortunately the current technological and information revolution make the people brain washing of propaganda less powerful, but today we are in the times of globalization, homogenization and superficiality and the culture that we receive is not always so deep.
Actually one big difference in the current social and political regression respect to one century ago is that it doesn’t seem counterbalanced by the creative cultural moment of the 1910s and the 1920s: we don’t know if we will live again the only good things of the Roaring twenties, les Années folles in France or il Futurismo in Italy. The problem is also that no European leaders think much on how to improve culture and stimulate innovation and creativity, and if they think to culture is represented as a polarized diversity not as an element of individual empowerment, opening minds and hearts, increasing the respect, tolerance and integration of different people.

 
Only one leader today in Europe, and in the West in general, seems to believe in the force of culture, Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, may be also because he comes from Florence, the cradle of Renaissance, and started to work just one year after another leader that search for dialogue and respect of cultures, who he estimates much, being a fervent religious person, Pope Francis. The irony is that Renzi is probably the only leader of a Western democracy that has not been formally elected, in the sense that he was not the candidate when his party won and after being elected just Secretary of the Democratic Party he stole the PM place of its predecessor with a “soft coup”. Renzi went to “la prima” of La Scala on December 7, the season opener of the most important Opera theatre in Italy, defying security fears that were waiting some attacks, saying “they will not close us in the houses”. After the attacks in Paris, Renzi and his government refrained from starting to bomb Syrian or Iraqi people and allocated instead 1 Billion Euro for home security and the same exact amount for culture. The funds will be used especially in the suburbs where youth of different cultures sometimes clashes, and 500 Euro will go to every 18 year old Italian person in a form of a culture card that can be spent on theaters, museums etc. These actions, besides fighting the fear instead of abusing it, sending people to assist to cultural events, are based on the belief that radicalization, and so risk of terrorism and clashes, will be limited by cultural, besides economic, integration in our countries. This is an logic and common sense reflection to do but our European leaders seems to not buy it, if we look for example at the increased discriminatory policies towards immigrants, especially Muslims, happening in Europe, and specifically in France. The problem is that democratically elected leaders know that “with the culture we don’t eat”, as Tremonti, the Minister of Economy and Finances with Berlusconi in Italy, said. And so if it doesn’t benefit the bellies of the voters is a useless policy, at least for the short term goal to be re-elected.
But the current internal policies of Renzi’s government are also coupled, in the foreign policy, by a diplomatic instead of warring approach, as Italy has a history of pro-Arab, pro-Middle East and mediating foreign policies, since WWII. Opposite to France, that today seems to rediscover its Grandeur or UK that starts again with its old imperialist vision, may be because they feared to lose ground respect to Germanic leadership in Europe or Russian involvement in the Middle East. As we all know it is not bombing more the Middle East, after one century since the Ottoman defeat and its “conquest” by Europe, that we will help it to find a new order. We need to support diplomatic tools, democratic movements and long visionary policies, we need to help Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to go towards cooperative and pluralistic approaches, in the relationship among themselves and inside their countries, we need to recreate the social fabric and the moderate ideological debate destroyed  by sectarianism and authoritarianism. Authoritarian regimes supported by the West and the search for only national interest without opening common grounds for regional cooperation, have been useful for the old divide et impera, but will not be conducive to a sustainable and stable order in the future of the region.

 
Culture is what makes people free. As Paulo Freire said: “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People transform the world”. Our hopes resides therefore, more than ever, with the people and their possibility to learn from cultures and empower themselves through education, as our leaders, apart rare cases, don’t seem able today to guide masses to more tolerance, collaboration, prosperity and integration. In particular leaders like Donald Trump, a business man not a politicians, at least in the higher sense of this word, that more than to Mussolini I would compare to Berlusconi, another business man that went to politics just for pure interest of power, and remained in power for almost 20 years, destroying the culture of the Italian people with its superficial televisions and making Italians more racist and fearful of the “others”.