The first signs of early spring at Ditchley saw us returning to the chaos in much of the Middle East and North Africa, searching for ways forward and trying to look beyond the immediate crises to where the region might best go in the longer term. The diverse group around the table had many disagreements, but worked together constructively in the search for positive ideas. In particular, we tried with some success to focus as much on the economic side as on politics and security, helped by our private sector Chair.
The origins of many of the problems of the region lie in demographic pressures and government failures to find ways of creating jobs and satisfying the aspirations of their young and ambitious populations. Standards of governance and education are poor through much of the region, and decent institutions and pluralist traditions are lacking. The combination of this with the many conflicts raging in the region creates ideal circumstances for violent extremist movements.
States cannot themselves create the jobs needed, and need to find new ways to encourage the private sector. There is no shortage of entrepreneurial spirit or talent, among women as well as men, but most regional leaders seem to prefer to play politics and stir up sectarian tension rather than focussing on the necessary economic policies. Regional economic cooperation is also largely conspicuous by its absence. The current low oil price is an opportunity for economic reform in some countries, but progress so far is slow. Decentralisation of decision-making and economic power could be an important future direction.
Politically, governments and citizens in the region are struggling with problems of identity and legitimacy, with many young people in particular unable to see a future for themselves where they currently live. These problems have to be addressed within the region, not least since the influence of outside powers is waning. The most pressing regional need is reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but there is little sign of this so far. Other big regional powers like Turkey, Egypt and Israel could have major roles to play but are all preoccupied elsewhere or otherwise disqualified for now. In principle regional powers could come together in opposition to violent movements like IS/Daesh, but in practice too many still see this as a second order problem, and play their own games instead.
Clearly a top priority is to settle the conflicts in the region. There are some flickers of hope in Syria, following the Russian military intervention and US/Russian cooperation, but a settlement is still some way off at best. Progress towards peace and reconciliation is also desperately needed in Libya and Yemen. Meanwhile, there are ticking time bombs all over the area, from Jordan and Lebanon overwhelmed by Syrian refugees, to Egypt in the grip of counterproductive counter-revolution, to the continuing crisis of Palestine. A new security architecture is needed but this also seems some way off.
Are future border changes likely or desirable in these circumstances? Some see them as inevitable because of the military conflicts, and renewed Kurdish aspirations. Most from the region oppose any such ideas as highly dangerous, and hope/believe they can be avoided. Some decentralisation/federalism may be necessary in places like Syria and Iraq but new divisions along ethnic or sectarian lines should be rejected, for fear of stirring up worse trouble in the future.
What is the role of outside powers today? Above all, they should try to do no harm. Solutions to the region’s problems will have to come largely from within. The US role is and will be less prominent than before but it is wrong to see the Americans as withdrawing from the region. The Russians have carved out an important role for themselves through their military intervention in Syria, and can help to make progress through their cooperation with the Americans, but cannot lead in the region. Chinese interests are greater than ever but they are unwilling/unable to play a major political role for now. The Europeans are so heavily dependent on developments in the region that they should be the most active and influential players, but there is little real sign of this, despite desperate responses to the migration crisis.
The UN could now be better placed than in the past, since Security Council blockages stemming from US/Russia disagreements have reduced. The UN can certainly help through the Geneva talks on Syria, but few round the table saw a bigger role for them overall at this stage. The IMF, World Bank and others can help economically, but the security conditions have to be right first.
Outsiders should in general encourage regional actors to focus more on helping their peoples economically and less on political posturing. Immediate steps outside powers can take are to increase economic help for the countries bearing the burden of the Syrian refugees, including investments in infrastructure and areas like education; and to step up assistance for the one political success story of the so-called Arab spring, Tunisia, to prevent economic failure and pressure from IS/Daesh in Libya from overwhelming the Tunisian authorities.
The economic and social context
We spent some time analysing how the region had reached its current state, where so much talent was held back by history and politics, and the divide between peoples and their governments was so wide. We saw one of the main underlying drivers as demography: populations were rising rapidly, and there were few if any outlets for the rising generations. One hundred million jobs were needed just to keep pace but there was no sign of job creation on anything resembling such a scale. Standards of governance were mostly poor to abysmal, and education levels remained dire in many places. There was little or no focus on creating the economic conditions for prosperity. Responsible, accountable institutions were missing, both economically and politically. Pluralism was not valued as it should be. Too many leaders preferred to play politics, enrich themselves, and dabble in dangerous games such as sectarianism for their own ends. The potential of women was largely ignored.
All this created ideal circumstances for violent extremist movements such as IS/Daesh. Young people did not identify with their own polities, were confused about their identities, ethnically and religiously, were not encouraged to become useful and responsible citizens, and saw little or no future for themselves or their families. The temptations of movements offering guns and money were not easy to resist. The breakdown of authority and of societies from the effects of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, and the emergence of large areas of ungoverned space, completed the picture in parts of the region.
This was not of course the whole story. Some countries, in the GCC and elsewhere, had avoided the descent into chaos, and were trying to modernise themselves and offer opportunities for their young people. There was also no lack of entrepreneurial spirit. The young in many countries across the region were highly connected to the internet and eager to take advantage of the new IT opportunities they could see. Technology could be the key to a better future, leapfrogging developments which had taken many years elsewhere. But the political context and the lack of finance and any real encouragement were huge obstacles.
In these circumstances it was hardly surprising that young people were fleeing in large numbers to Europe, where they saw much greater chances to make a life for themselves. The conflicts in Syria and elsewhere were of course a large part of this, but these conflicts were themselves in many ways more symptoms than causes.
We saw little chance of states themselves providing the jobs and opportunities needed. The public sector in many countries had offered some employment for years but could hardly maintain the subsidies required for the current levels of employment, let alone increase them. Only the private sector could therefore provide decent jobs on the scale required. However, that meant genuine encouragement of private enterprise, the development of properly competitive local industries, and the creation of far more opportunities for investment. International investors were not likely to be attracted unless domestic capital itself saw it as worthwhile to invest. For the moment, too many countries from the region were too far down the list of attractive countries in which to do business. Protection of investment and of intellectual property rights were essentials too often missing.
Regional economic cooperation was meanwhile mostly conspicuous by its absence. The quantity of trade within the region was very low compared to almost every other region of the world. Connecting infrastructure, hard and soft, was poor at best. The temptation for many to look outside the region for partners was therefore strong. This needed to change but the obstacles were formidable, as the IMF had discovered in the past when trying over several years to promote regional integration in North Africa. Mutual suspicions between different countries were enough to scupper the best-laid plans. In today’s circumstances it would be good to begin a process of re-integrating Iran into the regional economy, particularly with the GCC countries, but taking that forward effectively would have to await wider political progress.
High oil prices had in many ways helped to disguise the poor economic development of the region. Should we therefore see the current low oil prices as the ‘burning platform’ opportunity which would finally force much-needed change, among GCC countries as well as others? It was of course important to avoid generalisations. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Algeria and Oman were more vulnerable to low oil prices, because of their debt and spending levels, than others such as Qatar, the UAE or Kuwait. Nevertheless, there was little doubt that habits did need to change, in terms of reduced spending on economically damaging subsidies and unproductive public sector jobs, of more taxation, and of diversification of economies to reduce dependence on oil and gas. This would not be a straightforward or rapid process. Essentially it involved a new kind of social contract with local populations which would take time to evolve. Such a contract would also have political significance because more taxation would be bound to involve, ultimately, more representation.
It was hard to be optimistic about moves in these directions by many countries while security and stability remained so threatened. However, there were places where new opportunities could be created and where the combination of wealth and relatively restrained demographic pressure could soften the strains of the process and give time for adjustments to be made successfully.
We spent some time discussing the extent to which federal structures and decentralisation more widely could help create a better context for sound economic decision-making. In principle we saw many advantages to authorities being closer to the people they were trying to serve, and therefore more responsive and more accountable. Certainly centralised states had not delivered for their peoples in the region. Even in a small country like Tunisia, the central government seemed very remote from local concerns and unable to make much difference. Frustrations were correspondingly high.
Some pointed to the success of the Dubai model as an example of the advantages of a federal structure. Dubai was not easily imitable by other larger entities. In any case, it was not entirely clear how far it was the federal set-up which had created Dubai’s success, as much as the wisdom and foresight of those running it, and the sense of urgency generated by its own oil running out.
Political dynamics in the region
We were keen to avoid being sucked into discussing the immediate political controversies surrounding Syria and the other conflicts. We therefore focussed on the deeper challenges to state identity, legitimacy and security in the region. National identities were threatened as authoritarian states broke down, and as their rulers tried to use ethnic and religious identity politics to obscure their economic and social challenges, and protect their own political positions. Sunni-Shia tensions were one obvious product – most around the table saw the origins as more political than religious or cultural, and warned against regarding either the Shia or Sunni communities as monolithic, or forgetting the strong links between the two in many places, not least through inter-marriage.
The legitimacy of many regimes was being undermined by lack of decent institutions, absence of civil society, huge inequalities, and widespread corruption and nepotism. Some countries’ rulers had gone in a more secular direction, for example the military set-up in Egypt, while others like Turkey were moving in a more religious direction. Both seemed equally intolerant and equally unlikely to satisfy the aspirations of their peoples, or provide bulwarks against violent extremism, whatever their claims. It was nevertheless argued that what the region needed now was evolution, not more revolution.
Another central theme of our discussion was the waning influence of outside powers. This is discussed in more detail below. But the consequence for the region was that local powers needed to step up and take responsibility for finding ways forward, as they had not done and arguably not needed to do in the past. This meant finding compromises with each other. In particular, there was a constant emphasis throughout the conference on the need for Iran and Saudi Arabia to find ways of coexisting peacefully in the region – ‘sharing the space’. There was a need for a grand bargain of some kind between these two key powers, which were currently fighting proxy wars in various parts of the region and in various ways, political and religious.
For the moment there was little or no sign of this reconciliation, not least after the attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The Saudis took the view that Iran’s claims to a share of influence in the Arab world were not legitimate, while their unilateral actions in fostering rebellions and supporting Hezbollah were unacceptable. The Iranians thought they were being denied the right to their natural place in the region as a historic power and large country, and that they were the ones who had been attacked, originally from Iraq.
We did not try to adjudicate between such claims, but most participants took the view that it was time for both sides to put aside their grievances and try to come together for the sake of the stability and eventual prosperity of all concerned in the region. Was there any country which could effectively mediate? We did not see an obvious role as a mediator at this stage for anyone from the region. Nevertheless, both sides claimed to be ready for a better relationship, and there was a precedent for a rapprochement in the mid-1990s. There could be opportunities from the elections in Iran, or from the Saudi desire not to become further bogged down militarily in Yemen, or even from progress towards a political solution in Syria. Was there any chance of Iran changing its support for Hezbollah, said to be the most heavily armed non-state actor in the world? Some argued that this was indispensable. Others said it was a non-starter for now.
Iran and Saudi Arabia were of course far from the only big players in the region. Turkey had a huge potential role, but was currently overwhelmed by its problems with Syria and the Kurds, as well as domestic political stresses and strains. One day Israel might be able to play significantly on the Arab stage too (and there were already some interesting new relationships developing), but for now the Palestinian issue more or less ruled this out. Egypt would traditionally have been seen as the major Arab power, and could never be left out of account, given her history, size and population. But for now the Sisi counter-revolution had left her domestically preoccupied, out of line with other Arab countries in various ways, and unable to offer an effective lead. The UAE was unusually active in the various conflicts around the region, but was arguably already overstretched compared with her real influence and capability. The same could be said of Qatar. Hence the current prominence of the Saudis – though some questioned the Saudi ability to play such a major region-wide role, as opposed to within the GCC area, given their relatively small population and increasing financial strains from the low oil price.
The struggle against violent Islamic extremism, in the shape particularly of IS/Daesh, should be a unifying factor, but in practice this was not happening enough. Too many countries had played and were playing games with the extremists for their own narrow ends, usually through their intelligence services, and regarded them as essentially a second order problem for themselves, whatever their public rhetoric. This seemed short-sighted in the extreme, given the threat IS/Daesh posed to all concerned, in and out of the region, and their apparent strategic patience. IS/Daesh continued therefore to exploit local grievances of various kinds, for example in Libya, to strengthen their position. Defeating them could not be only, or even mainly, a military project. Their dangerous, and dangerously attractive, ideology had to be countered directly and effectively through much better use of information media of all kinds. But a concerted military response on the ground would nevertheless be crucial.
In many ways, IS/Daesh were a particularly virulent symptom, rather than the disease itself. We needed to treat the disease if the prospects of stability and prosperity in the region were to be genuinely enhanced. This meant above all bringing the conflict in Syria to an early end, as well as dealing with Sunni marginalisation in Iraq, and addressing deep tribal and other divisions in Libya and Yemen. In doing so most participants thought we needed to avoid tempting but essentially false solutions such as treating Assad as a potential ally, or regarding Sisi as a bulwark against extremism. We should not make the mistakes of the past in seeing surface stability as our friend, if it only concealed repression and lack of opportunity for most people. However, there were others who thought that, whatever his many faults, we had to treat with Assad in some way, and recognise his role as an objective ally against IS/Daesh.
In Syria, we thought we saw some faint stirrings of hope. The Russian military intervention, however crude in its tactics, and the recent US/Russian-sponsored truce, more successful than anyone had dared to expect originally, had opened up new possibilities. We saw little hope of an immediate breakthrough in the Geneva talks, and the end might still be some years away, but at least the picture seemed a little less bleak for the moment. US-Russia cooperation in the region offered some prospect of progress, even if the real Russian objective lay elsewhere, in their desire to be taken seriously as a global player and to be free of Ukraine-related sanctions. If the conflicts in Yemen and Libya could be ended, as did not seem impossible in either case, this could improve the regional atmosphere significantly.
Nevertheless, there were ticking time bombs all over the place. Lebanon and Jordan were under huge strains because of the refugees. Breakdown in Egypt, which Sisi was more likely to accelerate than prevent, in the eyes of many round the table, would make current chaos and migration pressures seem petty by comparison. And the Palestinian issue remained another time bomb at the heart of the region. Some, including apparently the current Israeli government, thought it could be ignored or readily managed, but that was highly risky as a new generation of young Palestinians became even more frustrated than their predecessors, while not only Fatah but now Hamas too had lost credibility.
In Israel itself the influence of the ultranationalists was growing, and the chaos which had followed the so-called Arab spring had convinced many Israelis that allowing a Palestinian state would inevitably lead to more violence. The risks were of further radicalisation of young Palestinians, including greater IS/Daesh influence, and of radical Israeli measures in the name of security, not excluding expulsions from Israel and the West Bank. The two-state solution was not necessarily dead even now, but more and more Israelis seemed to be falling back on the idea that Jordan had to be the second state. Was there any life in the Arab Peace Initiative? There could be if the parties wanted to take it seriously but we seemed a long way from that for now.
Was there any real prospect of a new security architecture in the region, or a new dispensation of some kind which would improve the prospects of stability and prosperity? We were not optimistic in the short term, and most participants seemed to think it was more realistic to try to build on existing institutions like the GCC and Arab League, rather than start again in some way. One way to start was to try to agree norms of behaviour that could address rival concerns, including mutual restraint in certain areas. A regional version of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe was seen by some as worth trying. Another idea was a Security Council-backed declaration of the region, including Israel, as a zone free of Weapons of Mass Destruction, with political and economic sanctions against any country which refused to take part after a certain period for negotiation and mutual agreement.
This led us to what was intended to be one of the main themes of the conference, but was also one which most participants appeared to prefer to dance around than address directly, namely the question of future borders. We were reminded that there had been different borders in some places at times in the past, including the short-lived Alawite state of Syria, a French creation of the 1920s which had looked remarkably like the core Alawite areas some talked of now; or the equally short-lived UnitedArab Republic set up by Nasser in the late 1950s. The point was not that border realignment was necessarily desirable but that it could by no means be ruled out, and therefore needed to be at least thought about.
Some, mostly from outside the region, thought that border change was inevitable, at least in Syria and Iraq, because the previous states could never be put back together again. Whatever emerged from the conflicts would not look like what had existed before, whether or not we wanted it to. This needed to be faced up to, not ignored, even if it was difficult to square with general official support for the territorial integrity of the countries concerned. The issue of the Kurds similarly could not be wished away, given the role they were playing.
Others thought this was highly dangerous talk, which only played into the hands of those who liked to talk about caliphates. Current borders should be respected if at all possible, and we should also avoid the temptation to create ethno-sectarian entities. Kurdish aspirations were certainly a problem, but no-one in the region or outside wanted them to have their own state, and the Kurds themselves were far from unified, even within Kurdish communities based in the same current state. At the end of the day, borders could only be changed by agreement, and such agreement was unlikely to be forthcoming.
This discussion also took us back to the potential advantages of decentralisation and federal power-sharing, helping people identify with their own areas, and run much of their own affairs, without the need to change borders. This would inevitably be an important part of the eventual settlements in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. One paradox here was that only strong, legitimate central governments could easily push through the political changes involved in effective decentralisation. Many governments in the region were in practice not only weak, but also fearful of the political fragmentation that decentralisation might bring, and of encouraging ethnic or religious separatism.
How far could the international community encourage federalism/decentralisation? There should be no problem in principle. Indeed the idea was fully embedded in the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. The problem was that the basic impetus needed to be local. Otherwise, outside powers would be suspected of favouring separatism or encouraging sectarian divides. This would be a delicate path to tread.
The role of outside powers
We spent a good deal of our time discussing the extent to which outside players, whether countries or organisations, could help or hinder progress in the region. As already recorded, our default position was that the necessary initiatives and compromises now had to come from within the region, and in particular from the big players of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and possibly Israel. Outsiders could of course help but the recent record of outside intervention was hardly encouraging. It was also argued that any outside power genuinely trying to help needed legitimacy in the form of an invitation from within the region, even if that begged many questions about which regional countries or organisations could legitimately issue such invitations. In any case, we thought that a good starting principle for outsiders was at least to make sure they did no harm.
We spent some time on the extent to which there was a US ‘retreat’ from the region, and the significance or otherwise of the so-called Obama doctrine of reduced interventionism, as set out in the President’s recent interview to the Atlantic magazine. There was no doubt that the US public and government were more domestically pre-occupied than in the past and less inclined to become involved in foreign adventures, particularly in the Middle East. Policy failures in Iraq, Libya and Syria hardly encouraged activism. In this sense, Obama was expressing an approach likely to characterise his successors as much as himself. However, this should not be exaggerated. The Asia-Pacific was certainly crucial for the US, economically and politically, but the US remained bound into the Middle East by its links to Israel, its global energy interests (even if it imported much less from the region itself), its global political interests in stability and the reduction of the terrorist threat, and its concern to help its European partners, so directly exposed to events in the region.
The Americans would therefore remain essential players, even if they had lost a lot of credibility with some in the region through the failure to carry through their red line threats in September 2013. But their role was certainly changing. As already noted, they had had to accept for now that working with Russia was the only way they could exert enough influence to change the situation in Syria. They were also far less likely in the future to act unilaterally, and were looking for effective partners, including to try to take forward economic issues. They were also, after the nuclear deal with Iran, able to take a different view of the regional power balance between Iran and Arab states like Saudi Arabia. This was not a case of changing alliances – the US continued to have huge concerns about important aspects of Iranian behaviour, and a natural disposition to share the concerns of their Gulf allies – but the fact of US-Iranian dialogue did inevitably alter the dynamics.
Was anyone else likely to step up to fill US shoes? This seemed unlikely, but could or would the Russians become the swing players in the region? We were sceptical on the whole, especially in the longer term. While they had specific military and other interests in Syria, and now commanded a degree of respect in the region because they had shown themselves capable of decisive action, they had neither the resources, nor the fundamental interests at stake, nor the position with the Sunni majority states, to take the lead. Nevertheless, for now they and their relationship with Assad, together with their new-found cooperation with the Americans, were the main game in town.
What about the Chinese? This was a neglected area of our discussions, not helped by the last-minute absence of Chinese participation. We recognised that the Chinese now had a huge amount at stake, not least through their purchases of Middle East oil, but we did not think them likely at this stage to be capable of playing, or to want to play, a major political role in the region. Nevertheless, this was an area worth watching.
We talked a lot about Europe and the EU. The Europeans were now absolutely in the front line of whatever happened in the region – indeed some round the table suggested that they should now be considered insiders, not outsiders, so close were they to the region’s current problems. Their security was under threat, as we had seen graphically in Paris, and then Brussels. The migration issue was seen as existential by many in Europe, although this was regarded with scepticism by participants from regional countries who had to face far bigger refugee challenges, proportionally, with far fewer resources. In any case, the issue had forced Europe into action to try to reduce the flow of asylum seekers and others from the region, including through deals with Turkey of doubtful efficacy and legitimacy.
This would suggest that the Europeans should be the most active and influential outside players in the region through sheer self-interest. However, this was far from the case, either in terms of large individual countries like the UK, Germany and France, or the EU collectively. They seemed to be insufficiently present wherever one looked, with little prospect of any positive change for now. The Germans were no doubt more active diplomatically than in the past, but they still had a long way to go to be considered serious political players, beyond their current desperation about migrant flows. The French were active but domestically pre-occupied and economically weak. The British did not seem to be able to make up their mind whether they wanted to be part of European efforts and remained too inclined to wait for American leadership. The Commission and the European External Action Service themselves lacked clout and drive for now.
All this was paradoxical. The European interest in a stable and prosperous Middle East and North Africa should make them desperate to have and to implement a serious long-term strategy, and to be ready to spend large sums on it, considering the magnitude of what was at stake. There was precious little sign of this for now. In its absence, a good start would be to make sure that the transatlantic alliance functioned fully and well where this region was concerned.
Could the UN start to play an influential role in the region once again? This should have become more possible now that US-Russian agreement had helped to remove road blocks in the Security Council. The UN was promoting the Syrian talks and could help to deliver success there over time. However, most around the table were sceptical that they could really deliver more widely without more fundamental reform to make the institution more relevant and inclusive. They still lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many in the region, for long-standing historical and other reasons.
Other international institutions such as the IMF and World Bank no doubt had useful roles to play if economic prospects were ever to improve, but they could not lead the search for the security and stability without which purely economic initiatives were bound to seem largely irrelevant.
From a broader perspective, the main external players seemed not to have a common vision or agenda for the region. That might seem too ambitious in present circumstances, but would be needed at some stage. For now, it would be good to take at least some small steps in the right direction, not least in the conflict areas. Educating Syrian children should for example be an absolute priority, to avoid the disaster of a lost generation. This should be part of much greater help and funding for the countries hosting the bulk of the refugees from Syria. This needed to encompass fully the host communities as well as the refugees, and for example to encourage greater economic development, infrastructure and educational opportunities for all. The London conference on the Syrian refugee crisis the previous month had set useful precedents in this respect, but it was vital that the pledges made were implemented.
Another priority should be to support the one political success from the Arab spring, namely Tunisia. The political maturity shown by all sides there could show the way for the region, but the economy was in a dreadful state, partly because of the loss of tourism, but also because of poor management and implementation. Jobs were still desperately needed. This was one area where the outside world really could help, for example by helping technological entrepreneurs, providing basics such as office space, encouraging ‘smart cities’, and promoting productive investment with small amounts of seed funding.
The costs would be small, but the potential rewards huge. For the outside world, particularly the EU, not to do what they could in these circumstances seemed impossibly short-sighted. Tunisia was currently seriously threatened by IS/Daesh violence spreading from Libya, which was also the strongest possible argument for ensuring an effective Libyan political settlement.
Could outsiders help bridge the gaps between Iran and Saudi Arabia? As already noted, this was far from obvious for now, but the effort might still be worth making, given what was at stake. It would have to be through direct talks, not Track 2 efforts. The Iran nuclear deal had at least created new opportunities here. There might be still many suspicions of Iran, but they should be taken at their word of willingness to play a more constructive role, and tested. This did not of course mean abandoning or turning our backs on Saudi Arabia, though here too there were issues about long-standing Saudi support for intolerant Islamic ideas, and domestic human rights issues, which should not be ignored.
Could the outside world do more to help bring about progress in the Palestinian situation? In theory, yes. Without outside pressure on all sides, movement seemed very unlikely. Again those who stood to lose most were the Europeans, but they seemed incapable of shifting the logjam, although the French proposal for a fresh conference was at least a worthy initiative. Was it worth considering a fresh approach where the Americans would abandon the notion of objectivity between the two sides because of their relationship with Israel, and the Europeans would take on the Palestine side, by helping organise Palestinian elections and trying to make progress with the winner? Would it help to recognise the state of Palestine, as many in Europe thought? We had no ready answers, but worried that doing nothing was simply asking for trouble.
To what extent could the main outside players unite to combat IS/Daesh and other violent extremist groups? In principle they already were agreed on this but, as with the inside players in the region, other games were sometimes being played, particularly in the Syrian context. IS/Daesh ought not to be too difficult to defeat militarily, at least as a territory-holding entity, although this still required troops on the ground which outsiders were (understandably) reluctant to provide. Defeating their ideas and preventing them from morphing into a more dangerous version of Al Qaeda, from an international terrorism point of view, was likely to be a much greater and longer-term challenge.
On the economic side, one obvious way forward was to encourage reform and opening up of regional markets in combination with a wider opening of international markets, both European and American, to countries of the region. This approach had been tried before with some success, for example by the EU in other parts of Africa. It would mean the EU overcoming its traditional reluctance to open up agricultural markets to competition from the region, but that was a short-sighted approach which needed to be set aside in any case, given the magnitude of what was at stake in the region for the EU. There could also be greater outside readiness to help with intra-regional infrastructure.
Several positive ideas and recommendations emerged from these discussions, as recorded above. There was long-term optimism that this was a region with huge latent talents and energies just waiting to be released. But it was hard to avoid a sense of pessimism about the immediate future. We believed that what was needed above all was much greater attention from governments to the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, who were always the losers, and much less to political and religious posturing. Regional leaders had to recognise that their interests lay in peaceful co-existence, not confrontation, which would ultimately benefit no-one. This meant a fundamental change of mind-set, not least acceptance that good economic and social policies at home were the most important requirement and the biggest challenge. For the moment, there was little sign of such a change of heart, but perhaps the most valuable contribution outsiders could make was to drive their own efforts in this direction.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
CHAIR: Mr Majid Jafar
Chief Executive Officer, Crescent Petroleum; Managing Director, Dara Gas (PJSC); Founder, Arab Stabilisation Plan; Board Member, Carnegie Middle East Advisory Council; Member, World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East and North Africa; Chairman, Middle East-North Africa Business Council; Chairman of the Business Council and co-Founder with INSEAD Abu Dhabi of the Centre for Economic Growth; Board Member: Arab Forum for Environment and Development and Iraq Energy Institute; Member: Chatham House, International Institute for Strategic Studies, Young Arab Leaders organization.
Mr Tom Harley
Joint Managing Director, Dragoman Pty Ltd; Chairman, Dow Chemical (Australia); Chairman, Menzies Research Institute; Chairman, Australia Saudi Business Council; Member, Advisory Board, Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, Australian National University.
Ambassador Michael Bell
Senior Fellow, The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa; Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Windsor; Co-Chair, Jerusalem Old City Initiative. Formerly: Canadian Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to Jordan; to Egypt; to Israel (twice); representative to the Palestinians; High Commissioner to Cyprus. Chair, Donor Committee, International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq; Arms Inspector, UNSCOM; Senior Fellow, Weatherhead Center, Harvard University; Senior Fellow, Munk Centre, University of Toronto.
Ms Alexandra Bugailiskis
Canadian Diplomatic Service (1982-): Assistant Deputy Minister, Europe, Middle East and Maghreb, Global Affairs Canada (2015-); Chief Negotiator Canada-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (2011-). Formerly: Ambassador to Poland (2013-15); Distinguished Senior Fellow, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Ottawa (on secondment) (2010-11); Assistant Deputy Minister, Latin America and the Caribbean, DFAIT (2008-10); Assistant Deputy Minister and Executive Coordinator, America's Strategy Secretariat, DFAIT (2007-08); Ambassador to Cuba (2003-07); Ambassador to Syria (1997-2000).
Dr Walid Hejazi
Professor of International Business, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; Research Fellow, Rotman Institute for International Business; cross-appointed at The Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto; Academic Director, Rotman Islamic Finance Initiative; government advisor on global competitiveness.
Ms Jaura Jamer
Senior Manager, International Corporate Relations and Distribution (North America, Middle East, Europe), DIRTT Environmental Solutions, New York (2012-); World Economic Forum Global Shaper (2014-).
Ms Emma Findlen LeBlanc
Rhodes Scholar, University of Oxford; Salzburg Global Fellow; Filmmaker. Formerly: Researcher, Department of Sociology, Brown University (2009-11); Ethnographer, Dar al Karama, Damascus (2008-10); Photographer, working in Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria for GQ, Le Monde Diplomatique, Slate and New York Times (2007-12).
Ms Sondos Asem
Independent researcher. Formerly: Foreign Media Coordinator, Egyptian Presidency (2012-13); Co-Editor, ikhwanweb.com, Cairo (2011-12); academic textbook Publisher, Translator and Editor, Cairo (2007-11); Fellow, United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (2012).
Mr Mohamed Okda LLB MBA
Independent Political Consultant, with a focus on Political Islam in the Middle East; active in the issues of interfaith and crisis mediation, religious-secular dialogue and crisis economics; founder, Insight into Crisis.
Mr Fethi Ben Brahim
Political Advisor to Director Middle East and North Africa, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France (2013-). Formerly: Diplomatic Advisor to the President, Arab World Institute, Paris (2008-13); Consul General, Porto; Political Counsellor, Embassy of France, Rabat; Chargé d'Affaires, Embassy of France, Manama.
Dr Dorothée Schmid
Head, Middle East and Turkey Programme, Institut français des relations internationales (Ifri), Paris.
Mr Samir Aita
President, Association of Arab Economists, Paris; Founder, A Concept (consulting firm on economics and ICT); member, Syrian Democratic Forum. Formerly: Editor-in-Chief, Le Monde Diplomatique Arabic editions; Author: 'Les travailleurs Arabes Hors La Loi', Editor, L'Harmattan, 2011; 'The Road Ahead for Syria, Syria Country Profile'; Editor, FEMISE, Economic Research Forum, 2006.
Dr Norbert Röttgen MdB
Member (CDU) of the German Bundestag (1994-); Chair, Committee on Foreign Affairs (2014-). Formerly: Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (2009-12).
Mr Masood Ahmed
Director, Middle East and Central Asia Department, International Monetary Fund (IMF) (2008-). Formerly: Director of External Relations, IMF (2006-08); Director General, Policy and International Development, Department for International Development (2003-06); Deputy Director, Policy Development and Review Department, IMF (2000-03).
Mr Luay Al Khatteeb
Executive Director, Iraq Energy Institute; Honorary Advisor to the Federal Parliament of Iraq on Energy and Economy; Fellow, Center on Global Energy Policy, Columbia University (SIPA). Formerly: Foreign Policy Fellow, Brookings Institution, Washington DC.
Dr Lina Khatib
Senior Research Associate, Arab Reform Initiative; Research Associate, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Formerly: Director, Carnegie Middle East Center, Beirut (2013-15); Head, Program on Arab Reform and Democracy, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University (2010-13); Non-resident Research Fellow, Center on Public Diplomacy, University of Southern California (2010-12).
Mr Mohamed Abdulmalek M.Sc.
European representative and official spokesperson, Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB); LMB Shura Council (2012-, 2008-10 and 1998-2007); Chairman, Libya Watch for Human Rights (2009-). Formerly: Consultant to Omar Alhasi, former Prime Minister of Libya; Vice President, LMB (2009-11); President, Libya Watch for Human Rights (1999-2009); Chairman, LMB Shura Council (2003-05).
Dr Elena Suponina
Advisor to the Director, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies. Formerly: Founder and Director, Middle East and Asia Center, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies.
HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud
Chairman, King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, Riyadh; Co-Founder and a member of the Board of Trustees, King Faisal Foundation; Advisor at the Royal Court (1973-); Commissioner, International Commission on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament; Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Oxford; member of the Board of Trustees: International Crisis Group and Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Formerly: Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States; Ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Ireland (2002-05); Director General, General Intelligence Directorate (1977-2001).
Mr Pedro Villena
Spanish Diplomatic Service (1982-): Director General, Casa Árabe, Madrid (2015-). Formerly: Ambassador of Spain to Iran (2011-15); Consul General, Frankfurt (2011); Deputy Director General for the Maghreb (2009-11); Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain to Algeria (2006-09); Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Spain to Germany (2002-06).
Mr Nebil Karoui
Executive Committee Member, Nidaa Tounes (2016-); principal intermediary between Ennahdha and Nidaa Tounes. Formerly: President, Nessma TV.
Mr Galip Dalay
Senior Research Director, Al Sharq Forum, Geneva; Senior Associate Fellow on Turkey and Kurdish Affairs, Al Jazeera Center for Studies; regular contributor on Turkey policy brief series, German Marshall Fund of the United States. Formerly: Visiting Fellow, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin; Political Researcher, SETA Foundation, Ankara.
Mr Mehmet Murat Yetkin
Editor-in-Chief, Hürriyet Daily News (2011-); Eisenhower Fellow. Formerly: Member, Georgetown University Leadership Seminar Group (2013); Ankara Bureau Chief, Radikal; Founding Team Member, NTV, Ankara; Diplomacy and Defence Editor, Turkish Daily News; Deutsche Welle; AFP; BBC World Service, Ankara.
Mr Jeremy Bowen
BBC (1984-): Middle East Editor (2005-). Foreign correspondent since 1987, including five years based in Jerusalem (1995-2000).
Mr Leo Docherty
Director, Conservative Middle East Council; Council Member, Chatham House. Formerly: British Army.
Sir Jeremy Greenstock GCMG
Chair, UNA-UK (2011-); Chairman, Gatehouse Advisory Partners, London (2010-); Chairman, Lambert Energy Advisory Ltd (2011-). Formerly: Special Adviser, BP plc (2004-10); HM Diplomatic Service (1969-2004): UK Special Representative for Iraq (2003-04); Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations, New York (1998-2003). A Governor and former Director (2004-10) of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr David Hallam
Director, Middle East and North Africa, Department for International Development (2016-).
Mr Shashank Joshi
Senior Research Fellow, Royal United Services Institute, London; Research Associate, Changing Character of War Programme, University of Oxford; Lecturer, Defence Academy of the United Kingdom; Author: 'Permanent crisis: Iran's Nuclear Trajectory' (2012), 'Uncertain Future: Regional Responses to Iran's Nuclear Programme' (2014), 'Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence' (2016).
Mr Daniel Levy
Director, Middle East and North Africa, European Council on Foreign Relations, London; Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation; Founding Editor, Middle East Channel, foreignpolicy.com. Formerly: Director, Middle East Taskforce, New America Foundation; Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation; Analyst, Middle East Program, International Crisis Group (2003-04); Director, Prospects for Peace Initiative; Adviser, Office of the Prime Minister of Israel (1999-2001); Projects Director, Economic Cooperation Foundation, Tel Aviv; Trustee, Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
General The Lord Richards of Herstmonceux GCB, CBE, DSO, DL
Senior Adviser, International Institute for Strategic Studies; Chairman, Equilibrium-Global. Formerly: Chief of the Defence Staff (2010-13); Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces (2008-09); Commander, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (2005-07); Commander, NATO International Security and Assistance Force, Afghanistan (2006-07); Assistant Chief of the General Staff, Ministry of Defence, London (2002-05); Commander Joint Task Force Sierra Leone (2000) and East Timor (1999). A Governor of The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr William Sieghart CBE
Co-Founder and Chairman, Forward Thinking; Senior Associate Fellow, UK Defence Academy; Founder (1988), Forward Publishing; Founder, Forward Poetry Prizes and National Poetry Day; Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Somerset House (2015-); Chairman: The Arts Foundation, StreetSmart, Forward Arts Foundation; Trustee: Reprieve, Britdocs, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation. Formerly: Member and Chairman of the Lottery Committee, Arts Council (2000-06).
Dr Massoumeh Torfeh
Research Associate, London School of Economics; Research Associate, Centre for Media Studies, SOAS University of London (2008-).
Mr Julian Weinberg
Political Dialogues Director and Helsinki Policy Forum Director, Forward Thinking. Formerly: Managed: the Nyon Process (2010-14), Tunisian Political Pluralism Dialogue Process (2012-14), Egyptian Economic Political Dialogue Process (2012-13), Forward Thinking; Senior Middle East Analyst, political risk and strategic advisory firm (2009-10); freelance journalist, Damascus (2008-09).
The Lord Williams of Baglan Ph.D, M.Sc (Econ)
Distinguished Visiting Fellow and former Acting Head, Asia Programme, Chatham House; International Trustee, BBC. Formerly: United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Coordinator for Lebanon (2008-11); UK Special Representative on the Middle East and Special Projects (2007-08); UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East (2006-07); Director, Middle East and Asia, Department of Political Affairs, United Nations, New York (2005-06); Special Adviser to the UK Foreign Secretary (2000-05); Director, Office for Children and Armed Conflict, UN (1999-2000); Senior Fellow, International Institute of Strategic Studies (1995-98); Director of Information, UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), Zagreb
(1994-95); Director, Human Rights, United Nations, Cambodia (1992-93).
Mr Oliver McTernan
Director and Co-Founder, Forward Thinking (2004-); Author, 'Violence in God's Name'; Regular Broadcaster, BBC. Formerly: Senior Adviser, Club of Madrid; Visiting Fellow, Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, Harvard University (2000-03); Priest, Islington and Notting Hill parishes (1970-2000).
Mr Michael Adler
U.S. Diplomatic Service (1992-): Director, Office of Analysis for the Near East, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, U.S. Department of State. Formerly: Senior Advisor, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs; Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Kuwait; Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Lebanon; Head of Political Section, U.S. Embassy, Kabul; Director, Office of Regional Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (2006-09).
Ms Raghida Dergham
Founder and Executive Chairman, Beirut Institute; New York Bureau Chief, Al Hayat (1989-); Regular Correspondent, Huffington Post; Member, The Council on Foreign Relations. Formerly: Board Member, International Media Council of the World Economic Forum; Political Analyst, MSNBC and NBC News, Arab Satellite LBC; Contributing Editor, Global Viewpoint; President, The United Nations Correspondents Association (1997).
Ms Elizabeth Dibble
U.S. Diplomatic Service: Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, London (2013-). Formerly: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State (2011-13); Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (2010-11); Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Rome (2008-10); Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs (2006-08); Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. A Member of the Programme Committee of the Ditchley Foundation.
Dr Jerrold Green
President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Council on International Policy, Los Angeles (2008-); Research Professor of Communications, University of Southern California; Member, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Advisory Panel and U.S. Department of State Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy. Formerly: Director of International Programs, RAND Corporation; Director of Middle East Centers, RAND and University of Arizona; Research Fellow in Iran; Fulbright Professor in Egypt.
Ambassador Robert E. Hunter
Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, Johns Hopkins University; International Security Advisory Board, U.S. Department of State; Executive Committee, American Academy of Diplomacy. Formerly: Senior Advisor, RAND Corporation, (1998-2011); U.S. Ambassador to NATO (1993-98); Director of West European and Middle East Affairs, National Security Council (1977-81), including as White House representative to Arab-Israeli peace talks; author, 'Carter Doctrine for the Persian Gulf'; a Governor of The Ditchley Foundation (2003-12).
Dr Shireen Hunter
Research Professor, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University (2005-); author: 'Iran Divided: The Historical Roots of Iranian Debates on Identity, Culture and Governance in the 21st Century' (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), 'Iran's Foreign Policy in the Post-Soviet Era: Resisting the International Order (Praeger, 2010), 'Reformist Voices of Islam: Mediating Islam and Modernity' (M.E. Sharpe, 2008). Formerly: Director, Islam Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (1983-2005); Visiting Scholar, Brookings Institution; Research Fellow, Center for International Affairs, Harvard University; member of the Iranian foreign service, serving in London and Geneva (1965-79).
Mr Jonathan Paris
London-based Middle East analyst and consultant to the Office of Net Assessment, U.S. Department of Defence (2003-) and IC Associate, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) (2008-); Senior Advisor, The Chertoff Group; Associate Fellow, International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King's College London.
Dr Matthew Spence
Senior Fellow, Yale University. Formerly: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, U.S. Department of Defense (2012-15); Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for International Economic Affairs, National Security Council (2011-12); Senior Advisor to the National Security Advisor, The White House (2009-11). Co-Founder and Director, Truman National Security Project.