Early June saw Ditchley return to the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa region. More than three years after the first revolution in Tunisia, we wanted to look at why so much seemed to have gone so wrong, and how those inside and outside the region could now help, economically as well as politically. We had a good spread of voices from the region, not least from civil society, and a diverse group overall, including an encouraging number of women. We struggled to overcome the prevailing gloom, but were determined, under the leadership of our expert chairman, to look for the positive and to identify practical ways forward if we could. It was perhaps as well that we were meeting just before the situation in Iraq deteriorated so dramatically – that would have made optimism all the harder.
Our first task was to understand what had gone wrong, or whether we had misjudged the process from the start. It was clearer now that we were looking at long-term change, and that those who had launched revolutions had not been ready for the next steps, unsurprisingly given previous repression. The ‘deep state’ had also fought back hard.
What was going on now? The struggle was less about religion than about governance: the nature and identity of Arab states and what it meant to be a citizen. Despite the re-emergence of an authoritarian government in Egypt, and the dominance of men with guns elsewhere, people power could not be put back in its box. Governments of whatever stripe would need to respond to the economic and political aspirations of their peoples, notably the young. This did not mean western-style democracies, certainly not in the short term, but the values which characterised democracies of pluralism, equality of opportunity, and accountability were what people wanted in the Arab world too. It would not wash to go back to the old mantras about stability above all, or to see events through a terrorism lens.
We did not think that current national borders would be seriously challenged by these developments – but we were meeting before the sharp deterioration in Iraq. We pondered why monarchies had so far seemed to escape revolution compared to republics and identified some reasons, but did not believe they could remain immune to change for long. We also asked whether peoples had drawn back from demanding more change because of the awful spectacle in front of them, of Syria in particular, and feared that many regimes had themselves drawn the lesson that they needed more repression, not more reform.
We recognised the need to look at each country individually. Tunisia seemed to us the one relatively bright spot which deserved our support. We were worried that renewed repression in Egypt could not be a long-term recipe for peace and prosperity. We despaired over Syria, with the arguments for and against western military intervention continuing to rage unresolved. We thought Libya badly needed more muscular diplomacy from the outside to promote reconciliation. Concern levels also remained high over Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq.
The economic situation in the region, and that of individual countries, had worsened over the last three years, as unrest had deterred tourists and investors alike, and economics had come very much second to politics. This was extremely worrying when an important part of the drivers of change had been economic, and aspirations were further than ever from being met. Ideas of a Marshall Plan for the region were probably vain for now, but proposals such as those for a Maghreb Fund, and an Arab Regional Development Bank, had merit, and putting public and private funds together to share the risk of infrastructure development should certainly be explored. We also believed it would be most important to focus on local economic initiatives, and on helping small-scale entrepreneurs.
How should outsiders now be responding? The first aim should be to do no harm. Western countries were urged to stick to their values, to think more long-term, and to encourage those people and those institutions which seemed to be heading in the right pluralist and inclusive directions. Dealing with the new regime in Egypt would involve a tricky balance between engagement and the appearance of endorsement. It would be good if outside powers could bring their aims and policies closer together, for example the West and the Russians, but there seemed little prospect of this for now.
Why have initial hopes been so disappointed?
Our starting point was to try to understand what had happened over the past three and a half years. In doing so, we recognised that we needed to avoid too much generalisation. Each of the countries mainly affected was different, and each deserved separate analysis. Nevertheless there were some broad points which could be made.
The first was that it was wrong to see the revolutions as one-off events. They were rather the beginnings of a long-term process of change in those countries and in the region. Political and economic transitions of this depth and scale were bound to be lengthy and painful, as people groped towards new systems to replace the old, mainly through trial and error. The initial drivers of change had been many and various, both political and economic, and new demands had arisen as the revolutions had proceeded. Those who had helped launch the revolutions had inevitably not been able to see much beyond the immediate removal of the regimes they thought had failed them, and they had clearly not been ready for the complexities and fragmentation they had unleashed. Civil society and most political parties had been disorganised and confused – not surprisingly when the lid had been so firmly screwed down for so long.
Moreover, they had been confronting powerful forces – the ‘deep state’ – which had by no means given up or gone away, even when regime heads had disappeared. These forces had fought back and had received support from outside. There had probably been a better appreciation of the difficulties and dangers from the start within the region than in parts of the West, where exaggerated optimism had been the order of the day in the early stages. In some cases the revolution had been hijacked by the military. In others, Islamist forces had come to the fore, not surprisingly since they had been the most organised, if also the most repressed, for many years.
What were the current struggles now really about? It was tempting, particularly in the West, to see it as secularists v Islamists, and to wonder whether democracy and political Islam could easily cohabit. Participants from the region rejected such characterisations. Genuinely secular forces were few. It was essentially about tyranny versus freedom. If there was a struggle about religion, leaving aside the Sunni/Shia divide, it was between different interpretations of Islam and its role in society and politics, between moderate and extreme views. Islam and democracy were not in opposition to each other, though some Islamist forces certainly did not accept democracy as the way forward. This was not something the West could easily understand and could certainly not fix.
The fundamental struggle was seen by many from the region as more about the state: its identity and its relationship with the citizen. How could and should power be dispersed, constrained and held to account? How could people be helped to become citizens and not just subjects? It was also about building institutions with real credibility and buy-in, and strengthening civil society. There was a crisis of Arab governance. These trends were not always visible beneath the violence and political froth, but they were crucial nevertheless.
We were also convinced, despite the re-emergence of authoritarian government in Egypt, and the domination of armed militias of all kinds, in Syria and Libya, that people power could not simply be put back in its box, and political business as usual resumed. All future regimes would need to take account of what people wanted in one way or another, or risk the consequences on the streets. The demands and aspirations behind the original movements – for example for dignity, freedom, equity and economic opportunities – were still there. Indeed, new expectations had been aroused which would be very hard to meet, especially in the chaotic politics now threatening to engulf the region.
Had it been wrong to imagine that what people had wanted was democracy? We thought not. Most people wanted the kind of things which characterised democracies – pluralism, respect for basic rights, tolerance, accountability of those in power, lack of corruption, equality of opportunity and so on. However, it had perhaps been simplistic to talk of democracy, as if it was something which could be easily imported or implemented, and as if elections alone were sufficient to create democracy. The universal values implied in the concept of democracy should not be altered or watered down for the region, but local models would need to be elaborated over time, and the best should not be allowed to be the enemy of the good in the short term. We saw a risk in “unmediated popular sentiment”, in other words popular views which were not channelled through political or civil society institutions, and were easily manipulated by dictators or extremist movements.
We were also conscious of the continuing power of social media in communicating information and forming opinion, particularly among the young – and most countries in the region were facing a youth tsunami, as populations grew rapidly. It was true that repressive regimes had now taught themselves how to use social media to facilitate their repression and spread their own propaganda. But that did not outweigh the liberating and disruptive power of these tools.
There were fears around the table that the issues in the region would come to be seen once again through an exclusive terrorism lens. The use of violence for political ends was certainly a major problem throughout the region, and some of the tactics could justifiably be described as terrorist. Western countries would have to look to their counter-terrorism strategies, not least to cope with the frightening reality of jihadists from their countries returning from Syria or Iraq. But thinking about the problems through a terrorism prism could never properly capture the complexities or the dynamics, and could easily lead Western powers back into past mistakes.
Finally, there was a fear that there would be some both inside and outside the region who would go back to the old mantra of stability over all else. It was unsurprising that, faced with violence, extremism and chaos, many ordinary people in the countries concerned yearned for a return to a quiet life. It was unprecedented that liberals in Egypt had mostly seemed to support the army take-over. Some outside the region might feel nostalgia for the old days of regimes which had no doubt been authoritarian, incompetent and corrupt, but had at least kept countries together, and had provided interlocutors with whom it was possible to deal. But the past so-called stability had been an illusion, based as it was on violent repression, and an illusion which had given birth to what we were now seeing. Any future stability of this kind would be even more of an illusion, given the people power which had been unleashed. Governments which were not both competent and inclusive would not last long in today’s circumstances, and the problems created by their downfall could be even worse than some of what we were seeing today.
We did not talk much on this occasion about Israel/Palestine, or about influential non-Arab regional powers such as Iran, Israel and Turkey. However, their impact on events, actual or potential, was nevertheless in our minds throughout the discussions.
One other question we asked ourselves was whether what we were seeing threatened the current regional set-up, and the colonially-drawn borders. The heritage of the twentieth century for the Arabs was, after all, one in which societies had been given little chance to evolve in their own natural way. There were a few suggestions that frontier change was a significant risk, particularly from jihadi groups who had no interest in borders, and given the mayhem and profound divisions seen in Syria. But most around the table thought a serious break-up of existing countries would not happen. The revolutions and violence we had seen so far were essentially nationalist in character, even if, like Syria, the spill-over effects outside national borders could be dramatic, for example from refugee flows. Most, when we met, did not even expect Iraq to split in any significant way. We might well have reached different conclusions, not least about Iraq, had we been meeting even a couple of weeks later.
Against this background, we looked in more detail at the situations in the countries mainly affected.
Tunisia was seen as the one relatively bright spot in an otherwise gloomy scene. There certainly had been and would continue to be significant problems, political and economic. Strains had been set up in Tunisian society, for example between liberal and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, which would be hard to cope with in the coming years. But the strength and sophistication of Tunisian society had so far enabled efforts at reconciliation and compromise to succeed, for example in the elaboration of a constitution with which all could live. The En Nahda party seemed to have demonstrated a creditable degree of understanding of the risks to its own position, and to the country, if it had stayed in power in 2013 (very different from the way the Muslim Brotherhood had behaved in Egypt). The next election would no doubt be a challenge, but there were reasonable grounds for hope, including economically, as tourists began to return. We were inclined to think that Tunisia could be a model for others in the region, and that it would be worth investing from the outside to try and make sure this did happen. However, we were also conscious that the country’s size, history and relative strategic unimportance made it an unlikely template for others.
We struggled to find reasons to be optimistic about Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to have mishandled badly their time in power, even if it was not easy to say exactly what they had done to deserve such vitriolic criticism and their removal by the army. General Sisi’s take-over had had some popular support, certainly, but it was still a military coup, and his recent election as President had been less than totally convincing. It was hard to see how the wholesale suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, with its substantial minority of popular following, could lead to good political outcomes in the future – without some form of inclusion, the risk of rising violence looked high, as some turned to revolution as their only alternative. The economy was meanwhile in a very poor state, with little chance of tourism picking up in the near future, and no sign of readiness to tackle the well-known economic problems of the country. The army/deep state’s grip on big business was only likely to intensify. We could hope that, over time, the current crack-down might ease, and ways would be found to enable at least some parts of the Islamic opposition to take part in public life. But it was not more than a hope for now.
We could see even fewer chinks of light in the horrors of Syria, about which we heard at graphic first hand. The scale of death, destruction and displacement was catastrophic, and it was impossible to see how the country could be put back together. Although the Assad regime was doing better than the rebels militarily, with the important help of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, it still did not look strong enough to win a clear military victory. The rebel side was meanwhile characterised by increasing extremism and lack of unity. There seemed little or no hope of a political way out for now, though the disillusion with war and the yearning for peace were growing, not least in some rebel-held areas.
There was strong disagreement around the table about whether the West should have intervened militarily in the past, whether through arming the “moderate” rebel factions or carrying through the proposed military action after the regime’s use of chemical weapons, and should still intervene now in some way. Those in favour pointed to the scale of the carnage, and the drift to jihadism of the rebels in the absence of Western support, and argued that even now that drift could be halted and reversed if there were a viable alternative. A change in the balance of power on the ground was seen as the only viable way back towards meaningful political dialogue. Inaction was a greater danger than action, because of the potential consequences for the wider region. Those against feared that the situation could become even worse if the West intervened militarily and became the ‘enemy’, and saw little chance of finding enough “moderate” rebels to help. Moreover intervention by the West now could well provoke stronger backing from Assad’s more passive supporters.
This was a gulf which could not be bridged. All were at least agreed on the need for more, and more effective, humanitarian aid, particularly in the rebel-held areas, and for this to be delinked from any action or lack of it in the Security Council. The UN needed to do much more in the rebel-held areas, as well as the INGOs.
Optimism about Libya was also thin on the ground, as violence had grown, and the central government’s authority had ebbed. But the situation was seen as far from hopeless. The population was relatively small, oil resources should keep the economy going, and radicalisation had moved less far than elsewhere. What was desperately needed was political reconciliation between the different tribal groups and different geographical areas. This should not be impossible, especially with more robust outside diplomacy.
While facing severe economic and political difficulties, was also seen as having made some useful progress. US drone strikes might be understandable from a security point of view but were not making the political process any easier. We continued to worry about Bahrain, given the sectarian tensions, and particularly the likelihood that Saudi Arabia would continue to block real political progress towards reconciliation between the communities. Iraq was already suffering badly from the spill-over of the Syrian conflict, political weakness and division, and sectarian tension, all of which only looked like getting worse (as they did shortly afterwards). In retrospect, we did not spend enough time on Iraq.
Where else might unrest manifest itself?
We remarked on the way in which monarchies had so far escaped the fate of some of the republics. There were reasons for this: monarchs had a kind of hereditary legitimacy which republican leaders did not, especially when the latter showed dynastic pretensions; monarchs could sack their governments and escape some of the blame for problems; and some of the Gulf monarchies could throw huge amounts of money at the problem to keep their populations quiet. However we did not believe that monarchies could be immune from the changes which had swept the region. Morocco and Jordan had so far survived remarkably well with the help of some moderate changes, but the pressures on both were still there, in Jordan’s case exacerbated by the huge number of Syrian refugees, and in Morocco’s case because initial moves towards reform had now stalled. Saudi Arabia had managed the undoubted pressures and tensions inside the country successfully so far, but some participants from the region were not sanguine about its continued ability to do so with such a fast-growing younger population lacking jobs of value. The UAE and Qatar could manage their small indigenous populations, though they needed to change policies and attitudes to foreign workers to prevent more trouble. Meanwhile, Qatar’s motives in supporting revolution elsewhere in the region remained hard to understand. Oman could face trouble in the context of the succession to Sultan Qaboos. Kuwait looked relatively calm for now.
Elsewhere Lebanon remained highly vulnerable to its internal divisions and to external machinations, as well as to the extraordinary high number of Syrian refugees now in its population (proportionally), but somehow seemed able to stagger on. Algeria was vulnerable given its sclerotic regime – it was not clear how long the memory of the previous horrific violence could keep further trouble in check. Sudan’s rulers faced a constant challenge from the previous elite, but opposition remained divided. The creation of South Sudan had been another sobering precedent for the rest of the region.
A wider question here was how far the spectacle of what had happened in Syria, Egypt and Libya had put off potential protestors and revolutionaries in other countries. It was hard to find evidence for this either way, but the fact that other countries had recently escaped the contagion effect which had one time seemed so powerful suggested that the prospects of violent civil war, political chaos and economic regression had indeed had a deterrent effect – though not on the jihadists. A related question was the lesson other regimes had learned: we feared it might be more that change/reform movements had to be suppressed as ruthlessly and rapidly as possible, than that introducing reform could help to head off trouble. This might prove to be the wrong lesson in the long run, but most regimes were focussed on staying in power now, and saw that the moment of maximum danger for them came when the lid on the pressure cooker began to be lifted – it could all too easily blow off.
Economic and social pressures
We spent a good deal of time on the economic and social aspects, since frustrated aspirations in these areas had been a major element in the explosions of recent years. The youth tsunami was creating a huge and unsatisfied demand for jobs, particularly from those who had received some form of higher education (however poor its real quality), and for better economic opportunities for all, not just for the elite who already had their snouts in the trough.
Sadly, the underlying socio-economic challenges of poor education systems, inefficient labour markets, fiscal deficits, inflation, crippling and incoherent subsidy regimes, poor levels of investment, etc., not only remained untackled, but had been exacerbated by political instability. At the same time, popular expectations had been raised – and so far mainly disappointed. This was a highly volatile mix. Economics had for the most part come a very poor second to politics, and the standards of economic management and debate were rudimentary. The basic problem was that regimes struggling to stay in power were hardly well-placed to take tough, long-term decisions, for example on ill-conceived and cripplingly expensive subsidies, and therefore simply hoped for the best. Meanwhile, those who had large vested interests were desperate to hold onto them, and were also blocking change. In such circumstances it was hardly surprising that foreign investors, like foreign tourists, had simply stayed away for the most part, and that outside economic institutions and governments had struggled to know how to help, or even whom to talk to.
In principle, for this kind of reason, it would be very difficult to get the economics right until the politics were right. But the problems were too urgent and threatening to sit back and wait for better times. There was, therefore, an immediate need for governments in the region to focus on economic policy and economic reform, in order to restart investment and begin to meet popular expectations of jobs and prosperity. The sequencing of reform would be crucial. Quick wins were needed, combined with gradual change in some sensitive areas, if longer-term issues like subsidy reform were not simply to provoke more popular explosions. Economic authority also urgently needed to be decentralised to allow state and municipality level authorities to finance and implement projects, for example in infrastructure.
Funding would be vital for this, which was where outsiders could play a key role. Western official financing flows had so far been very low, relative to the need, despite extravagant promises at Deauville, and had often been accompanied by political demands which had frightened off regional players. Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, had helped to fill the gap, for example in Egypt. But this money also came with political strings attached, even if they were less visible than Western-style conditions. Those giving the money expected not only that it would help to prop up their favoured regimes, but also that it would not be wasted. There might therefore be an increasing degree of readiness on their part to work with institutions such as the IMF on designing sensible reform policies. Could any of this be turned into a “Marshall Plan” for the region? Views differed, but most participants though this was a chimera; Western funding would simply not be there in sufficient quantities, and funding from the region could not realistically be channelled in this way.
In any case, governments in the region would continue essentially to have their economic fates in their own hands. No-one could help them effectively if they did not want to help themselves; and money, public or private, would not flow in any quantity until the basic conditions were in place. One obvious way of improving prospects would be moves towards greater regional economic integration – lowering trade tariffs and barriers, opening up markets, and improving infrastructure, particularly across borders. But none of this looked likely to happen in the short term.
Despite this general economic gloom, we saw some bright spots. The political awakening at grass-roots level had also helped trigger a boom in entrepreneurial activity at grass-roots level, and some good small companies (and therefore good investment opportunities) were being generated. This was particularly visible in Tunisia, which was another reason why Tunisia might deserve special help. Even in countries where political conditions looked dire, success stories could be found if one looked hard enough. These needed to be made more visible, for example by actively looking for them and giving them publicity. A book on MENA success stories could have quite an impact, and was proposed and supported.
We also saw scope for other specific initiatives:
- A Maghreb Fund, which could help overcome cross-border barriers.
- A proper Arab Regional Development Bank to attract and channel infrastructure investment.
- Efforts to put together private and public investors for infrastructure projects, to share risk, as suggested and supported by the Arab Stabilisation Plan.
- Support for micro-finance and other funding for SMEs, with appropriate banking reform.
- A focus wherever possible on local initiatives.
- A determined effort to help Tunisia: results were achievable without huge sums and she could show what could be achieved with the right combination of good governance and outside assistance.
The role of outside intervention and influence
Specific kinds of outside intervention have already been covered to some extent, for example in the sections on Syria and on economic problems. However, we also had a broader exchange, starting from the question of what outcomes outside powers might actually be seeking. Should Western countries, for example, be pursuing better lives for the peoples of the region, economically and politically, or simply protecting and promoting their own interests? How far could these aims be said to overlap? There was no simple answer to this question, but we did not think pursuit of narrow interests could be adequate or effective if it meant ignoring the underlying trends towards pluralism and self-determination.
The West was urged by participants from the region to be true to its values. This had to mean support for pluralism and inclusive governments as the best ultimate guarantee of stability, even if Western governments also had legitimate counter-terrorism, energy and migration concerns, and even if the straightforward case that “democracy” was good for stability was harder to make now than three years ago. But we also needed to understand that not all outside powers saw things in the same way. Russia for example was more inclined to support authoritarian regimes as the best way of preventing jihadism, particularly Sunni jihadism.
In our discussions we tried to escape the usual reduction of intervention to military intervention, but did not altogether succeed, with Syria as the main focus. In general our view was that the bar for military intervention had to be set very high, in the light of experience. We also recognised that there were levels of intervention which fell well short of military, with sanctions at one end of this spectrum, humanitarian aid at the other, and diplomacy, trade and investment in the middle. Whatever outsiders did or did not do inevitably had an influence on what happened in the region. So there was no escaping the debate. At the same time outsiders should not pretend that they could shape or manage events when they manifestly could not. Moreover the West remained hampered by the long-standing perceptions of its double standards and hypocrisy in the region.
We were therefore agreed that the main principle should be: do no harm. We should try to encourage positive trends wherever we could, and encourage those who wanted to help the population in general rather than just themselves. We should also try harder to think long-term. We were also agreed that Tunisia might be one place where we could genuinely help in order to show that change could be successful. A strong case was also made that more active diplomacy in Libya could pay dividends, and that we owed it to the Libyans to do this, having been part of the movement which overthrew the previous dictator.
Egypt clearly presented us with a dilemma. The international community needed to engage with the new President and government, not least to try and help influence for the better the conditions of the Egyptian people, but the West at least did not want to confer undeserved legitimacy and apparent approval/respectability. This was obviously a delicate balance to strike. How far should military help or economic aid have conditions attached to it, and if so should they be narrowly or broadly defined? There was no consensus around the table, but several participants thought we should be able to work out a transactional relationship with the new regime, which would at least try to steer it in the right directions. Others thought Western chances of influencing Egypt at present were slight, not least since the new regime seemed to be looking more to Moscow for help.
We found it difficult to agree on how far the US had lightened its footprint in the region, how far any such movement was temporary or permanent, and how far any of this was a good or bad thing for the region or Western interests. Regional perceptions of US weakness were no doubt exaggerated, but such perceptions still mattered. Europe was seen as largely absent, politically and financially, and badly needing to step up its game.
We also discussed whether outside powers should be doing more to help tackle region-wide problems, such as the damaging Iran/Saudi Arabia struggle for influence, particularly in the light of the impact on the region of a possible nuclear deal with Iran. We were not confident outsiders could make much of a difference in such fraught contexts in present circumstances, though it was right to try. Nor were we confident that overall co-operation between Western and non-Western powers such as Russia could be much improved, despite the obvious desirability of this. However, we did believe that common ground with Russia should be sought wherever possible, and used effectively, as it had been for example in Yemen.
Our determination and ability to remain positive rested on the premise that the region was engaged in a transitional process which could take two generations, and that we needed to take a long view accordingly. Democracies were not always good at this, but we should recognise that what the vast majority of the younger generation in the region wanted was what we would also want for them. The revolutions of 2011 had changed some things for good, and the ‘deep state’ would never be as strong again. We should therefore resist the temptation to go back to defining our overall policies in terms of fostering stability at all costs, or of seeing developments through a counter-terrorism lens. In the end change in the region would favour more participative and diverse developments, and we needed to stick to our support of these, including on the economic side. But we could be in for a long and painful haul, as the developments in Iraq shortly after the end of our conference sharply reminded us.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression. Not all attending participants have been named, at their request.
CHAIR: 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.
Ambassador Sébastien Beaulieu
Canadian Diplomatic Service (1998-): Ambassador to Tunisia (2012-). Formerly: Director, Office of the Associate Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs; assignments in Legal Bureau (International Trade Litigation), Trade Policy Branch (Investment Protection), International Security Branch (International Crime and Terrorism), Global Issues Branch (Climate Change and Energy); Canadian mission to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris (2006-09); Canadian mission to the World Trade Organization, Geneva (2000-03).
Ambassador Michael Bell
Senior Fellow, Norman Patterson School of International Relations, Carleton University; Adjunct Professor, University of Windsor; Co-Chair, Jerusalem Old City Initiative. Formerly: Paul Martin Senior Scholar in International Diplomacy, University of Windsor; Canadian Diplomatic Service: Ambassador to Israel (1990-92 and 1999-2003); to Egypt (1994-98); to Jordan (1987-90); 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.
Mr Mohamed Okda LLB MBA
Political Consultant, Co-Founder and member of the Executive Office, Al-Watan Party, Egypt; member, National Pro-Democracy and Anti-Coup Coalition in Egypt (2013-); campaigner for civil rights in Egypt; media commentator, BBC, CBS, Al Jazeera, CNBC; regular speaker at Harvard University; Georgetown University; University of Chicago; Casa Arabe, Cordoba; Stimson Center; National Endowment for Democracy and Middle East Institute, Washington, DC. Formerly: Lecturer, Lewis University, Illinois.
Ambassador Eric Chevallier
French Diplomatic Service: Ambassador for Syria, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development, Paris (2012-). Formerly: Ambassador of France to Syria (2009-12); Ministry Spokesman and Special Adviser to the Foreign Minister (2002-09); Director for International Operations, Médecins du Monde; Senior Adviser to Minister Delegate for Health, Bernard Kouchner (2001-02); United Nations Mission in Kosovo; Special Adviser to Special Representative of the Secretary General, Bernard Kouchner (1999-2001).
Professor Dyala Hamzah
Assistant Professor of Middle East History, University of Montreal (2012-). Formerly: Post-Doctoral Fellow, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (2008-12); Research scholarships, Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (2001-04) and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (2004-08); SIAS-Summer Institute Fellow (Andrew W. Mellon and A. v. Humboldt Foundations, 2001, 2002). Author, edited volume, 'The Making of the Arab Intellectual' (Routledge, 2012).
Mr Samir Aita
President, Arab Economists' Circle, Paris; Founder, A Concept; 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 Bassma Kodmani
Executive Director, Arab Reform Initiative, Paris. Formerly: Spokesperson, Syrian National Council; Research Director, Académie Diplomatique Internationale; Coordinator, European Experts Group on the Middle East; Senior Advisor on international cooperation, French National Research Council (2007-09); Senior Visiting Fellow, Collège de France (2005-06); Director, Governance and International Cooperation program, Ford Foundation, Cairo (1999-2005); Director, Middle East program, French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), Paris (1981-98).
Mr Daniel Levy
Director, Middle East and North Africa programme, European Council on Foreign Relations, London; Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation; Founding Editor, Middle East Channel, foreignpolicy.com. Formerly: Analyst, Middle East Program, International Crisis Group (2003-04); Director, Prospects for Peace Initiative; Adviser, Office of the Prime Minister of Israel.
Dr Florence Eid-Oakden
CEO and Chief Economist, Arabia Monitor, London; Board of Directors, Arab Banking Corporation International Bank, London; Advisory Board member, Al Faisal University College of Business, Saudi Arabia. Formerly: Vice President and Senior Economist for the Middle East and North Africa, JPMorgan; Professor of Finance and Economics, American University of Beirut.
Mr Mohamed Abdulmalek M.Sc.
Libyan Muslim Brotherhood European Representative, Benghazi; Member, Libyan Muslim Brotherhood (LMB) Shura Council (2012-, 2008-10 and 1998-2007); Chairman, Libya Watch (2009-). Formerly: Vice President, LMB (2009-11); Chairman, Board of Trustees, Alwafa Relief; Chairman, LMB Shura Council (2003-05); President, Libya Watch (1999-2009).
Dr Elena Suponina
Head, Asia and Middle East Center, Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, Moscow; Expert, Russian Council on International Affairs. Formerly: Political Columnist, 'Moskovskie novosti' (2011); Head of International Department (2002-11) and Columnist (1998-2002), 'Vremya Novostey' newspaper; Correspondent and Columnist, 'Novoe vremya' journal (1996-1998).
Mr José Enrique Bofill Maestre
Director Middle East, Aqualia Gestión Integral del Agua, Madrid (2008-); Advisory Committee Member, Saudi Water and Power Forum; Member, Spanish Society of Civil Engineers; Member, Spanish Association for Desalination and Water Reuse. Formerly: Aqualia Infraestructuras: Commercial Director (2006-08), Construction Director (2004-06); Director, Technical Department (2000-04).
Ms Ana Echagüe
Senior Researcher, FRIDE, Madrid. Formerly: Deputy Director, University of the Middle East Project, Madrid; Financial Analyst, Lehman Brothers, London.
Ms Asma Ahmadi
PhD Candidate in French Language and Literature, Semiotics, University of La Sorbonne, Paris 4; University Teacher, Higher Institute of Languages of Tunis (2010-); Program Fellow, Women's Initiative Fellowship, Bush Institute, Dallas (2014). Formerly: Researcher, Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (2011-12); Communication Consultant, Meublatex Group, Tunis (2010-12); Teaching Assistant, Letters and Human Sciences, University of Sousse, Tunisia (2007-10).
Mr Said Ferjani
Founding member and executive bureau member (1992-2000), Ennahda Party; founding member, Tunisian International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners; founding trustee, Families Relief. Formerly: Advisor to the Ministry of Justice of Tunisia; Vice Chair, Mosques and Imams Advisory Board UK; Head, Policy, Media and Public Relations, Muslim Association of Great Britain; Advisor to the Ministry of Justice of the United Kingdom.
Dr Gulnur Aybet
Professor and Founding Head, Department of International Relations, Özyegin University, Istanbul; member, Council of Management, British Institute, Ankara; member, Global Relations Forum, Istanbul; Editor, IB Tauris book series on Contemporary Turkey (2013-). Formerly: Faculty positions at University of Kent, University of Nottingham and Bilkent University, Ankara; Principal Investigator, research projects funded by British Academy, NATO, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Visiting Scholar: School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University; Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, Washington, DC; St Antony's College, University of Oxford; Senior Associate Member, St Antony's College.
Ambassador Hamish Cowell
HM Diplomatic Service (1987-): Ambassador to Tunisia. Formerly: Head, North Africa Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); Head, Libya Crisis Unit, FCO; Private Secretary to Minister of State Jeremy Browne MP, FCO (2010-11); Prime Minister's Press Office (2000); Foreign Secretary's Speechwriter (1999-2000); Head, Political, Economic and Development Sections, British Embassy, Cairo (1996-99); Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy, Tehran (1992-94).
Mr Dai Havard
Member of Parliament (Labour) for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney; Chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Defence and Diplomacy in the Middle East and North Africa; long-serving member, House of Commons Defence Select Committee and member, Foreign and Commonwealth Group. Formerly: Wales Secretary, MSF Union (now Unite).
The Rt Hon. The Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE
Life Peer, Conservative (1997-); President, Montrose Strategic Consultancy, London; Chairman, Advisory Council, FIRST Magazine Group; Fellow, Nuffield College, University of Oxford; President, German-British Forum. Formerly: High Steward, Westminster Abbey (2002-12); Senior Adviser, Hawkpoint Partners Ltd (2001-11); Chairman, Advisory Committee, Hawkpoint Partners Ltd (1998-2001); Chairman, Prison Reform Trust (1997-2001); Chairman, British Invisibles (now International Financial Services London) (1997-2000); Deputy Chairman, NatWest Markets (1995-99); Member of Parliament, Conservative, Witney (1983-97); Mid-Oxon (1974-83); Foreign Secretary (1989-95); Home Secretary (1985-89); Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (1984-85); Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1979-83); HM Diplomatic Service (1952-66). An Honorary Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Ghaffar Hussain
Managing Director, Quilliam; Author, 'A Brief History of Islamism', 'Modern Muslim Political Thought: The Progressive Tradition'.
Ms Roula Khalaf
Financial Times (1995-): Foreign Editor and Assistant Editor. Formerly: Middle East Editor; North Africa correspondent, Forbes, New York.
The Rt Hon. Lord Malloch-Brown KCMG
Chairman, Europe, Middle East and Africa, FTI Consulting, London. Formerly: Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2009); Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, London (2007-09); Vice Chairman, Soros Fund Management and The Open Society Network, New York (2007); UN Deputy Secretary-General (2006); Chef de Cabinet to UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan (2005); Administrator, UN Development Programme (1999-2005).
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).
Ambassador James Watt CVO
HM Diplomatic Service (1977-): Ambassador to Egypt (2011-). Formerly: Ambassador to Jordan (2006-11); to Lebanon (2003-06); Director of Consular Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) (2000-03); School of Oriental and African Studies, London (on sabbatical) (1998-99); Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan (1996-98); Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy, Amman (1992-96); Deputy Head, United Nations Department and Head, Human Rights Unit, FCO (1989-92); responsibility for Middle Eastern and Peacekeeping Affairs in the Security Council and General Assembly, United Kingdom Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York (1985-89).
Mr Julian Weinberg
Political Dialogues Director and Helsinki Forum Manager, Forward Thinking. Formerly: managed Nyon Process, Forward Thinking (2010-14); Senior Middle East Analyst, political risk and strategic advisory firm (2009-10); student of Arabic and 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 Hayder al-Khoei
Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House (2013-).
Minister Elizabeth Dibble
US Diplomatic Service: Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, London (2013-). Formerly: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (2011-13); Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs (2010-11); Deputy Chief of Mission and Chargé d'Affaires, US 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.
Dr Shadi Hamid
Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution; Author, 'Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East' (OUP, 2014). Formerly: Director of Research, Brookings Doha Center; Hewlett Fellow, Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University.
Ms Maryam Jamshidi
Lawyer focusing on the Middle East and North Africa; Author, 'The Future of the Arab Spring'; Founder, Muftah.org.
Ms Monica Marks
Doctoral Student and Rhodes Scholar, St Antony's College, University of Oxford. Formerly: Fulbright Scholar, Turkey (2010).
Ms Patricia McCall
Executive Director, Arab Stabilization Plan, Abu Dhabi. Formerly: Regional Director for the Middle East, Duke University; Head of Research, Jasper Consult, Dubai; Senior Consultant, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; International Finance Corporation, World Bank, Cairo; Macroeconomic and Equity Analyst, Banyan Fund Management and Black Arrow Fund Management.
Mr Puneet Talwar
Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, US Department of State (2014-). Formerly: Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iran, Iraq and the Gulf States, National Security Council, White House (2009-14); senior staff member, Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate (2001-09); Policy Planning Staff, US Department of State (1999-2001); senior staff member, Committee on Foreign Relations, US Senate, (1997-99).
Mr David Welch
Regional President, Europe/Africa/Middle East, Bechtel Group Inc. (2008-). Formerly: US Diplomatic Service (1977-2008): Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs (2005-08); Ambassador to Egypt (2001-05); Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (1998-2001); Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs; Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Riyadh (1992-95); member, National Security Council staff, White House (1989-91); Executive Assistant to the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (1991-92); Political Officer, US Embassy, Amman (1986-88); Chief of the Political Section, US Embassy, Damascus (1984-86); Desk Officer for Syria (1981-1982) and for Lebanon (1982-1983), Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.