Experts at the 4th Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate discuss possible scenarios for the region’s crises
Emirates Policy Center | 12 November 2017
Former diplomats and experienced political analysts discussed five of the most pressing crises in the Middle East, namely, the ongoing struggles in Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, and the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the Arab Quartet – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt.
This was at the fifth panel of the fourth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, titled “The Arab World: Competing Futures (Syria, Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Qatar)”. The participants were: H.E. Khaled Bahah, former Yemeni vice president and prime minister, H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Jibril, president of the “National Forces Alliance” and former prime minister of Libya, H.E. Bernardino Leon, director general of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy and former special representative of the United Nations Secretary General to Libya, Dr. Yousef Al Hassan, researcher and former UAE diplomat, Dr. Hussein Ibish, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, and Ali Khedery, chairman of “Marathon FZ LLC” and former special assistant to five American ambassadors in Iraq.
The former Yemeni vice president and prime minister, Khalid Bahah, presented three main scenarios to the struggle in Yemen, the first: the continuation of the war at the same pace, leading to the same results, including the depletion of the resources of the local legitimate parties in Yemen, and parties in the Gulf, with no real losses to the insurgents.
The second scenario, was reaching a political resolution; however, His Excellency found this scenario to be simply wishful thinking, citing three round of negotiations which didn’t lead to any tangible results as evidence. He added that, if he were to be part of the decision-making process of the legitimate government, he would keep the window of resolution open by forming a "permanent situation room for peace.”
H.E. Dr. Mahmoud Jibril stressed that the situation in Libya is worsening by the minute, adding that there is a new economy which supports the current conditions; an economy he described as “Militant economy” or “Terrorist economy”, which relies on prolonging the current situation.
Dr. Jibril found that any resolution should be built on dismantling the militias and restoring control of the country’s institutions to the state. He also said that the latest UN initiative, led by Ghassan Salame, the new UN's envoy for Libya, is more realistic, as it tries to take into consideration the influential powers on the ground, in addition to taking into account the distribution of resources between all the parties involved.
Former special representative of the UN Secretary General to Libya, H.E. Bernardino Leon, stated that there are three ongoing struggles in Libya, namely: the “first circle” exemplified by the neighbouring countries: Egypt, Algeria and Morocco; the second included the effective regional parties, which are not directly affected by the struggle, like the UAE and Qatar; the third included the international influential parties, such as the US, Russia and Europe. His Excellency stressed the importance of all of these parties coming to the negotiations table.
As for Qatar’s diplomatic crisis, Dr. Yousef Al Hassan found that it’s not based on a difference in perspectives or opinions, rather a flaw in the nature of the relationships within the Gulf Cooperation Council. He also said it’s not “surprising”, and stemmed from the mid-nineties, when Prince Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani “overthrew” his father, which the rest of the GCC countries rejected.
Dr. Al Hassan presented four possible scenarios for the crisis: the first, its continuation for a long period of time, which would represent an obstacle in the face of the Gulf Cooperation Council; the second being dismantling the elements of the crisis through the interjection of other parties contributing to the mediation efforts, namely the United States. The third was a peaceful regime change, including the formation of an exiled government abroad, and the fourth would be freezing Qatar’s membership in the GCC, or expelling it, or Qatar’s voluntary withdrawal from the council.
The Syrian crisis also took its share of the discussions, with Dr. Hussein Ibish, stating that the war is “almost over”; however, its consequences did not come to an end. He also criticized the lack of a clear American policy towards Syria beyond the destruction of “ISIS”, adding that the US sees Syria as “Russia’s problem”, which he considered to be a mistake, especially amidst the Iranian expansion Washington wants to contain.
Dr. Ibish also shed light on the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) approaching the Syrian borders, stating that the closer PMU gets to the borders, the closer Iran becomes to succeeding in creating a pathway between Tehran and the Mediterranean Coast.
Mr. Ali Khedery also highlighted how the Popular Mobilization Units, supported by Iran, present an existential challenge to the Iraqi state. He asserted that the Arab countries should unify their efforts, specifically Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait, and that the US should coordinate with these countries, in order to face the Iranian challenges.