Pre­scrip­tion for the re­gion’s well­be­ing

▶ Why the Mid­dle East re­quires a strong Saudi Ara­bia and a sta­ble Egypt

The National - News - - OPINION -

This re­gion is liv­ing proof of the per­ils of pre­cip­i­tous change. So­ci­eties caught up in the Arab up­ris­ings nearly seven years ago are still com­ing to terms with the in­sta­bil­ity that swept through them. The United Na­tions es­ti­mates that the Mid­dle East lost more than $600 bil­lion in eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity be­tween 2011 and 2015. No one can quan­tify the hu­man po­ten­tial squan­dered dur­ing this pe­riod. As Dr An­war Gar­gash, the UAE’s Min­is­ter of State for For­eign Af­fairs, said this week: “It has proven easier to de­stroy in­sti­tu­tions than to build new ones and rev­o­lu­tions have cre­ated vac­u­ums that ex­trem­ists have ex­ploited.”

Ad­dress­ing the Abu Dhabi Strate­gic De­bate, Dr Gar­gash re­jected as “pro­foundly mis­taken” the no­tion that the UAE wants us to recre­ate the world as it ex­isted prior to the up­ris­ings. But how, he won­dered, do we forge a con­struc­tive path “be­tween as­pi­ra­tions for sta­bil­ity and de­vel­op­ment, and the re­al­i­ties of chaos and vi­o­lence”? How we han­dle this chal­lenge will de­ter­mine the fate of the re­gion, and the wider world, in the decades ahead.

The UAE, for its part, has been “a pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cate of evo­lu­tion­ary change in our re­gion”. The re­sult of this ex­pertly man­aged change is a so­ci­ety that is con­fi­dent in its own skin, proud of its her­itage, tol­er­ant of dif­fer­ence and open to the world. Its pi­o­neer­ing work in space ex­plo­ration and sci­ence, the fron­tiers of the fu­ture, is matched by its ground­break­ing ef­forts to pre­serve and cel­e­brate our civil­i­sa­tional achieve­ments of the past.

But, as Dr Gar­gash pointed out, any strat­egy that seeks to bring sta­bil­ity to the whole re­gion re­quires a “strong, de­vel­op­ing Saudi Ara­bia and a sta­ble, ro­bust Egypt”.

The am­bi­tious re­forms un­der­taken by Saudi Ara­bia’s young Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Sal­man, ra­di­ate a “pow­er­ful mes­sage of hope” to the re­gion’s youth. Prince Mohammed is cre­at­ing a cli­mate in which the kingdom’s young, frus­trated for so long by cor­rup­tion and un­yield­ing or­tho­doxy, might fi­nally thrive.

Man­aged change of the kind over which Prince Mohammed is pre­sid­ing will pro­duce out­lets for healthy self-ex­pres­sion. Every­one who sup­ports a mod­er­ate fu­ture ought to sup­port that agenda. But change can­not be viewed in iso­la­tion; the gains in Saudi Ara­bia will be of lit­tle use be­yond its bor­ders if there is in­sta­bil­ity in Egypt, the most pop­u­lous Arab coun­try and seat of Al Azhar Univer­sity, one of the world’s old­est cen­tres of Is­lamic learn­ing.

Both na­tions are at a crit­i­cal junc­ture, en­gaged, in Dr Gar­gash’s words, in a “bat­tle over the heart and soul of our re­gion”. As he says, this is a fight “we can­not af­ford to lose”.

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