On Monday December 11th, 2017, the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies in Tunis organized a joint seminar with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies and the Arab and African Institute for Studies - IbnRushd, entitled "Regional transformations and their implications for Maghreb countries", with the participation of a number of Tunisian and Arab experts and ministers in the fields of economy, politics, media and security.
The participants discussed increasing global fluctuations and conditions in the Arab world, which is suffering from political vacuum and anarchy due to three dangerous and complex crises that have broken out with little prospect of resolution in the foreseeable future.These crises are ongoing simultaneously in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.
The seminar also focused on the impact of these MiddleEastern crises on the Maghreb in the light of the absence of the ancient polarity of the two giants, America and Russia, as well as the emergence of regional powers. These crises will determine the political fate of the neighbourhood - either peace or war, instability or stability, unity or separation.
Dr.RafikAbdessalem, Head of the Center for Strategic and Diplomatic Studies:
By virtue of the interconnected political and geostrategic influences across the region, strategically the Arab world cannot be divided into the Middle East and the Maghreb. However, for methodological and research purposes, we chose to combine what is important with regard to the Arab world and the wider Middle East and what is particular to the Maghreb countries.
We live in a very turbulent and volatile world.The region continues to live in a political vacuum due to the decline of the US presence in the region since the beginning of the Obama era after the neo-conservative military upsurges and the occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 and the occupation of Iraq in 2003.We have witnessed the return of some traditional forces to the region such as Russia as well as the rise of new international forces such as China and India and some active regional powers, such as Turkey and Iran.Furthermore, the Israeli state has sought to fill this void in its own way in the midst of Arab states'unconcerned attitude to global transformations.
The Arab world is experiencing political turmoil and successive episodes of revolutions and upheavals. Some consider this to be the symptom of a difficult transformation, while others have seen it as a manifestation of foreign conspiracies that led to the Arab Spring uprisings and all their effects since the beginning of 2011.Regardless of which reading one adopts, we are concerned about the risks of disintegration, whether through popular mobilization, political crises or civil wars.We are also apprehensive about this new phase whose features and specifications are not yet clear.
The Arab political system has undergone a state of disintegration since the Second Gulf War, which has become more apparent in recent years.Furthermore, polarization is deepening and inter-Arab conflicts over major issues are proliferating (two examples are the Iranian-Yemeni crisis and the siege of Qatar by its neighbouring countries).
Hafez al-Mirazi, Egyptian scholar and journalist:
I am apprehensive about the use of the term “conspiracy” and the fact that it has become more widespread as a tool for interpreting events. In the absence of clear information, each event is considered to be a foreign conspiracy and it is normal for different interpretations to emerge. The lesson the Americans learned is that despite their military victory, they have been politically defeated. They were defeated because they were not able to impose their will and they emerged from the battle without achieving their strategic goals. America was defeated when Colin Powell’s allegations against the Iraqi regime before the 2003 war were revealed to be mere pretexts.
The media was used as a vehicle for manipulation and misinformation during the war.An example was the bombing of what the US government and media claimed was an arms factory, which CNN revealed to be a factory producing infant formula milk. The American media policy changed, seeking to block media coverage of what was happening unless it approved the content. However, the Abu Dhabi channel succeeded in transmitting events during the Gulf War. Now we are facing the problem of a political vacuum.
The issue of Jerusalem has become clear.I think the solution does not lie in calling an Arab summit that cuts off relations with the United States because this is impossible. With regard to the Palestinian issue, I do not oppose any solution, whether it is the one-state solution or the two-state solution.What is important is that it be a state-based on citizenship and rights.I see that President Trump is unusually isolated and faces possible dismissal himself as well as his son-in-law, Jared Corey Kushner, who could face trial.
Mehdi Mabrouk, professor of sociology and former Minister of Culture
One theory in political science states that "the repercussions of any crisis are not due to reasons, but to the contexts in which the crisis broke out between these countries". In the past five years, the crisis broke out following the Arab revolutions that led to the Arab countries split. Arabs were divided into two poles and regional axes formed. We are now witnessing crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen. The scene is also characterized by sharp polarization between regional axes from outside the region such as Turkey and Iran, as well as the traditional polarization between the United States and Russia.
Future generations will lose any sense of having something in common with their neighbourhood and thus the repercussions will lie in the emergence of sectarian ideologies and Sunni / Shiite divisions.
Fouad Abdel Razzaq, former editor, BBC Radio
It is impossible to talk about complete neutrality in the media. The media is being exploited to serve the needs of certain lobbies seeking to convey certain messages. Media professionals have turned into militias, and the media is itself endangered since the journalist or reporter is no longer able to effectively choose what should be broadcast.Everything is imposed on them. We lost objectivity.Battles are run behind electronic screens onFacebook and Twitter, which have made the task of verifying information more difficult because they are no longer managed by media but by those who are directly generating the information. Many terms have invaded the media landscape, and the media is increasingly being accused of being the devil's advocate, or Satan himself.
The public no longer knows who, what and whom to believe due to the prevalence of fake news. The US president himself runs the media through Twitter then wages war against the same media, which have been duped by technology. In the past, we used to say, "Don’t believe what you read". Now we have to warn people, "Don’t believe what you read, hear or see”.
Elias Fakhfakh, Tunisian former Minister of Finance
We are witnessing a crisis during a difficult transition period that has had an impact on the national economy. Tunisia's situation worsened between 2010 and 2011 - as a consequence, the country is now witnessing an economic downturn. Public debt has risen from 40% to 70% of GDP, the value of the Tunisian dinar has dropped by 40% and the trade deficit has risen from 8% to 14%. With regard to the impact of the Gulf crisis on Tunisia, we can gauge this from that fact that the volume of Tunisia’s trade with Middle Eastern countries does not exceed 5% of the total exchange rate. 70% of our trade exchanges are in fact with the EU and our priorities have been focused on strengthening the relationship with our Western economic partners.
While reciprocal trade with the European Union is at 70%, the volume of economic exchange between Maghreb countries does not exceed 3%.
The impact of the Gulf crisis lies more in the rise in the price of oil and gas. Tunisia is a country that imports more than 50% of its energy needs.25% of Tunisia’s trade deficit is due to the deficit in the energy field, which has contributed to the rise in inflation. We believe that the solution lies in expanding tax resources and the reduction of debt, as well as a reduction in tax evasion. Tunisia cannot align itself with anyone side but seeks to bring perspectives closer together.
Mohammed al-Madab, retired general brigadier:
We can say that there is little inter-Arab exchange at the military level and there is no military coordination within the Maghreb, with the exception of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s efforts in the field of engineer exchanges in military schools. The present crisis stems from the first Gulf War in 1981 between Iraq and Iran, which continues to have an effect in the region. At present, the dispute between Arab countries is a disaster that has been exacerbated by the emergence of ISIS in Syrian cities, which was met with apathy on the part of the United States. The immediate repercussions of the rise of extremism began after the end of the war in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion.This was reflected by the spread of terrorists in the region. They are now stationed in the Sahara and the Sahel, exploiting the weapons that are scattered all over Libya.
After the fall of Gaddafi, the transformation in the Middle East has had an impact on Tunisia and the Maghreb.However, for some time, we have not seen any crystallization of real and serious cooperation between these countries. The relationship between Morocco and Algeria is strained - since the two countries do not have a relationship at the economic level, how can we conceive of cooperation at the military level?
Salah al-Din al-Jamali, Arab League envoy to Libya and former ambassador
The relationship between Gulf countries and the Maghreb was shaped by the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran and the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1991.Attitudes among the Maghreb countries vacillated between supporters and rejecters of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait,.with the former seeing Gulf investments withdrawn.
The Arab Spring revolutions were sparked in Tunisia, spreading from there to other Arab countries, where they caused very negative impact effects. Newly emerging religious currents exploited the associated disorder to rise to power. I also think that the Arab Spring is the most serious crisis experienced by the Arab world since it has reshaped the region and brought out conflicts between Gulf countries. Libya’spositions and policies were very harsh under Gaddafi and led to worsening relations between Arab countries.
Ahmed Karam, financial expert:
Tunisian relations with the Gulf countries can be characterized as unstable. What happened recently will affect the quality of Gulf-Tunisian relations, which were usually a source of funding through successive governments, for example, through deposits in the Tunisian treasury to finish projects and for private investment. In these special political circumstances, we can not wait for the Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, to come and invest in Tunisia. The question is, do we have the capacity to set up investment funds? There are reconstruction projects under the control of certain international funds and countries can not privilege Tunisia above other countries. Our country is experiencing difficulties with European countries and the fact that Tunisia was listed on an EU tax haven blacklist deepens the problem.
The participants generally rejected any ridicule of the Arab Spring.The Arab guests were proud to be in Tunisia, the cradle of the revolution. There was a general consensus that the resources of Arab nations are being squandered on fighting tyranny and extremism. What makes the situation worse is the absence of democracy and real parliaments that define national policies and strive to fight corruption. It is the spread of terrorists in the region that has set back the course of the revolutions and created a distorted image of Islam. The participants also referred to the models in some countries such as Vietnam and Cuba, alongside others, that have been able to overcome economic dependence while maintaining their national identity as a basis for progress and emancipation.