As the Middle East continues to face new tensions and new challenges, efforts to enhance stability and development there are also intensifying. Such efforts must not be underestimated, because the continuation of chaos and turmoil emanating from extremism and terrorism would not be disastrous only for this particular geography but will continue to create serious repercussions for global peace and security as well.
The fight against extremism and terrorism has intensified in the whole region. On the one hand, progress in combat against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has to be commended. In Iraq, Mosul is now under the control of the Iraqi army. In Syria, Raqqa is in the process of being cleared of ISIL occupation after being retaken. In Yemen, the Arab coalition is also making progress against al-Qaeda. These are all encouraging steps.
One of the recent challenges to peace and stability in the region is the increasing tension between Iran and the Gulf countries. Iran, and Qatar for that matter, are perceived as countries supporting extremism. This perception needs to be changed and the responsibility to correct its image in the international community and among its neighbors in the Gulf region falls on the shoulders of Iran itself. Many believe that Iran is increasing its influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, with a view that it is establishing a Shi’ite belt that will endanger stability in the Islamic and Arab world.
The Fourth Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, organized in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 11-13, addressed the new challenges to regional and global peace and security. Abu Dhabi, with its determination to enhance regional peace, stability, dialogue and tolerance, is increasing its efforts not only at the intellectual level to achieve such targets but is also making use of soft power to create further integration of the region into Western civilization. The opening of “Louvre Abu Dhabi,” for example, is a manifest attempt in that direction.
On the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate 2017, Dr. Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, made a speech in which he summarized five principles for a forward-looking agenda to build a new moderate vision for the Arab world.
First, there is a need to show zero tolerance to extremism and to those who are believed to support it. This will not only send a strong and united message to the promoters of divisive policies in the region but will also underline the importance of tolerance and development as a viable and inevitable alternative.
Second, Arab countries need to work in a unified effort to prevent external interference in Arab affairs. This is important because one of the main causes of instability and sectarian division in the region is such interference.
Third, sovereign Arab nation states need to grasp the value of respect to each other’s independence and increase cooperation among themselves. If they work together, they will be more successful in their fight against extremism.
Fourth, political solutions need to be promoted over conflict and confrontation, in order to avoid attempts of spoilers to disrupt peace and stability.
Fifth, good governance and economic development require combined and coordinated efforts between politics and economics. Improved education standards and empowerment of women will open new horizons for the private sector to help integration of the region with the global political and economic system.
These principles cannot be challenged. It is obvious that the region needs to stand up against the threats of extremism and terrorism, following a road map with such principles. Turkey, being a strategic dialogue partner with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), should also look at the region from that perspective. Otherwise, in the region, Turkey will continue to be perceived as a country that has lost its most important soft power, namely its impartiality.