The NESA Region in the Post-COVID-19 Era

Dr. Gawdat Bahgat, NESA Center

During a webinar organized by Beirut Institute Summit last week, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Anwar Gargash was asked whether there was concern that Iran may provoke a confrontation in the region. In response, Minister Gargash emphasized that “the region, like all regions in the world, is going to be financially and politically weaker in the post COVID-19 pandemic era.” He added, “We would be wise to think about our development models, about de-escalation and to try some problem-solving.” This statement from senior Emirates official underscores the need for new thinking in the Middle East, the broad NESA region and indeed the entire world. It also comes the same week the world commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of Second World War.

In the last few months, the Middle East has been hit hard by two major crises – the Coronavirus and the collapse of oil prices. The virus attacked all countries, senior officials and ordinary citizens were infected and some tragically died. All ethnic and sectarian communities have been sharing similar experiences in fighting the epidemic. Meanwhile, the collapse of oil prices has dealt a heavy blow to the economies of both producing and consuming countries. Governments all over the region are debating different strategies to address these huge economic and financial challenges, particularly skyrocketing unemployment rates.

Centuries-old and deep-rooted rivalries and conflicts will not disappear. Middle Eastern countries have always expressed different and opposing national interests. However, as the world commemorates the end of Second World War a major lesson needs to be highlighted. Wars and violence should not be the chosen method to manage and solve political and security disagreements. The Arab-Israeli wars, India-Pakistan wars, Iran-Iraq war and other military conflicts show that violence is a “lose-lose proposition.” At the end of the day all sides lose. In the twenty-first century countries should try to advance their perceived interests by engaging in economic and technological competition, not by trying to destroy their opponents.

Several regional organizations can contribute to such a strategic dialogue between regional rivals. The list includes the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council and Organization of Islamic Cooperation, among many others. Global powers, the United States, Europe, China and Russia, should endorse and facilitate these efforts. Middle Eastern leaders need to launch strategic initiatives to reduce political tension and promote cooperation. The current health and financial crises are overwhelming. No individual government can overcome them by itself; regional cooperation backed by major global powers is needed. As the Emirates Foreign Minister wisely stated, de-escalation is a must.

The views presented in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Department of Defense, the NESA Center or any of United States government components.