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Looking ahead in the post-Spring era

By Imtiaz Gul

Speakers at a regional conference debate the way ahead

 Manama, Bahrain, June 13, 2012

sub-surface tribal and ethnic rivalries, quest for political freedoms, sectarian tensions,
the role of media and the impact of the US-led NATO's paradoxical Middle East policy on these conflicts dominated the proceedings of a two-day conference that concluded here Wednesday

The conference, organized with delegates drawn from all over the world to discuss "Regional Realities of Gulf Security and Transnational Concerns," generated heavy debate about the post-Arab spring developments in the region. Including the stunning success of Islamist parties in Egypt and. the alarmingly deteriorating situation in Syria. Some of the speakers singled out Iran. as the biggest source of tensions in the region, while others cautioned against over- playing the sectarian card in a region rife with a multitude of factors,

The overemphasis on the al- leged Iranian role in sectarian divisions within CCC countries also sparked critical remarks even from senior Bahraini officials

"While many talked of the Iranian role in igniting sec- tarianisrn, few mentioned the American or European role in a region where sub-surface: ethnic, tribal tensions, social strata divisions are playing out against one another. How can they just talk about Iran being the sole source of violence and tensions," questioned a ministry of foreign affairs official during the question- answer session, requesting non-attribution.

Dr Mohammad Noman Jalal, a former Egyptian diplomat who served as ambassador in Pakistan. made some insightful and probing observations,

"The US and UK come here on the pretension of our protection but they certainly have their own axe to grind and are acting: as regional policemen." said Jamal, now political advisor to the Bahrain government. He also proposed that, unless the GCC countries developed their own defense industry, they will remain at the mercy of the western military industrial complex.

Drawing on historical developments, Jamal Stud the people of the region do not trust the US or UK because "they are always changing, they have often let their friends down ... in various parts of the world.

"There is a need to bridge-the trust gap." He also advocated a greater UN role in the region. Despite the long history of their presence in the name of security, the Middle East is endemically unstable and this deserves a critical review of western geo-political objectives, remarked Dr Abdulkhaliq Abdullah, professor of social sciences, University of UAE,

Dr Abdullah said the creeping perception within GCC nations that they are being encircled by Islamist governments - Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia - needs careful consideration because this perception is likely to shape future political discourse in the region.

"These Islamists are not jihadists. They have reached power corridors through a
democratic process, and not via the backdoor. They deserve respect and consideration,”

stressed Dr Abdullah.

"How can the Islamist in Sudan be branded a terrorist and a moderate in Egypt:'
hit back Sameera Rajah, the Bahraini information minister.

As a whole, the conference resonated with calls for gradual political! reforms, inclusive security for citizens, and equitable socio-economic opportunities. The post-Arab spring developments dictate comprehensive political reform and realignment of geo-political alliances. Most agreed that this was the only way to delegitimise the al Qaeda-led Islamist narrative about the downsides of the monarchies and their alliance with the west.

 

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk