Tough challenges ahead amidst a shifting world order

Experts and scholars at the Carnegie Middle East Center’s annual end-of-year conference gave a gloomy forecast for the year ahead.
by Tommy Hilton

7 December 2018 | 16:14

Source: by Annahar

  • by Tommy Hilton
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 7 December 2018 | 16:14

Iraqi special forces arrest a suspected Islamic State militant in Mosul, Iraq, Saturday, Feb. 25. 2017.(AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

BEIRUT: More authoritarianism, an increase in human rights abuses, widespread job displacement, and conflict between Israel and Hezbollah are just some of the prognoses for the year ahead, put forward by experts at the Carnegie Middle East Center’s third annual conference this Thursday.

Entitled ‘A Shifting World Order: What to Expect in 2019’, the conference took place in Beirut and featured panels on regional politics, cyberwarfare, and China’s role in the Middle East. Speakers including diplomats, analysts, and academics discussed key developments in the regional and global order.

“The conference focuses on bringing experts from Carnegie’s six global centers to Beirut, to discuss upcoming events and trends in global politics in 2019,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, Carnegie Middle East Center’s head of Communications.

The day was kickstarted by Maha Yahya, the Director of Carnegie Middle East Center, who outlined the difficult prospects for the Middle East in the coming year.

“Across the region, we are witnessing an increase in the breadth and depth of human rights abuses,” said Yahya, adding that the Middle East had become a chessboard for geopolitical and regional rivalries. “Very tough challenges lie ahead,” she added, with processes from government formation in Lebanon to the war in Syria “being held hostage by this geopolitical tug of war.”

Building on the theme of uncertainty, William J. Burns, the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, gave the keynote speech, outlining the United States’ role in an emerging world order characterized by great power rivalry and transnational challenges.

Burns, who served as Deputy Secretary of State and Ambassador to Russia during his thirty-year diplomatic career, criticized the “hollowing out of American diplomacy” under the Trump administration. “In this transformed international landscape -- which is more contested, more crowded, and more competitive -- diplomacy ought to matter more than ever,” said Burns.

When asked about the prospects of an American-led solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, Burns said he “was not hopeful,” adding that he feared the death of the two-state solution would cause “a lot of collateral damage in the region, not only for Palestinians and their legitimate aspirations but also their immediate neighbors including Lebanon and Jordan.”

The future trajectory of the war in Syria was another key point of discussion throughout the day.

Marc Pierini, a scholar at Carnegie Europe and an ex-EU diplomat, predicted that the Syrian regime will eventually regain full control of Syrian territory, with western powers abandoning their Kurdish allies.

In Idlib province, Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold, Pierini suggested that tens of thousands of jihadi fighters might remain even if defeated, living in camps in a “quasi-permanent solution.” Although Russia, Turkey, and the European Union have warned against the threat of a new wave of refugees caused by a government offensive on Idlib, Pierini claimed: “the real issue” is Russia’s desire to avoid the return of Russian citizens, particularly Chechyans, who have been fighting as jihadists.

Expanding on Russia’s role, Dmitri Trenin, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, concluded that “Russia’s involvement in Syria, and more broadly the Middle East, is not so much about Syria, or even the Middle East; it is about where Russia stands in the world, and what Russia is capable of doing in the world. That’s the most important thing.”

Although Lebanon was not the focus of the conference, speakers touched upon the consequences of global developments on Lebanon. Asked whether the “chessboard” of escalating geopolitical and regional rivalries had reached Lebanon, Jarrett Blanc, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was clear: “It never left Lebanon.”

The conference also hosted panels on cyberwarfare, geo-economics, and China’s role in the Middle East.

Reflecting on the conference, Hage Ali suggested the conference had become a “landmark event.”

An estimated 400 people attended the event at the Four Seasons Hotel, Beirut. The audience included politicians, students, media, and academics, along with current and former Lebanese military officers.

“The conference is an opportunity for the local media and for the regional media to interact with our global experts,” Hage Ali told Annahar. “When you’re in a country as small as Lebanon, it is important to connect local problems to global trends. We’re aiming to facilitate more informed decision-making and writing on the region.”

Carnegie Middle East Center plans to host about 100 events in Beirut next year, including a conference on regional power-sharing in February.

Show Comments

An-Nahar is not responsible for the comments that users post below. We kindly ask you to keep this space a clean and respectful forum for discussion.