Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

A Window of Stability in a Stormy Sea 

The Middle East has wasted decades – if not more – of the lives of its people. They were squandered when the region fell victim to coups, interventions and fear. Policies that are obsessed with victory and making others yield to them, while ignoring the pressing need for stability. Wealth was wasted and revolutions lost. Rivers of blood flowed, and maps were torn apart. The region was plagued with chronic and recurring conflicts and agendas for vengeance for events that happened in the distant and not too distant past.

Most of the countries in the region have grown exhausted by this long suffering. There is no need to look up numbers to sense the poverty, unemployment, drop in the quality of education and healthcare, and the people’s feeling of being wronged and oppressed. They feel that the injustice has turned their countries into cages from which they need to flee. Some are desperate enough to escape in “death boats” even as the sea shows no mercy to the passengers.

The tricks of the past no longer work. The national anthem does not fill the void caused by hunger. Stoking intolerance will not force a patient to forget their need for their medication. Talk of foreign conspiracies no longer works on people demanding to live a normal dignified life.

It is a painful situation. Countries are living in the grips of arsenals and drones, while lacking the resources to douse summer wildfires. The most dangerous aspect of all of this is the people’s feeling that it is impossible to get rid of corrupt or failed governments. It must be trying for a citizen to dream of electricity during the age of artificial intelligence and to dream of a drop of drinking water during the age of successive technological revolutions. It’s not easy at all for generations to live in cities that only promise them immigration or a semblance of a life.

The Middle East needs stability. Iraq needs it to treat the deep wounds caused by several wars. Yemen needs to allow its people to unite and accept the other so that they can reach an agreement that ends war and fragmentation. They need dialogue that unites all Yemenis. Syria needs stability and dialogue that would pave the way for reconstruction and the swift return of millions of refugees. Lebanon needs stability to allow the Lebanese the opportunity to set aside their differences.

Sudan urgently needs stability. It is terrifying to read about morgues that can no longer take in corpses and are left with no choice but to let them rot given the lack of electricity. It is terrifying to read about hospitals in Khartoum that have been put out of service and of Sudanese regions that would not hesitate to secede from the current map. The wars in Darfur are a warning of more dire things to come.

Libya needs stability to restore unity between its various governments, parliaments and militias. Libya’s suffering can no longer be blamed on the late colonel and his practices.
My ideas about stability emerged as I observed the visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to Saudi Arabia that was capped with a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The visit gave the impression that the train that was launched with the Beijing statement, with China’s partnership, has started to make its way. The truth is that the essence of the tripartite statement goes beyond restoring diplomatic relations between two important regional countries. Rather, it is based on the principle of dialogue, respecting the sovereignty of nations and refraining from meddling in their internal affairs.

These three factors allow rival forces in broken countries a real opportunity if they choose to seize it. A halt to meddling may force these powers to search for solutions instead of victories that will only prolong crises. Perhaps these powers could derive a lesson from the Saudi-Iranian agreement that put an end to the boycott and instead turned to dialogue, the reactivation of past agreements and a search for future opportunities.

The disputes between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not at all simple. They have accumulated over the decades because the two countries follow different policies in reading the situation in the region and world. In spite of this, they were determined to steer away from confrontation and tense rhetoric. Instead, they turned to building bridges of cooperation and seeking investment, prosperity and positive coexistence without infringing on each other.

The window of stability offered by the Beijing statement is very important to the region. It becomes more important if we take into consideration a world that is headed towards very difficult – and even precarious – years. Look no further than the Russian war in Ukraine and the inability of both parties in achieving firm advances that would pave the way for a ceasefire. The war has entered a new phase after Ukrainian drones are now making their way to Russia, including Moscow, on a daily basis.

The Russian security council’s claim that the West’s defeat in Ukraine is inevitable underlines the extent and severity of the conflict. The same can be said about Washington’s opportune agreement to deliver F-16s to Ukraine through countries that possess them. The situation will no longer be the same once American planes are seen fighting Russian jets over Ukraine..

The situation is also dangerous on the Taiwan front, especially in wake of the summit hosted by Joe Biden at Camp David, brining together the president of South Korea and prime minister of Japan. The summit will only reinforce China’s impression that efforts are underway to undermine it exactly as NATO has been doing with Russia.

Developments are showing that the world is headed towards very tense years. It is in the interest of the people of the Middle East to steer clear of them to avoid paying a heavy price. Saudi-Iranian relations can act as a window of regional stability in a turbulent world. Or they can at least help limit the damage.