Syria is at a critical crossroads as the battle continues against the so-called Islamic State. What will happen next in a country suffering through brutal conflict for six years? Hopes are high that the US presidential visit can recast the American-Middle East relationship as a fight against radicalism. At the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, panellists agreed that it’s important to create a culture of hope rather than one of despair, and young people are critical to the process.
Ursula von der Leyen, Federal Minister of Defence of Germany, and a Co-Chair of the meeting, said: “The US has said it is accelerating the campaign against Daesh. If we want to be successful, we must defeat Daesh.” Using military means in Syria and the region will “never be sustainable”. The path to sustainability lies in reconstruction, reconciliation and good governance. Von der Leyen added that the US Secretary of State is pursuing this path.
To solve the problems across the region it is important to look at the broader picture rather than focus on “silos,” warned Ayman Al Safadi, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. “We need to fight Daesh together. It is a threat to all of us. The key is to take a holistic approach to the problem.” It’s important to “deconstruct the environment of anger and bitterness” that contributed to the rise of Daesh, he added, enabling it to recruit disillusioned young people. “Youth needs to see opportunity moving forward, Al Safadi added. “The challenge is to construct plans that deliver. I hope we have learned from the mistakes of the past.” He called for the international community to work together against the “plague” on Jordan’s borders and for a Marshall plan to create hope. It’s time to address the disparities across the region.
Børge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway pointed out that the US has put together “a really competent security team. The US president acted in a proportional way to let the Syrian president know that the use of chemical weapons against his people is unacceptable.”
“The Syrian war is a complete humanitarian disaster,” Brende said. “We have to break the impasse.” He said it is important for President Trump to have “constructive discussions” with Russia and to strengthen the momentum for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The US has trust in Israel and “can build bridges.”
Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President of the European Commission, Brussels, said the EU has “opened channels” with the Trump administration. Europe has “built an amazing world order since the Second World War based on win-win,” she said. “This paradigm is needed to eradicate poverty. I hope the Trump administration does not go into a protectionist mode … and will support the World Trade Organization.” Europe stands for free trade. Mogherini added that there are regional issues where the EU and the US can work together – especially on Syria.
There must be a “big plan for the reconstruction of Syria,” economically, socially and physically. The amount of money needed will be huge, Mogherini said. But reconstruction must also extend to building trust, respecting diversity and creating the ability to work together.
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, “We cannot put small Band-Aids on big wounds.” To fix the problems of the region, there has to be political engagement by the major powers, he added. “Otherwise we will go into a downward spiral. There has to be willingness across the region to work with others,” he said. The region possesses the “necessary rules and principles, but there needs to be concrete political willingness to stop the bloodshed.” The fear is that “we have waited too long to find political solutions.”
The panel discussed the role of Russia in Syria, which should include putting pressure on Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. Brende pointed out that there is a “new normal” and new players. He said the six years of civil war has killed 400,000 people and 33 million children have been out of school since the outbreak of the war. “We are losing a generation if this continues. There is a way to break this impasse,” he said.
The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa took place at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 19-21 May.