The private sector will need to play a central role in the reconstruction of war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria. Before that can happen, businesses must be confident in the investment climate. “You cannot invest in a place where there is no rule of law,” said Alain Bejjani, Chief Executive Officer of Majid Al Futtaim Holding, United Arab Emirates, in a session at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. “Without it, neither domestic nor foreign investment can happen.”
Job creation can help combat a return to extremism. “A lot of people did not join the militias because of ideology,” said Leena Al Olaimy, Co-Founder and Managing Director of 3 BL Associates, Bahrain. Often, it was due to unemployment and lack of options. Bejjani observed that “there are bad economies in numerous countries. This leads to extremism.”
“Business can play a role, including in changing the culture to encourage diversity, inclusion and tolerance in the workplace,” said Al Olaimy. “Most of the issues we face in conflicts are related to a crisis in values” – which she believes the private sector can help address.
Ghassan Hasbani, Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon, made a similar observation: “If you do not have the rule of law, regulations for the economy, and institutions, regardless of whether you have reconciliation at the community level, you will not have stability … When the rule of law is in place, we can go from reconciliation to citizenship.”
“Our religious message is clear,” said Seyed Salih Al-Hakim, Director of the Al-Kalima Center for Dialogue and Cooperation, Iraq. “We need people to understand coexistence. Everyone needs to be under the rule of law. That is the foundation of Iraqi society or any society.”
Panellists differed on whether reconciliation is a precondition for reconstruction and the timing of different elements. “If you seek to do reconstruction without reconciliation, you are building on sand,” said Joel Rayburn, Deputy Assistant Secretary and Special Envoy for Syria, US Department of State.
“Reconciliation doesn’t happen at a certain point in time,” noted Ghassan Hasbani. “There needs to be a process. It may require a generation of citizens. You need to build institutions.” Reconciliation includes human, intellectual, cultural and procedural elements, he added.
“I remember that people at the Desmond Tutu Foundation said it was a mistake to wait to do development work after the end of apartheid” in South Africa, recalled Al Olaimy. “Otherwise people are still stuck in the same process. Peace and reconciliation are not the absence of war and a humanitarian crisis. It needs to be a peace-building process.”
Rayburn expressed satisfaction that the insurgents in Syria have “ceased to be a caliphate” but added that “we do not say that the job is done.”
He said that the main difference in Syria is between “those who believe in a military solution and those who believe in a political solution. The United States believes that only a political solution is possible.” Rayburn added: “There has to be a political process. And there should be a government in Syria that behaves differently – that is not hostile to its own people and not hostile to the region.”
Hasbani said he believes that Syrian refugees in his country and elsewhere can begin to go home as soon as certain geographical areas are considered safe. Rayburn urged caution until there is a political solution in the country. “People will not feel that they can go back,” he said.
The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa is being held at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 6-7 April in partnership with the King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD). The meeting marks the 10th hosted by Jordan since it was first convened at the Dead Sea in 2003. It is bringing together more than 1,000 government, business and civil society leaders from over 50 countries.