Youth Session of the II International Expert Forum “Russia – the Middle East”

On November 10-13, the Primakov Center along with the Institute of Oriental Studies held the Youth Session of the II International Expert Forum “Russia – the Middle East” in Pyatigorsk.

During the first panel on “The Prospects for a New Security System in the Gulf”, Vasily Kuznetsov, Dr., PhD in History, Director of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Hesham Alghannam, an Independent Saudi Scholar took the floor to present their research work on the topic. In his speech, Vasily Kuznetsov unfolded the Russian concept of collective security in the Gulf, while pointing out its underlying principles – the idea of versatility and inclusivity. 

Hesham Alghannam then focused on the balance of powers in the Gulf:

«The Persian Gulf is now one of the world’s most stable regions. However, in terms of security, a more comprehensive approach to resolving the key issues is required. When it comes to Iran, regional actors of the Gulf prefer to adhere to a more pragmatic approach, which can at times cause particular difficulties. Nonetheless, it is clear that the dialogue between parties is the only proper solution», - noted the expert. 

The next panel on “The Future of Syria” involved an expert discussion on security issues and international cooperation options currently available to the country. Aleksandr Aksenenok, Vice-President, Russian International Affairs Council, Anas Joudeh, the President of the Nation Building Movement (Syria), as well as Yeghia Tashjian, Associate Fellow at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs of the American University of Beirut took part in the panel discussion. 

In his speech, Aleksandr Aksenenok assessed the current economic landscape in Syria:

«All internal economic ties are severed. This, in turn, is compensated for by the growth of shadow economy. Unfortunately, at this point, it is nearly impossible to resolve the existing economic problems. The Syrian Government and their allies are doing everything in their power, but even that is still not enough», - pointed out Aleksandr.

Furthermore, Anas Joudeh focused on the possible solutions of the Syrian conflict:

«Now, we cannot talk about the final resolution for this conflict. We need to come up with an approach that would guarantee some stability, however fragile, that would further on let the Syrians play their part in resolving the conflict itself. Decentralizations may be a good alternative, but it should be implemented with caution and precession. We need to create a system that would involve all the citizens of the county. We need to engage the people in governance at the local level first, and then at the national level».

Yeghia Tashjian also shared his vision for the Syrian conflict:

«Not one party to the conflict is now capable of reconstructing Syria, as none of them has either enough leverage or the opportunity to make the other parties to accept their point of view», - concluded the expert.

On November 12, the Forum went on with yet another panel discussion on “North Africa in New Global Order”. Nourhan El-Sheikh, Professor of Political Science at the Cairo University and Member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, and Na’eem Jeenah, Executive Director of the Afro-Middle East Centre took part in the working session. 

In her speech, Nourhan El-Sheikh pointed out that Africa obtains a substantial potential in terms of economic development, having underlined that 6 out of the 15 world’s most rapidly developing economies were situated on the continent. In addition, as pointed out by the expert, by 2023, Africa will become a leader in labor force.

Na’eem Jeenah, on the contrary, expressed his doubts in Africa’s capacity to play an important part in global politics, as long as objective obstacles were at play, such as the food insecurity, political reprisals against civil populations, and severe social stratification.

The headliner of the concluding panel on “The Middle East – Prospects of Economic Development” was Selim Mekdessi, the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at the Lebanese University. He dedicated his speech to the issues of securing sustainable development the Middle East. In particular, the speaker outlined 10 barriers that currently prevent the countries of the region form achieving the SDG. Among them, the expert named lack of clean drinkable water, food insecurity, poor and inefficient governance, high unemployment rates among youth, differences in economic models from country to country, and others major issues. 

Over 40 young researchers from Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, and Russia took part in the Youth Session. Besides the expert discussions, during which the participants could enter a direct dialogue with the leading experts of the Middle East, four research project groups were set up, each guided by an expert mentor. The participants were faced with an objective to make up a comprehensive list of primary threats and obstacles that, in their point of view, currently impede ensuring stability and security in the Middle East. All the groups have successfully completed this task and presented their research results to the experts and the audience.