Roundtable on New Architecture for the Middle East
February 22-23, 2017

A group of opinion makers from Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, along with international experts, met at the Royal Scientific Society in Amman on February 22-23, 2017 to identify elements of a new architecture for the Middle East and to define institutional structures underpinning it. The meeting was co-convened by the Strategic Foresight Group and El Majlis El Hassan in cooperation with Royal Scientific Society and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). It was organized under the patronage of His Royal Highness Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan.

The roundtable opened with a keynote address by HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal who emphasized the need to focus on human dignity as the basis for a new architecture for the Middle East. He stated that it is necessary to focus on economic, social, and environmental resilience and that resilience requires good water governance and provision of sanitation, health care, and education to the entire population. He added that regional cooperation in water should be promoted in such a way that can also expand regional productive base and, therefore, create opportunities of employment and livelihood. He concluded that efforts should culminate into the formation of a Regional Cooperation Council for the Sustainable Management of Water Resources.

Ambassador Safia al-Suhail of Iraq highlighted the importance of protecting water resources from terrorist actions. Ms Esse Nilsson of Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) explained Sweden’s policies and rationale for supporting the Blue Peace process. She underlined the importance of stakeholder engagement and an inclusive approach to make space for voices that are normally not heard, but are significant in the development process.

The roundtable continued the tradition of exchanging experiences. Ambassador Tariq Karim, former Senior Envoy of Bangladesh, suggested that several factors are helpful in promoting trans-boundary cooperation. He stated that cooperation in water can be made possible if security concerns of all the riparian countries are respected and, where necessary, a trade-off between water and security is accepted.

Ms Judith Enaw, Secretary General of International Commission for the Congo–Oubangui–Sangha Basin (CICOS) and President of African Network of River Basin Organizations (ANBO), suggested some factors that are helpful in promoting trans-boundary cooperation, including the fact that water cooperation should be seen as a means for achieving economic growth and social wellbeing for the people and that trans-boundary water cooperation does not always lead to win-win outcomes but the failure to have trans-boundary water cooperation can create lose-all outcomes.

Participants in the roundtable expressed concern about the volatile and uncertain nature of current politics in the Middle East and the difficulties in mapping future trajectories. Under the circumstances, they expressed the need for new ways and a new architecture, but also the need to proceed with caution. There was unanimity among participants to have a long term goal of establishing a regional cooperation council for water management officially created by governments of the region as an inter-governmental agency with appropriate political mandate. There was also realisation that this would have to wait until there is a functional state in Syria and the ISIS is weakened enough to make it possible for all states to operate in a rational way. In the meanwhile, there could be bilateral or sub-regional committees to explore specific cooperation, such as the one between Iraq and Turkey which is already operational and one between Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon which can be explored.

There was a strong sentiment among the participants about the need to have a regionally-driven and regionally-owned institutional inclusive mechanism for policy dialogue. Such a mechanism can be in the form of a center or an institute which facilitates policy discussion between different stakeholders. It should create space for vulnerable and marginalized communities, women, and youth to voice their concerns and ideas for solutions. It should also be instrumental in creating a regional knowledge base by reaching out to the universities across the Middle East.

Such an institutional mechanism could be created in Jordan considering the relatively neutral place of Jordan in the current politics of the Middle East, its institutional experience and capacity, and its ability to reach the entire MENA region.

To read the full report of the Roundtable, please click here.