The future of Middle East: challenges and opportunities


The Middle East is undergoing an interesting and complicated period in its history for the region has once again become a battlefield not only for superpowers, but also regional countries. Samer El-Hajjar, Beirut-based political marketing expert shares his opinion on what might expect the Middle East in the near future. 


Interviewer: Rusif Huseynov


Huseynov: More and more people now claim about the end of Oil Age. How ready are the Middle Eastern countries in general, and petroleum-exporting countries in particular for the post-oil period? Is the decrease in oil demand going to influence the importance of the region for the world? 

El-Hajjar: It is clear that the Middle East has always been dependent on oil revenues. This has heightened anxiety over what happens as oil prices hit rock bottom. Thus, many GCC countries have elaborated strategies to not only depend on oil. For example, in the UAE and Qatar, there are diversified sources of energy and income. We can clearly see that the non-oil economy's contribution is growing, which is a very good sign. Actually, the leaders of these countries are a perfect example of how governments can emerge from being dependent on oil to optimizing non-oil revenues. The leaders of Qatar and the UAE managed to attract investors and strengthen the services sector and minimized dependency on oil with a clear and ambitious vision. Also, more recently, Saudi Arabia proposed to strengthen different industries. The main focus of this strategy is the human resources development of Saudis. 


What is the impact of UAE`s and Saudi Arabia`s cutting ties with Qatar? 

There are negative impacts on the economy of Qatar and GCC, for sure. On political side, this problem shows off a new face of Arab conflicts. Very sadly, the Arab world has never recovered from 1948. We have seen all forms of conflicts and wars. This Arab world was a rich human and mosaic of ancient communities including Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, Kurds, and Circassians. But now, the political leaders transferred this beautiful mosaic to nothing but a shadow of more powerful non-Arab countries: USA, Israel, Turkey, and Iran. This time Arab leaders decided to create new conflict, not an ethnic one, not a religious and not even based on economic advantages. The conflict today is used to support other countries. 


What type of changes on political map of Middle East seems most likely to you? 

Well, no one can predict these changes. There are so many actors that would love to change the current map. Especially, the Western countries were and are still planning to change it. All of us have read the proposals of Bernard Lewis who presented a plan for the re-division of the Middle East upon nationalist bases during the tenure of U.S. President Carter in which the Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Iranians would be pushed into wars to pave the way for redrawing the map. I truly believe that Western countries are still following this plan. All what we are seeing right now in Syria, Iraq and Yemen is just a new attempt to re-divide the Middle East 


Possible changes in U.S. foreign policy under Donald Trump, shattered European Union, reactivated Russia, China with its mega-projects… What goals may superpowers pursue in the Middle East? Which of them will be more attractive for the regional countries? 

The Middle Eat was a center of attraction for super powers since longtime for its history. The region is very important also due to its geographic location. We should not forget the natural resources in this region that interest all the superpowers. 


Do you have any political predictions for Lebanon? 

Lebanon is struggling to cope with growing religious and sectarian extremism and conflicts in Middle East. As conflicts and rivalries will continue in Middle East, the future of Lebanon is dependent on the extent to what, the government and local political leaders can isolate the country from these problems. I believe that after this transition phase, Lebanon will have the potential to grow increasingly and act as an important actor in region, as long as the country does not lose its sovereignty to one of the external powers. Thus, the government must pay even more attention to the threats posed and the dangers of radical groups. For the next years, the evolution of the power dynamics in the Middle East determines the next Lebanon. Actually, there is a real clash in Middle East between superpowers that have attempted to fill the gap left by the Soviets. More precisely, between 3 main actors right now: U.S, Russia and Iran. We can add Turkey that has a role in shaping events, at least across its borders and regardless the growing internal problems. The evolution of this dynamics power will certainly reshape Lebanon. 


Is what we seeing currently in Middle East, a war for Islam? 

No! The Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict is not for Islam. The wars between regimes and populations are not for Islam. The terrorism used by religious movements in the name of Islam is not for Islam. Why? Because this religion is not based on wars, as simple as that. Plus, all these conflicts affect Islam more than any religion.