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09 January 2024

Mohammad Al Gergawi: Our region must play a pivotal role in managing its own crises


Mohammad bin Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs and Chairman of the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF), highlighted three major shifts that will shape the region and the world over the coming phase.

During his opening remarks at the ASF on Wednesday, Al Gergawi said the timing of the forum this year comes at a critical time.

“Today, as we speak, we understand that a lot of convictions have changed profoundly, and questions around the inability of the international system to tackle crises have increased.”

“At this historical phase, it is imperative for our region to have a pivotal role in managing its own crises, resolving its own disputes, and building bridges among its countries to build a better future for its people.”

Al Gergawi added, “20 years ago, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, stressed in this forum on the need to find a just solution for the Palestinian cause based on international law, and an urgent resolution for Iraq situation within a framework that secures its unity.”

“Today, 20 years later, Iraq is still grappling with the repercussions of the US invasion. Iraq is no longer the same, and our region is no longer the same.”

“Today, 20 years later, the Palestinian cause remains the most pressing issue in the region and the world, and its impact on the Palestinian people, the region, and the world is still on the rise.”

“Today, 20 years after discussing the positive impact of globalisation and the importance of establishing an international system based on common cultural, moral, and economic values, we reached a phase in which basic human values such as the protection of human lives, the protection of children and their right to live in safety and security have become subject to disagreement, division, and skepticism.”

“The values of human rights suit some people more than others, and the basic standards apply more to some people than others, in accordance with international agendas.”

The Palestinian cause

Al Gergawi noted that the most prominent shift in the region is the unprecedented ramifications of the Palestinian cause and the war in Gaza, which has so far claimed more than 22,000 lives, left more than 57,000 casualties, destroyed 60 percent of the infrastructure in Gaza, and displaced 90 percent of the population.

The minister labelled the war as “an unprecedented humanitarian disaster in decades. Despite the horrors of this war and efforts of many countries to stop it, we need to reflect on it.”

He added, “This war is not only between the Palestinians and Israel, but we also witnessed a global diplomatic war, international division, and a global media war. Today, war is not won on the battlefield, but rather in the media sphere where the victory is claimed by the party with the strongest narrative.”

Al Gergawi pointed to the “increasing polarisation among the different generations over the same cause, the intellectual struggle over humanitarian principles and the double standards in applying them.”

The minister questioned “Will Gaza war be the catalyst of lasting peace in the region and the establishment of a Palestinian state, or will it be the beginning of an extended war on various new fronts in the region? Will it be the last war or the starting point of new wars?”

Rising influence of the Gulf

Al Gergawi said the second shift witnessed in the region is the rise of the Gulf countries as major economic powers and influential global partners that actively engage in mediating solutions for political, economic, climatic, and humanitarian issues.

The UAE’s recent successful hosting of COP28, he said, underscored the pivotal role played by Gulf countries in shaping the world’s environmental agenda.

Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup and Saudi Arabia’s selection for the 2034 World Cup cement the Gulf’s significant role in shaping the global sports agenda.

The hosting of Expo 2020 Dubai and plans for Expo Riyadh 2030 highlight the GCC’s significant contribution to formulating the world’s cultural agenda, stated Al Gergawi.

“The Gulf countries have emerged as influential contributors in shaping both the political and economic dimensions of the global map. They maintain equilibrium by participating in major economic blocs, embracing a novel principle in international relations centred on openness to all. Additionally, they expand their circle of investment relations and forge partnerships built on mutual benefit for all involved parties.

“Today, the Gulf countries stand as a global investment powerhouse, with their sovereign funds totalling an impressive US$3.8 trillion – the largest in the world and comprising 34 percent of the global funds.”

In 2023, the UAE and Saudi Arabia joined the BRICS, alongside Egypt, Ethiopia, and Iran, raising the combined economies of the BRICS nations to approximately US$28 trillion.

Al Gergawi noted that Gulf countries have additionally evolved into demographic, investment, and economic attractive hubs, as well as magnets for intellects and talents. “This is thanks to their strategic development visions, which place ensuring economic stability and the well-being of their citizens at the forefront of their agendas and action plans.”

He said that Gulf countries have prioritised the economy as a major national goal, significantly boosting their international standing, political performance, and role in shaping new global balances.

Al Gergawi raised the questions of “how will the international role played by the Gulf countries evolve in the foreseeable future? What opportunities and challenges lie ahead for this role? And how can we strengthen the global economic and political influence of the Gulf countries without incurring high costs or engaging in confrontations with other international systems?

“How can we narrow the development and economic disparity between the Gulf countries and their surroundings, ensuring a stable future for our entire region?”

Increasing polarisation

Al Gergawi said the third shift is the intensifying polarisation, not solely on an international scale but also within societies— on the intellectual, religious, political, and social fronts.

“We observe a growing divide between the East and West in the values, political orientations, and perspectives on international issues, coupled with a shift away from economic globalisation towards populism and protectionism.”

He added, “The growing overflow of information and media chaos further exacerbate these divisions. Notably, we have seen the ascent of far-right movements to power in countries such as Argentina and Poland. In 2024, over 4 billion people will participate in parliamentary and presidential elections across more than 75 countries worldwide.”

He said “The question is: Will 2024 be marked by escalating societal divisions and diverging paths for countries and cultures? Or will it be a year where distances are bridged, fostering new connections and relationships?”

New alliances

Al Gergawi said this year’s edition of ASF comes more than two decades after its inception in 2001, during which the international landscape witnessed rapid geopolitical and economic changes, the emergence of new alliances, and an escalation in international polarisation that threatens the positive outcomes of “globalisation”, in addition to the repercussions that affect the climate and threaten our food and water security.

“Today, we gather in an attempt to monitor new trends, to imagine what the next decade will bring us in a world that is experiencing constant technological transformation that raise questions about its future risks; A world witnessing new economic alliances, endless trade conflicts, and strange contradictions.”

He noted, however, that not all the global changes have been negative.

“In fact, most of the global trends are positive if analysed in terms of economic value. Countries have developed and extracted millions out of poverty. Artificial Intelligence is doubling productivity, in addition to medical breakthroughs, social, economic, and political stability that many countries are enjoying.”

He said, “Undoubtedly, we are witnessing more good than evil. Peace lasts longer than war, and hope is more prevailing than despair. Yet, we are asking these questions in this forum to better understand the course of events and shape a better world for us and our future generations.”

Under the theme “The Political and Economic State of the Arab World”, the ASF brings together a host of strategic experts and thought leaders from around the world to forecast regional and global developments.