The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade (IFAT) and the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) in cooperation with the Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB) and the Corvinus University of Budapest (CUB) held a conference entitled Orders and Disorders in the Middle East and North Africa on the 18th of April in Budapest. The conference was part of the project called MENARA – Middle East and North Africa Regional Architecture – funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme.
During the welcome remarks, László Csicsmann (CUB and IFAT) thanked the organizers for their work, and expressed his pleasure on behalf of the university and the institute that they could host this event. He also added that the fact that Budapest hosts the conference is meaningful, as in the frame of the Eastern opening strategy, the MENA region has great significance for Hungary. Eduard Soler – the scientific coordinator of the MENARA project from CIDOB – highlighted that during this project, the researchers have a responsibility with their findings to guard public opinion and influence the European policy makers to make the best decisions connected to this region. Lorenzo Kamel (IAI) emphasized that among the various topics concerned in the project, migration is the one that is the most closely connect to all the others, thus he highlighted the participants’ responsibility to reframe the dialogue on this issue.
In the first panel, which was moderated by Máté Szalai (IFAT and CUB), the changing role of external actors shaping the Middle East was discussed. Jordi Quero (CIDOB) draw special attention to China, and its economisation of foreign policy in the region, stating that without political involvement, its role could not be sustained in the long run. Erzsébet N. Rózsa (IFAT), talked about the policy shift of Russia in Syria and other parts of the Middle East, and expressed that this change is part of Moscow’s aim to be acknowledged as a global player. Nathalie Tocci (IAI) highlighted that less interventionism from global powers will not lead to stability in the region, as these players became increasingly embedded, and they could not stay away anymore.
In the second panel, which was moderated by Silvia Colombo (IAI) the participants discussed the transformation of the state, the societies and regional order. Rasmus Alenius Boserup (Danish Institute for International Studies – DIIS) said that the change experienced in the last seven years is coming from below, as the state is weakening and the regimes try to restore their authority. In case of Egypt, there are challenges within the system, which results in new internal power struggles. Virgina Colombier (European University Institute) emphasized that in the case of Libya, the state is eroding because of the weakness of the state to perform its tasks, and the emergence of new actors. She added, that without rebuilding the collapsed economy, a long-term solution is impossible. Helle Malmvig (DIIS) argued that in Syria, the Assad regime was able to uphold its clam it sovereignty due to foreign interventions, but domestically, the state functions are performed by militias and state actors together.
In the closing remarks, Eduard Soler concluded that the instability in the region is obvious, and unfortunately the question now is that which kind of autocracy will strengthen, not that if democracy will prevail in the MENA region.
The public conference (hosted by Corvinus University) was followed by a two-day long closed seminar attended by the project partners in the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade to share the results of the research conducted and to coordinate the upcoming tasks.