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Navigating Rough Seas: MENA Charting a Course towards Collaboration.


The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, rich in culture, history, and resources, is a region of remarkable diversity and complexity. Its geostrategic position has stimulated both conflict and competition among regional powers and global influences, which have often led to destabilization. This intricate nexus of factors has contributed to the region's unique challenges, making it a distinctive case amid the growing global trend towards interconnectedness and interdependence.


The escalating global interdependence can exacerbate instability for regions like the MENA, which grapples with internal fragmentation while trying to find a path to comprehensive cooperation. The adverse impacts of global issues such as pandemics and conflicts underline how this interconnectedness can have negative consequences. Gleaning from other regions' experiences, both the positive and negative, is crucial for MENA's journey towards cooperation.


The crisis between the Russian Federation and Ukraine has questioned the concept of economic cooperation and integration as a guarantor for peace. It has revealed how entrenched certain schools of geopolitical thinking, some consider outdated, have transformed into rigid geopolitical ideological beliefs that can undermine this narrative to its core.


The growing power of China and other Asian nations has produced mixed outcomes, with some countries benefiting, others left out, and still others fearing existential threats. The growing cracks on the geopolitical board in the East Asian region are widening rather than healing. As the region's countries now plunge into a game of geopolitical musical chairs seeking their security with a more powerful guarantor, even if perhaps less traditionally or historically trusted, this trend will inevitably also affect their economic paths and regional cooperation and integration in general.


Additionally, the European Union (EU), often viewed by some as a model of integration for the MENA region to emulate, also presents quite a few sobering warnings. The recent Brexit, the tectonic shifts in Russo-German economic cooperation and integration, and the increasing divergence of priorities among EU capitals all exemplify how regional cooperation can also escalate into increased competition and disputes. The current European concert holds many lessons for the MENA region.


While increased interdependence could benefit the MENA region in tackling global issues like climate change, technological advancements, terrorism, migration, and civil conflict, these elements can also amplify the region's fragmentation and risk of conflict. The events in Syria and Sudan, for instance, have displaced millions, creating a humanitarian crisis and regional instability. Meanwhile, interstate disputes like the Morocco-Algeria disputes represent significant economic burdens due to military expenditure and lost potential for trade and cooperation.


The fruits of globalization and regional cooperation have been unevenly distributed in the MENA. Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have thrived, while others like Sudan, Yemen, and Syria continue to face significant challenges.


To foster cooperation, the MENA region should focus on common denominator issues, taking small, gradual, but constructive steps. This involves both public and private sectors in creating a cooperative environment across various sectors such as climate change, technology, fintech, banking, media, social media, and artificial intelligence. It is not that the region lacks successful small-scale experiments, but more effort is needed to tilt the balance in their favor for further and larger-scale success.


Companies in education technology, media, and social media can shape narratives, discourage toxic rhetoric, and promote peace and tolerance. Investments in infrastructure projects, joint research, and fostering face-to-face connections can enhance cooperation and connectivity. Fostering a sense of trust and shared responsibility through youth engagement and community dialogue can stimulate incremental cooperation.


The private sector plays a critical role in coaxing the public sector to address the challenges facing the MENA region by demonstrating the potential benefits of collaborative solutions to what are viewed traditionally by many in the public sector globally as complex problems. This can include providing expert analysis and data research on best practices from other regions, as well as data on the economic and social benefits of regional cooperation so far, advocating for policy changes, offering financial incentives to governments such as providing grants for infrastructure development, investment, or supporting tax incentives for businesses that invest in the region. Engaging in public-private partnerships can provide a forum for shared decision-making and resource allocation, as well as a mechanism for pooling expertise and resources.


In conclusion, the journey towards a more interconnected MENA region is fraught with challenges due to the intricate interplay of economic, political, and social factors. Overcoming divisions and fostering cooperation demands genuine dialogue, confidence-building measures, innovation, a shared sense of responsibility, and the taming of hegemonic ambitions.


Mechanisms promoting interaction and discussion such as the MENA2050 forum and other such initiatives are vital to finding footholds of common ground on which to seek region-specific solutions to the region's challenges. Adopting such practical, incremental, and realistic measures the MENA region could navigate through the geopolitical turbulence towards a greener future of stability, progress, and shared prosperity for its peoples, as sovereign and equal partners.


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