The Middle East Needs a Strategic Vision for Peace
Nizwa, Oman. Photo: Katiekk/Shutterstock

The Middle East Needs a Strategic Vision for Peace

Analysis. European integration can be a model of inspiration for visionary leaders in the wider Middle East, as a means of ending the cycle of conflicts and finding a durable solution. In the first half of the 20th Century Europe went through similar destructive wars that the Middle East is undergoing now. But after World War II distinguished personalities in Europe found an antidote to extreme nationalism: common structures, institutions and integration. Omar Sheikhmous, an independent analyst, shows how the Middle East could learn from the European example. The author, a former researcher at Stockholm University, is one of the Founders of PUK, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Publicerad: 2018-01-18

Before the First World War, the countries of the wider Middle East region, that were included either under the domains of the Ottoman state, Persia or some European colonizers, were living in a general state of peace and tranquility, except for sporadic periods of unrest, skirmishes and conflicts, despite their state of social and economic underdevelopment. Most of their societies were multi-ethnic and multi-religious that coexisted with each other over decades, sometimes even over centuries in a state of inequality but within established and recognized semi-harmonious relationships and structures.

In the aftermath of the First World War, with the collapse and division of the Ottoman State, most of the countries that were established in the Arab majority regions and Turkey experienced initial stages of unrest and turbulence. However, most of these states, whether independent or under the League of Nations mandate system, soon started on a path of nation building, institution building and economic development.

This positive development of state building institutions and economic advancement with a modernist and secular outlook continued after the Second World War to the 1970’s, despite the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948, the Suez War of 1956, The Yemen war of 1962–1970, The Sand War between Algeria and Morocco in 1963, the Second Arab-Israeli War of 1967 and the Third Arab –Israeli War of Yom Kippur in 1973, and despite all the military coups, and attempted coups, in most of these countries, especially in Iran, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Libya, Sudan and Yemen.  

KhomenidemoSuporters of Ayatollah Khomeini in a manifestation in Iran 1978. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Revolution in Iran 1979, changed the main direction of this modernist and secular outlook of the whole region, by introducing the religious Islamist doctrine into the official political discourse and public life. Hence, the establishment of the “Islamic Republic” the year after.

The Moslem Brotherhood had, since the 1920’s, tried to inject such a discourse into the public life of the countries of the region, but were unsuccessful because of the dominance of the leftist ideologies of socialism and secular nationalism. In some states, like Egypt after the revolution of 1952, the Moslem Brothers were also ruthlessly suppressed and some of their leaders executed (including Sayid Qutb – the inspirational figure for most current Jihadi Movements).

The Saudi Wahhabi doctrine was at first not successful, either, in exporting its faith and doctrine, despite many efforts in the region.

The catalysts for a much more destructive and catastrophic developments in the wider Middle Eastern seem to lie in the Iran-Iraq war (1980–1988), the First Gulf War of 1991, the Second Gulf War of 2003, the different Israeli wars with Hizbollah and Hamas, and the proxy wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya. Furthermore, the wars in Afghanistan, in the 1980’s and after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 gave rise to the recruitment, mobilization and expansion of the Islamic Jihadi Movement. This culminated in the emergence of Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State and their off-shots in the heartland of the Middle East, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula as well as Nigeria, Somalia and other places.

Other factors that have contributed to inflating the consequences of such a development can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • the failure of the socialist and nationalist secular models in providing sufficient solutions to the enormous social, economic and good governance problems of the peoples of the region
  • support of a number of states in the region of extremist and radical Islamist movements for the advancement of their geopolitical interests
  • collapse of the state-centered model of the Soviet Union and its likewise authoritarian and corrupt satellite states that had been emulated in many Middle Eastern states
  • effects of globalization in marginalization, displacement, inequality and rise of insecurity that have influenced more people to turn to religion for salvation
  • the failure of the Arab spring revolutions in changing the established order, except in Tunisia
  • the emergence of the radical Islamist Jihadi movements like Daesh (IS) that have inflamed the divisions and sectarianism within the Islamic countries.

These destructive developments have led to far reaching consequences in destabilizing the Middle East, in the form of a number of failed or semi failed states in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and to a certain degree in Lebanon, Iraq and Sudan, including ever expanding sectarian wars along the Sunni-Shiite divide, that might engulf other parts of the Islamic World in the Caucasus, Central Asia, South and South East Asia, and Africa.

One only has to compare the pictures of daily life and schoolyards of the 1950’s of most of these countries with today’s world, to realize the difference in the influence of Islamization of these societies.

The Vision:

Europe, prior to the First Word War, went through similar destructive wars and conflicts that finally culminated in the Second World War. The devastating consequences of these World Wars led a number of visionary personalities and politicians in different European countries, like Alcide De Gasperi, Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman, and Paul-Henri Spaak to advocate common European structures, institutions and integration in order to deal with the direct devastating consequences of the War. But more importantly they were in favor of dealing with the historical roots of the conflicts by creating common interests and shared European values.

ChurchillWinston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at No 10 Downing Street, London. Photo: Cecil Beaton/IWM/Wikimedia Commons

Before them, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already – in a speech in on the 19th September 1946, to the Students of Zurich University – proposed what is still considered to be one of the first steps towards European integration.

“I wish to speak to you today about the tragedy of Europe (….) Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe (…) The first step in the recreation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany”. 

After World War II , European integration was seen as an antidote to the extreme nationalism which had devastated the continent. The 1948 Hague Congress was a pivotal moment in European federal history, as it led to the creation of the European Movement International and of the College of Europe, where Europe's future leaders would live and study together.1952 saw the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was declared to be "a first step in the federation of Europe." 

The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) and the European Economic Community (EEC), formed by the Inner Six countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) in 1951 and 1958, respectively. The community and its successors have grown in size by the accession of new member states and in power by the addition of policy areas to its remit. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union in 1993 and introduced European citizenship. The latest major amendment to the constitutional basis of the EU, the Treaty of Lisbon, came into force in 2009. 

European visionary leaders had reached this insight after becoming aware of the absurdity that nationalist rivalry had led the continent to. The necessity of some type of European integration in reordering the political map of Europe became evident.

de gaullePresident Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer at the airport of Cologne/Bonn,  May 1961. Photo: Egon Steiner/Das Bundesarchiv


Four realities of the post-World Wars had necessitated such a new orientation towards European Integration:

  • First, The European leader’s awareness of their own weakness.
  • Second, the conviction of avoiding future confrontation and war, by all means, among European states. Especially, between France and Germany.
  • Third, that European integration would pave the way for establishing peace.
  • Fourth, the increasing desires to create a freer, fairer and more prosperous continent in an atmosphere of compromise and concord. 

As can be observed, despite many hurdles, difficulties and later skepticism this integrational process has, so far, provided Europe with seven decades of peaceful relations and economic development.

A Similar Future Project in the Middle East:

What is clear from this resumé of the European model of integration is that it can become a useful model of inspiration for some visionary leaders of the countries of the wider Middle East, in order to overcome some of the historical and current causes of conflict, dissension and war in the region. The international community can provide joint help and support for the advancement and encouragement of this integrational process for the wider Middle East.

For obvious reasons and in order to find permanent solutions for the outstanding current cleavages and causes of conflict, one of the basic elements for success of such a vision is that Turkey, Iran, and Israel should be included in such common structures for the region, together with the main Arab countries of the area.

gulffamiljA traditional local family admire the view of Doha, Qatar. Photo: SeraphP/Shutterstock

Other important elements in this proposed vision are:

1- The establishment of A Commission for Energy Sharing. This is necessary for establishing a balance among the haves and the have-nots and for helping in the process of common rebuilding and development of the region, similar to the establishment of the Coal and Steel Community in Europe after World War Two that was vital for the rebuilding process in Europe. This would also help in resolving over-production levels and adjacent border area resources between countries.

2-  The establishment of A Commission for Water Sharing. Water resources are factors of contention and conflict among a number of countries of the region, that have, over decades, led to disputes of various strength among Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Jordan and the Palestinian territories. The proposed structure would, instead, help resolve the most burning issues of sharing water resources.

 3- The establishment of A Commission for Wealth Sharing. This would include a development bank and other common financial institutions. It is very clear that questions of inequality and disparity of wealth lie at the root of some of the conflicts that have erupted in the region. It is often conceived as one of the factors for radicalization among the increasing number of desperate youth of the region.

4- The establishment of A Customs Union and a Common Market. Historically, increased exchanges of goods and ideas, free travel and movement of people among countries and regions lead to better and more peaceful relations among peoples, ignoring for a moment the temporary upsurge in economic nationalism after the recent presidential election in the United States. Furthermore, the lessons from the European experience indicate a very positive effect for the development of the poorer regions in the Community.

5- The establishment of Common Cultural, Educational and Linguistic Institutions. These would, hopefully, develop common outlooks and shared values and worldviews after decades of prejudices and animosities that have been nourished by destructive wars and conflicts.

6- The establishment of Common Institutions for peaceful resolution of differences and conflicts. The idea envisaged here is that such regional structures would be more effective, more accessible and quicker than international institutions in dealing with such problems.

7- It is hoped that such a process would eventually lead to Common regional political institutions at a later stage.

8- Finally it is envisioned that such an integrational process in the wider Middle East would lead to the establishment of governments that would respect the rule of law, with better governance, and respect the human rights of their citizens and minorities.

The advancement of this vision is neither unique nor the first of its kind. Other people like Shimon Peres, Madeline Albright and others have proposed similar visions for the Middle East, but have not been as encompassing as this.

Omar Sheikhmous
Independent analyst, former researcher at Stockholm University, former chief of the Kurdish Service at VOA, and one of the founders of PUK, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. 

In 1992, the author presented a shorter vision of regional integration that aimed mainly at finding a peaceful process for the unification of the Kurdish regions, in the different countries of the Middle East, within a larger integrational process of the region. It was published in a volume entitled Peace Building in the Middle East by Elise Boulding.