MERI Forum 2018 Report and videos:
Visions for Stabilising the Middle East
23-24, October, 2018.
The 2018 annual MERI Forum brought together policy- and decision-makers, academics and opinion-leaders to share visions and solutions for a range of core issues and challenges that are facing the Middle East today, particularly in Iraq and Kurdistan. These include the ever-changing regional power dynamics, the perpetual security and political crises and pathways for the reformation of the governing system.
The conference themes and panels included:
- Overall framework and background (MERI’s opening)
- Reforming the governing system: Decentralisation and institutionalisation in Iraq (Panel 1).
- State-Building and Nation-Building in Iraq (Panel 2).
- Kurdistan in the New Middle East (Panel 3).
- EU in the Middle East: Responsive state-building to prevent violent extremism (Panel 4).
- Legitimate Stability in Iraq, and the role of the international community (Panel 5).
- Regional and Global Power dynamics in the Middle East: Conflict and Collaboration (Panel 6 and Panel 7).
In his welcoming speech, Dlawer Ala’Aldeen, President of MERI, presented the above themes by reminding the audience that this forum is held at a very sensitive time when the entire Middle East is in turmoil and challenged with complex conflicts and wars. Local, regional and international power are heavily engaged in rivalries while the Kurdistan region and the rest of Iraq are also entangled in these conflicts and wars.
It is obvious that the rival powers are not adequately engaged in a dialogue among themselves for settling disputes and stabilising the region. Instead, they resort to even more violence to solve problems and thereby generate even more crises. This further polarises and militarises the communities in the Region, and, ultimately the warring countries and their citizens pay the price in these conflicts.
Fortunately, this year’s two general elections for Iraq’s and Kurdistan Region’s Parliaments and the processes of forming new governments in both Baghdad and Erbil have created a new environment and new opportunities for peace and reconciliation. These opportunities can be utilised for improving the governing system, establishing the rule of law and institutionalisation.
Today, after ending the recent catastrophic wars, it is time to think about how to fight for peace, stability and reconciliation. If the leaders and decision-makers of Iraq and Kurdistan region, with the help of the international community, do not attempt to implement reforms and reconcile with their citizens, the factors of destabilisation are still plenty and extremist forces like IS are still active among us and able to dominate again. If Iraqi leaders do not give priority to addressing the structural and functional weaknesses of the governing system, then not only the people of Basrah, Mosul and Anbar, but also people from the other cities will express their anger and threaten the very existence of Iraq as a state. That is why MERI, in its research projects, pays great deal of attention to identifying and reforming the structural and functional weaknesses of the governing system.
This Forum is in line with MERI’s research activities. Over the last year, MERI carried out an extensive project on the mechanisms of restructuring and empowering the local governments, parliament and judiciary council in the Kurdistan Region, and published the results in a book. The book contains numerous policy recommendations for addressing the weaknesses of the governing system. MER researchers then began to study the structure of Ninevah’s local government as a representative sample of Iraq’s over all governing system, particularly the provinces that are not organised as Regions. Given that both Baghdad and Erbil governments have made reform their priority, hence, two panels of this conference debate these issues.
A major part of MERI’s research from 2014-2017 was dedicated to issues relating to the war on ISIS, stabilisation and reconstruction of the liberated areas, reconciliation between the various communities and the issues of the internally displace people. In the near future, MERI will start a comprehensive project on the future of the displaced people and how an environment conducive to their return home can be created.
As part of MERI’s activities, it has paid great attention to constructive dialogue both internally and externally. During the past years, MERI has conducted series of open and closed debates and dialogues among the rival powers to help stabilise the region, away from violence.
For instance, after last year’s referendum and the subsequent stalemate between Baghdad and Erbil, there was a need for ending the deadlock, melting the ice and reducing tensions. Hence MERI took the initiative, in collaboration with Al-Rafidain Centre, and initiated the first step in opening dialogue between the political leaders of both sides. It was in February of this year and in the holly city of Najaf we engaged the group of speakers who took part in the second panel, and discussed shared ownership of governance and rebuilding trust.
For the sake of stability in other parts of Kurdistan in the neighbouring counters, MERI institute believes it is important for all Kurdish political parties in all parts of Kurdistan to review their experiences in a realistic and self-critical manner, and express their visions on how to secure their political and civil rights, and play important roles in stabilising their countries. This is where MERI organised many events to stimulate dialogue between them, and this is the purpose of the third panel of this Forum which is complementary to MERI’s previous events.
Meanwhile, in a number of research projects and publications, MERI studied the policies of regional powers, such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and international powers, such as the USA, Russia and European member states, so that the Middle Eastern public understand their vision and policies, and encouraged these powers to engage in constructive dialogue amongst themselves, to help stabilise this important part of the World, and save us from crises, rivalries and wars. This is the main purpose behind organising panels six and seven of this Forum.
In addition, MERI collaborated with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and a number of European universities and think tanks, and obtained financial support from the EU within the framework of Horizon 2020 program. MERI conducted a three-year project on the European Union’s policy in our region, and the fourth panel of this Forum is part of this line of research.
This is why the importance and impact of MERI Forum debates should not be underestimated. Most of the participants in their different positions can influence the governance decision-making process. With their help, stability can be facilitated, and the foundation of a peaceful region where rule-of-law and good governance can be achieved. The processes of dialogue, reconciliation and finding solution for the complex crises must be institutionalized, and through a modern state and collective nationhood a better environment conducive to peaceful coexistence can be created.
Finally, Ala’Aldeen reminded the conference that successful reconciliation and nation-building will not succeed without the active participation of the more important half of the society, i.e women, our sisters, mothers, daughters and partners. It is no secret that currently in Iraq the role of women among decision-makers and policy makers is evidently ignored. Not only they have become victims of displacement and their rights have been violated in various ways, but also they have been denied their roles and equal opportunity in leadership and the decision making process. Embarrassingly, this phenomenon is reflected in membership of our panels too. Therefore, it is expected from the top leaders to ensure that when new legislations and regulations are produced in accordance to the constitution, women’s share should be protected in the entire system of governance.
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About MERI: The Middle East Research Institute is Iraq’s leading policy-research institute and think tank. It is an independent, entirely grant-funded not-for-profit organisation, based in Erbil, Kurdistan Region. Its mission is to contribute to the process of nation-building, state-building and democratisation via engagement, research, analysis and policy debates.
MERI’s main objectives include promoting and developing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and social and economic prosperity. MERI conduct high impact, high quality research (including purpose-based field work) and has published extensively in areas of: human rights, government reform, international politics, national security, ISIS, refugees, IDPs, minority rights (Christians, Yezidis, Turkmen, Shabaks, Sabi mandeans), Baghdad-Erbil relations, Hashd Al-Shabi, Peshmarga, violence against women, civil society. MERI engages policy- and decision-makers, the civil society and general public via publication, focused group discussions and conferences (MERI Forum)