On 2nd December 2021, the Bucharest-based think-tanks Middle East Political and Economic Institute (MEPEI) and EuroDefense Romania, in partnership with IPIS (the Institute for Political and International Studies), Tehran, and with the special support of the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Romania organized the seventh annual conference on the MENA region with the title “Middle East and North Africa: The Changes for a New Beginning”.

Taking into consideration the changes the international community is going through, the conference created a channel of communication between diplomats, academics, politicians, as well as independent researchers and civil society representatives, to cover the most important issues for a key region of the world. The speakers – brought together through an online platform – came from Austria, China, Hungary, Lebanon, Iran, Italy, Malaysia, Pakistan, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Syria, Turkey, the UK, and the USA and addressed the new transformations at the global level, the reverberations of a large-scale crisis in Afghanistan, energy and geopolitical influence for global, regional, and emerging players, the economic setbacks in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the crisis in Lebanon, economic resilience under the sanctions regime, assessing the case of Iran, and the engagement of the European Union with the Middle East and North Africa region.

Also, the conference addressed elements of novelty in terms of the security environment, the political engagement of world and regional players, and economic challenges in the Middle East (in a broad understanding).

In order to better accommodate the above-mentioned domains, the webinar was structured into seven sessions and started with the following keynote speakers:

  • Flavius CABA-MARIA, President of MEPEI, Bucharest, Romania;
  • HE Dr. Seyed Hossein Sadat MEIDANI, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Romania;
  • Liviu MUREŞAN, President, EuroDefense Romania;
  • HE Dr. Muhammad Hassan Shaykh al-ISLAMI, President of Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS) and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, MoFA, the Islamic Republic of Iran;
  • HE Dr. Werner FASSLABEND, President, the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES), President EuroDefense Austria, and Former Minister of Defense of Austria (1990-2000);
  • Teodor MELEȘCANU, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Romania;
  • Adrian SEVERIN, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Romania;
  • HE Dr. Alibeman Eghbali ZARCH, Senior Expert, IPIS, former Ambassador to Albania, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The specific topics covered during the webinar were organized in seven sessions, as follows:

Session I. Power Games towards a New Security Architecture in the MENA Region:

The panel covered salient issues for a transforming security structure of a key region of the world. It investigated how the rivalry of Great Powers, combined with the already existing regional rifts between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the rise of Turkey’s engagement with the region, and Israel’s role, all contributed to the creation of a new security architecture.

Session II. Afghanistan – New Power Games and Security Dilemmas:

In the current context, Afghanistan could stand for an arena where the emerging Asian power rivalry is racing in the aftermath of Washington’s decision to withdraw. The panel considered whether it is possible to avoid a collapse from a security and economic point of view while reflecting on ways to navigate away from the ill-fated condition.

Session III. Emerging Presence of the New Actors in the Middle East:

The session focuses on the prolonged consequences of the Arab Uprisings, the decline of the post-Cold War order, and increasing global rivalry between the world powers, which have all offered an increased role to regionalism. In this context, new actors have emerged, such as entities engaging in regional axes of collaboration and external players, namely Asian powers, such as Japan, South Korea, or Singapore (largely holding economic interests in mind). Together with the increased interest of Asian powers towards the Middle East, we note the ever-growing influence of China with its long-term strategy for development, entitled the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which gives a new dimension to reciprocal interaction in the MENA region.

Session IV. China in the Middle East. The New World Power on the Scene in the Great Game of International Relations:

This session focuses on the way China has significantly increased its economic,

political, and secondarily security footprint in the Middle East during the past year, marking its entrance to a Great Game of International Relations. China’s engagement with the Middle East focuses mostly on its own need for energy supplies and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Session V. Lebanon at a Crossroads: Politics and Economics in the Wake of a Decisive Social Crisis:

This panel addresses the economic challenges of Lebanon. After an awful tragedy in August 2020, Lebanon hangs in bearing bigger questions about how many shocks such fragile, vulnerable countries can absorb. Is there a way out for the small Mediterranean state that lies in the middle of one of the worst economic crises, political deadlock, and social divisions? The speakers will try to come up with solutions that could ensure the future continuation of the Levantine society.

Session VI. EU and the Future of MENA:

The panel covered aspects regarding the EU’s presence in the MENA, as turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa directly affects Europeans (see a continuous migration Crisis). The EU has not seen a deal-breaker and stands far away from retaining a decisive role in major events. How can it overcome obstacles and line-up a more powerful policy? For the mid and long-term range?

Session VII. The Assessment of the Economic Sanctions on MENA’s Countries and Innovative Instruments for Trading:

The panel sums up crucial aspects regarding economic sanctions in the MENA region, with a focus on those applied to Iran. Negotiations to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA) are expected to resume in order to get the United States to reenter the deal. As the diplomatic activities could resume, officials across European capitals are examining how to revive EU-Iran trade following the lifting of US secondary sanctions. How can the EU interact in a beneficial way with Iran leading to a win-win strategy? There is a lot of potential underway to be unlocked.

After these main topics, every session was concluded with a Q&A part. The seminar concluded with a short recap by Mr. Flavius CABA-MARIA and Dr. Liviu MUREŞAN and the keynote speakers.

Please find attached the FULL REPORT with the key messages conveyed during the webinar.

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