My Dear Friend Sheikh Haled, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bahrain,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be in the Kingdom of Bahrain and address to such a distinguished audience.
Bahrain is a country which I have always appreciated for successfully combining her identity and her traditional values with the necessities of the modern world.
His Majesty King Hamad’s reformist efforts for the good of his own people and for peace in the region have been most remarkable.
I see the establishment of the International Peace Institute (IPI) regional office in Bahrain very appropriate in this context.
I am sure that IPI MENA Office has found in Bahrain best conditions and atmosphere to work for conflict prevention, multilateral diplomacy, peacebuilding and related fields in the Middle East, which are very much needed today.
Indeed, although we, as leaders, intellectuals, diplomats or businessmen, have spent immense energy for peace since decades, Middle East continues to be a hotbed of conflicts.
Now, may be more than ever.
We already lost a lot of time:
25 years have passed since the Middle East Conference in Madrid.
14 years have passed since Taliban was removed from Kabul.
12 years have passed since Saddam Hussein was defeated in Iraq.
Things are not much better today.
We continue to be facing serious issues related to each other.
Issues like the chaos in certain Arab and African countries,migration and refugee issues,terrorism and violence, ethnic, sectarian and religious tensions and social-economic crises are having serious spillover effects all around.
On the other hand, the conflict in Ukraine, financial crisis in Europe and its socio-cultural effects are also effecting the Middle East indirectly and vice versa.
Therefore, the current situation harms everbody, all of us, everywhere, in this or that way.
The risks are great, but I believe that solutions are at hand.
Problems of our time in the Middle East and beyond, require both sincere and careful reflections and fresh and courageous responses.
That is why I deeply value the efforts of the Kingdom of Bahrain which I consider an ‘’island of wisdom’’.
That is why I value the work of IPI Mena Office.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I remember the day, six years ago, when I had the great honour to address the National Assembly of the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2009, as the first ever foreign president to do so.
I recall that, I had confined myself to the Palestine issue, the situation in Iraq, nuclear-free zone issue and cooperation schemes for a better future of the region.
I also recall that I had a rather positive tone; at least more positive than today.
Because it was the beginning of the First Term of President Obama.
I have always appreciated Obama’s sincere efforts for peace in the world and especially in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, since then, the landscape has changed partly in negative direction in spite of these efforts:
The problems have now spread across a wider area.
This area now stretches until Yemen and Nigeria with effects in a wider geography from Paris to Mumbai, from Boston to Sydney.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe that, the current power vacuums and chaos in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen are essentially results of serious political mistakes, miscalculations, delusions and blunders.
May be, some of you will remember that I had conveyed serious warnings to my counterparts on the eve of the Iraq War at the beginning of 2003.
I have urged them that Iraq was a miniature of the entire Middle East:
A ‘’Pandora’s Box’’, that once opened, could be closed again only with great difficulty.
I had urged my American and European interlocutors to be very careful in considering ‘’how’’ to conduct the occupation of Iraq.
‘’Because,’’ I told them:
‘’If this box were opened carelessly and without foresight, we would come face to face with totally unintended results.’’
I had also written a letter to Saddam Hussein in January 2003.
I signalled (I quote) ‘’ a looming massive and devastating military conflict which would effect the future of Iraq and the region very negatively.’’ (end of quote)
I asked him to stop wasting time with rhetoric for a moment and take the opportunity provided by the UN then.
Of course I was not hoping to get a constructive answer from such an irresponsible and selfish person.
However, I thought it was my duty as a leader of a neighbouring country to give a last warning.
I also had long hours of conversations with President Bashar Assad of Syria before the tragic civil war there.
I always urged him to treat his people even handedly.
I told him many times not to delay the reforms.
I urged him against acting ‘’too little and too late’’.
The Pandora’s Box is wide open today.
You all know what came out of this box.
I made these references to the past for one purpose:
I want to urge the current actors dealing with or interested in the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen.
I want to urge them not to repeat the serious mistakes once committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also want to urge them to consider the political transition and exit strategies ‘‘now’’.
They should not forget that, the countries in question are not like the defeated states of post-war periods.
We can not impose monolithic solutions.
The power vacuum created by the chaotic environment in these countries should be filled as a priority.
Otherwise, proxy wars will inevitably continue on a sectarian and ethnic basis extending farther afield.
The coalition formed against the insurgent terrorist organisations like DAESH (ISIL) , Al Qaide or the Houti Movement in Yemen may have certain military successes in the field.
However I do not think “hard power” alone will be a solution.
No one can assume that military solutions will not bring about new political problems in their wake.
It is critical for the future of the region that we do not allow ongoing military operations to cause new waves of revanchisms.
Using hard power to get rid of the terrorists is an absolute necessity.
However, the ultimate solution lies in patient and inclusive political settlements which will help convince the local people and leaders.
Possible solutions should take the political and socio-economic imbalances of the countries into account.
The solutions to be found must have moral superiority.
Because, in the absence of state authority, helpless local people are trying to protect themselves through smaller structures of authority.
They are sometimes pushed to enter the dictate of terrorists because of despair and frustration.
These people can only be persuaded by the offer of credible, resilient, and comprehensive political solutions.
Working to establish a new mainstream in for example Syria and Iraq may seem difficult.
But it is a more attractive and smart proposition.
Otherwise, opportunistic and maximalist behaviors by local or outside powers based on narrow calculations might overshadow ongoing collective efforts against terrorism.
Thus, they may create further risks in the time ahead.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is clear that the threats of terrorism and extremism and their side effects inflict damage on the interests and values of all responsible stakeholders in the region and across the world.
Therefore, mutual accusations, suspicions and egoistic calculations of interests, should be replaced by efforts to create a sincere and serious synergy among us with broad horizons.
It is of great importance that the countries of the region come together around a joint agenda.
I wonder why they have not done so yet?
Perhaps the only benefit from current terrible situation in the region is that:
It revealed once again the need for a comprehensive framework of cooperation and security in the region.
I mean, arrangements in the Middle East and North Africa similar to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe), for example.
Actually, this is not a new idea.
This is a vision that has been around since the 1980s and worked out intellectually and politically.
I had voiced this on many occasions, including my address to the National Assembly here in Bahrain in 2009.
It may seem premature and unworkable to you, given the current circumstances.
However, I would like to remind to you that the United Nations was conceived during the Second World War and OSCE during the Cold War.
If the countries of the region could situate their common struggle against terrorism and other threats in such a perspective, they would be able to operate within a more consistent and permanent framework.
Such a long-term strategy will provide a perspective and an anchor for efforts directed towards the solution of other problems.
A prospective framework should contain confidence building measures and conflict prevention mechanisms.
This might decrease the perceptions of threat, ‘’by’’ or ‘’from ‘’ certain powers or neighbours.
It would also help to prevent emergence of new revanchist and irredentist currents in the region.
Therefore, this idea must be revived and kept alive to be part of the agenda despite the current unfavorable conditions.
The agreement on the nuclear programme of Iran, may be used as one of the first steps in this direction.
I hope that this agreement can lead Iran to be motivated about establishing more constructive relations with her neighbours based on confidence.
Future political settlements of the conflict in Syria, Libya and Yemen, can be a first exercise in this direction.
A new push for the resumption of the talks between Israel and Palestine and progress in the settlement of this core issue would be another pavestone for a wider cooperation in the region.
Occupation of Palestine by Israel continues to deeply affect the psychology of the region and the world.
Following the First Gulf War in 1991, UN Security Council Resolution 687, stipulating the disarmament of Iraq, had became operational.
This resolution also included a perspective and a provision on the freeing the region from weapons of mass destruction.
Let me remind you that , this provision had secured Arab support to the USA in the Gulf War and opened the way for the Madrid Peace Conference .
However it still stands solely as a promise that is far from being fulfilled.
This continues to be a source of frustration in the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
There should be no doubt that political and military plans need to have a long-term, sustainable socio-economic perspective.
Any plan for the future should have a strong dimension for economic and social and humanitarian cooperation.
This must cover trade, agriculture, transportation education, culture, tourism, energy, water and many other issues.
In our day, the plight of millions of people living in the conflict areas, the refugees and the internally displaced persons represents a great humanitarian tragedy.
Their living conditions now constitute a socio-economic disaster for Iraq, Libya, and Syria, as well as neighboring countries.
I would like to draw your attention to a recent report by UNICEF.
This report is an alarming warning on the long-term destructive consequences of violent conflicts in the region with an emphasis on ‘’lost generations’’ of children and youth without schooling.
Many of these children may be prey to extremists and armed groups.
Let us not forget that, attacks of Da’esh against cultural heritage and education infrastructure, targets also a culture of peace and dialogue.
Therefore, ‘’in any strategy aiming a lasting peace in the Middle East, roles of education and culture must be reinforced as a humanitarian and security need,’’ as the Director General of UNESCO recently declared very rightly.
I believe that, UN agencies, such as UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and Islamic Development Bank should be given stronger support in their efforts in this direction.
International community should begin planning how to compensate the socio-economic and cultural damage caused by the armed conflict and terrorism.
Therefore, once carefully thought through, these plans should be made public and promoted in order to inject hope and optimism to the depressed people of the region.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I find it very important that the moderate countries of the region continue their good governance efforts—as well as protecting and raising human rights standards.
These are critically important in terms of inspiring the peoples of the countries in chaos for the future.
Against the dark dystopias of extremist organizations, Muslim politicians and intellectuals should present enlightened and workable models of governance based on the true Islamic values:
Particularly those concerning social justice, equality and mercy.
And they should take serious and practical steps to implement them sincerely.
It is very important that the frustrations of people and especially younger generations are not exploited by extremist forces.
We should not permit that their reactions are canalized to violent and oppressive ideologies as it has happened elsewhere in the history.
I would like to end my statement by wishing the mercy of Allah to the victims of terrorism all over the world and martyrs of war against it, including the five brave Bahraini soldiers who lost their lives in Yemen last week.
Thank you for listening to me. I am ready for your questions if there are any.