Dubai's Arab Strategy Forum hears of uncertain future for Yemen
UAE set for ‘positive trends’ despite region’s bleak outlook
A grim picture was painted for the Middle East by one prominent academic as political analysts and officials gathered to discuss their projections for the geopolitical landscape in 2018.
With wars and tensions increasingly growing in every corner, few breakthroughs for peace or resolutions to conflicts are expected next year.
“What we need to understand is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel in the Middle East,” said Dr Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics in the UK, speaking at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai on Tuesday.
“You have major challenges and crises, regional powers that are really fighting wars by proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
"Russia has also now emerged as a major player and that’s why I don’t think we should expect any major changes in 2018.”
Dr Gerges said Iraq would probably have a relatively safe, secure and stable environment.
“You will probably have a stalemate in Syria [as] Assad isn’t really going to offer any major changes,” he said.
“Yemen is the theatre whereby we are going to witness major qualitative escalation.
"Yemen is going to be a bloodier theatre than it has been in the past three years.”
Major escalation is expected in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict due to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week.
“It could really provide the spark that triggers a major conflict on the conflict,” Dr Gerges said.
“All in all, I don’t think we should expect any strategic changes.
"We should expect minor changes that could be built upon in the following years but there is no magic wand by which the fires in the Middle East could be put out in a year or two.”
He suggested hope was also slim for a resolution to the GCC crisis with Qatar. He predicted was a 30 to 40 per cent chance it would end in 2018.
“This is because both sides are determined not to offer any compromises or concessions to each other so the crisis with Qatar is probably going to be with us for a while,” he added.
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, journalist, author and former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel and Asharq al-Awsat, expressed more optimism.
“There will be progress in Yemen because the Houthis lost 50 per cent of their strength after Saleh left,” he said in reference to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who split ties with the rebels before being assassinated by them last Monday.
“No one declared they will join them since his death and the rebels’ map hasn’t changed.
"In 2014, almost all the country was controlled by the rebels but now, the legitimate government holds three-quarters of it.
"There will be a focus on Sanaa and Hodeidah in 2018 and if they are liberated, the main task for will be for the government to take responsibility and rebuild a government with good leadership and a parliament.”
He said, however, that the war would rage on for years due to geography as Houthis are mainly located in the mountains.
But unity among the six GCC countries will be needed next year to face the war in Yemen, he added.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid wrote on Twitter that 2018 would be a year of great economic change for the Arab world.
“The Arab world is experiencing rapid changes and nations that do not strive to develop risk falling behind,” he tweeted.
“We see positive trends in 2018 for the UAE as we are politically, economically and intellectually prepared.
"We enjoy a diversified economy and strong international trade. We are strengthened by our positive experience, helping us face the future and seize opportunities.
"Many Arab countries will witness major economic reforms next year. I am optimistic that it will be an economically fruitful year, and we hope 2018 will see breakthroughs in addressing our region's crises.”