The passage through a massive transition and the change of an ‘old order’

Euronews, in collaboration with the Arab Strategy Forum, presents the Middle East Agenda. A new series of featured interviews that will put you face to face with some of the most influential leaders, decision makers and experts in the Middle East. They will answer questions about the geopolitical and economic future of the region.

Join us, in this new space, once a month, to have access to fascinating conversations, contrasted opinions and analysis, in depth, of one of the most important parts of the world, from a strategic point of view.

The guest, this time, is Fareed Zakaria. Renowned for his role as an analyst and commentator, he is also a prominent writer. He has his own space on an American television network, is a columnist for the Washington Post, editor and contributor to The Atlantic (a leading literary and cultural magazine) and the author of highly successful literary works on a commercial level. His latest book is entitled “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.” The Middle East Agenda deals with some of the topics that are collected in his book. Fareed Zakaria offers us her vision on the future of the Middle East region and the influence of the United States in the area.

-The opinion of an authorized voice-

Are you looking forward to a happier 2021? It’s been a bit of a difficult start to the year, hasn’t it?

It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you. Yes, it was a very rough start. But, in a way, it is a beginning (HOME) that augurs a good future. So, let’s keep in mind that two big events are HAPPENING. The first is that American democracy has reasserted itself and triumphed. I know it seems very confusing but, look, there is a lot of anger out there. There is a lot of tension. There are many people who feel that they do not agree with others. The challenge was, the question was, will this finally be solved in a democratic framework? And the answer is yes. Joe Biden will be inducted. He will be president and therefore we will move on. Will remain …

Okay but wait a minute! What happen? What happened there, what we saw happen with the invasion of the Capitol building, is it a warning to others, who are confronting populist movements in their own countries?

Yes look. I think the challenge at this point is real. We have developed a degree of dysfunction in the democratic world that, when popular passion, fervor is aroused, you find a kind of tribal loyalty at your side that trumps your loyalty to democracy. Triumph over your loyalty to the rule of law.

Let me make another point. We are heading towards the end of COVID-19. We are entering a post-pandemic world. The first phase has gone pretty bad. Let’s be honest. With the exception of a few countries in East Asia, almost everywhere, things have been badly managed. I should highlight the United Arab Emirates as another notable example. The UAE handled the virus excellently, as did Taiwan, South Korea … But, for the most part it was mishandled. In the second phase, however, we go from the public sector, mainly to the private sector: vaccines, therapies … I think what they are going to see is that we are going to overcome it.

Let’s talk a little more, about the Middle East region and this kind of new world disorder there, after the United States abandoned its engagement with a number of countries in the Arab world. We see other actors vying for power, such as Turkey, Russia, China, and Iran. How complicated has the situation been, to try to achieve some kind of stability in the area?

You describe it perfectly. Most people do not realize that the underlying condition, the underlying geopolitical fact, has been America’s withdrawal. I predicted this in my last book, “The Post-American World,” and pointed out that that world is not going to be pretty. What you see in the Middle East is something that really started with Bush’s second term, after the Iraq war, right? Then came Obama and now Trump. Everyone is moving out of the Middle East, in part, because the Iraq war was disastrous and there is a popular reaction. In part, because the United States is now energy independent. But the result, as he says, is not some kind of harmonious peace and quiet for all those critics of US imperialism. The alternative is perceived to be local rivalry, regional rivalry, and chaos.

Agree. Americans are not going to get too involved. And the Europeans? That is … They are the largest taxpayers in the region. They have good contacts. But, so far, they have not delivered the coup of authority that they should in the region. True?

Europe will not be the actor. Look. The fundamental point is that Europe, as a strategic entity, is an idea. It is not a superpower. They wish he could act on purpose but he won’t. Europe has some competencies and I see that it is very passionate about Europe. Europe acts purposefully and strategically in business; on things like antitrust. In matters of national security, Europe is an idea. It is not a strategic reality and it will not be.

I was going to ask you about the Abrahamic Accords, named for the prophet of some religions. Is there an economics behind this, where perhaps it is in the interest of all parties involved to calm things down and do more business? Could trade be that kind of element that drives a more stable region?

I think the Abrahamic Accords were great. I think they were, essentially, Donald Trump’s most significant achievement. Perhaps his only foreign policy achievement. And it is real. I think I would probably have to say that the root of it was national security. It is the shared enmity and the shared hostility towards Iran. And, the fear, shared, of Iran. But that does not mean that the commercial part is insignificant. It would be wonderful if we could observe some genuine inner dependency and harmony.

So is it possible to build on those Abrahamic Accords, some kind of Camp David? Or just am I dreaming?

No. I think you are absolutely right. I hope the Biden administration tries to make a profit on this. My feeling is, from what they have said, that they intend to do so.

How important is the fact that Trump has established an American embassy in Jerusalem? Is it an obstacle to all that?

I do not think so. The actual situation is not the problem. The problem is a more fundamental sense that the Palestinians have been given some respect, some dignity and some sovereignty. Look, you can divide a part of East Jerusalem and call it Jerusalem or Palestinian Jerusalem. Do you get me? Diplomats are paid for this. There are solutions for this.

Agree. Let’s look at these local actors. Let’s look at the Gulf Cooperation Council as a bloc, especially now, after Saudi Arabia and the rest lifted their embargo on Qatar. What do you see What are the prospects there for him to provide some leadership in the region?

I think if Saudi Arabia could gauge where it has been and ask itself if it can lead the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in the way it has traditionally done, which is by consensus and with moderate management, a lot could be achieved. I believe that Mohamed Bin Salmán has been an extraordinary reformer in his country. He has done things that people have been asking for for a long time in Saudi Arabia. But it has also taken many repressive measures. He has also jailed many of the proponents of the reforms he is proposing.

Good. Let me go back to this idea of ​​lifting the embargo on Qatar. This means that, in that region, it is about lowering the tension a bit, doesn’t it? I mean, the tensions are less in that sense. Israel has normalized relations with the United Arab Emirates, with Bahrain, with Morocco. Could that have a calming effect and bring more stability to the region?

Totally. It is a good signal. It indicates the central direction that I would like Saudi foreign policy to take. That is to say, that the Qatar blockade be recognized as a disaster. Remember that they announced a series of demands that Qatar had to meet before lifting the blockade. Qatar did not comply with a single of those requests, and yet the blockade was lifted. If they took another path of consensus, which was the traditional way of operating the GCC, I think a lot could be done. I would say that the Abrahamic Accords are a big step forward in that direction.

Let’s talk about Iran’s nuclear power and the fact that, of course, the United States has pulled out of that nuclear deal. Iran has stopped respecting the limits of the agreement and has intensified its nuclear program. How much does this stop Biden and Europe from trying to reach a new deal?

Look, the problem with what the Trump administration did was that while it was able to put more pressure on Iran, it left the situation very unstable, very volatile. So, I think the Biden administration is absolutely correct in saying: let’s try to get Iran back to the nuclear framework, and then let’s negotiate on all the other issues.

But what about the environment? For a while people thought: great! Citizens drive less … Fly less … We are going to see Biden rejoin the Paris Agreement. But in the world of science, many believe that it will not be enough.

The simplest, the most powerful, the most effective thing that will work is some kind of price tag for carbon. A carbon tax because ultimately, you know, I’m a free market guy. I think the best way for the government to regulate it is not through a series of complicated regulations. It is taxed, it wants it to disappear and a lot of money is invested in renewable energy. The result will be seen in the next 30 or 40 years of transition.

And, you will see more yellow vests, right?

There will be a … Whoops! Raises a very important issue.

It has to be a fair transition. How is this achieved with a carbon tax?

Some of these trends make sense to everyone, collectively. But the effects of distribution are uncomfortable. Some people benefit more. Other people suffer more damage. Well maybe we need to have some kind of compensation mechanism. Maybe we need subsidies for those people. You know, you have to admit this. You have to count on all of them.

Let’s look at the next 10 years. What do you think? Where will we be then?

I think we are going through a massive transition. And it is because an ‘old order’ is changing. We are moving on many fronts, simultaneously. We are moving away from a world dominated by Americans and going to a world in which China, and other countries, are growing. We are moving toward a system in which gender equality truly prevails. I think we are going to discover that we have reinvented this world in a much more inclusive, much more diverse, much more innovative, much more productive way. We will have our own problems. But I think that, 15 years from now, I would rather be living in that world than today.

So he is optimistic that the world will have learned from his “Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World.”

Do we learn everything? No. Do we make new mistakes? Of course. Do we sometimes make the same mistakes again? Yes. But, fundamentally, we learn and we will learn.