Diplomatic oil on Middle East's trouble waters

The region is in unprecedented turmoil, from Islamic State to Libya’s civil war, but almost as unprecedented are the attempts to negotiate the many conflicts.

REUTERS
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (L) and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Nov. 23, where the three met to discuss Syria.

In the view of American diplomats, the Middle East is experiencing unprecedented instability. Armed conflict has split apart Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Sunni-Shiite tensions are running high inside Iraq and Lebanon and especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Dozens of nations have joined the fight against Islamic State. And Israeli-Palestinian violence has flared anew in the form of random stabbings.

What may also be unprecedented in the region, however, is the number of negotiations to calm or eliminate these trouble spots. Talks to find a political solution in Syria are due in mid-December. In Yemen’s war, preliminary talks are under way between the warring parties with the help of the United Nations and Oman.

In Libya, neighboring countries are meeting with a special UN envoy to find new ways to persuade the two main Libyan factions to accept a plan for national unity. The United States, meanwhile, still mediates any new dangerous differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

These attempts at peacemaking don’t receive as much attention as the violence, refugees, and other effects of the conflicts. Yet this high level of diplomacy is a telling sign of a desire to alter the course of the Middle East away from solving its many problems by force. The region also has a new model for a negotiated settlement of a difficult issue: the deal in July to curb Iran’s nuclear program.

While the UN and US play a big role, the region has a few countries able to act as mediators. Oman, with its distinctive brand of peaceful Islam, is especially suited to talk to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco have also relied on their own traditions to influence events toward a resolution.

The most difficult negotiations are over Syria. Iran and Russia, the main backers of President Bashar al-Assad, will need to be persuaded that a military solution is impossible. They need to allow a transitional government to take over. The US has been assembling a range of Syrian opposition leaders to participate in the talks expected to take place in New York.

In October, the Middle East received a strong message about the importance of diplomacy from the Nobel Committee when the 2015 Peace Prize was given to the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia. Four nongovernmental groups have been a critical force to mediate differences and quell violence as Tunisia struggles to build a democracy.

One of the recipients of the prize, Hussein Abassi, told Reuters: “This prize is a message for our region to put down arms and sit and talk at the negotiation table.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Diplomatic oil on Middle East's trouble waters
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/the-monitors-view/2015/1202/Diplomatic-oil-on-Middle-East-s-trouble-waters
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe