Syria, Russia & Arab youth dominate discussions at Beirut Institute Summit

The summit brought together regional decision makers, thought leaders and cross sections of society

Ismaeel Naar
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Questions surrounding Syria and the escalation of Russian air strikes targeting moderate groups, ISIS, and the ongoing violence in Palestine dominated the opening discussions at the Beirut Institute Summit held in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.

The summit’s key discussion on Saturday was “reconfiguring the Arab region and its global space: Beyond political economy and security threats.”


During his remarks, former director of Saudi Intelligence Prince Turki Al Faisal and co-chairman of the summit said: “The world needs to be committed - not just talk about - the region’s problems.”

Al Faisal’s comments came during a panel discussion that focused on establishing a roadmap on redefining the Arab region’s global positioning.

Former CIA director David Patreus, Lebanon’s Minister of Interior and Municipalities Nohad El Machnouk, former U.N. Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos and Bahraini business leader and CEO of DMI Khalid Janahi also shared the panel.

The latest developments in Syria, where Russia has been bombarding areas in the country’s western region, since the start of the month, was a key issue the panel kept touching on.

“The problem with Syria is that we’re dealing with the symptoms and not the diseases. The idea to simply focus on Daesh (ISIS), and not address the disease in Damascus, in my opinion is a mistake,” Al Faisal said.

Patreus reiterated the same lines, adding that the world needed to question and focus attention back on Assad. “Barrel bombs continue to fall on the heads of innocents, we should ground Assad’s air forces and we have the capability to do that,” he said.

“There must be a military context created in Syria before diplomacy can work.”

“President Barack Obama’s approach currently does not work,” added the former CIA director.

Iran and the GCC

On another panel, the topic of GCC-Iran rapprochement was the focal point between GCC Secretary General Abdullatif Al Zayani and U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson.

Iran has to start by making specific small gestures like releasing its occupation of UAE islands before embarking on the larger questions of stability in the region, said Al Zayani.

“Iran needs to take the opportunity to build trust with us. There are a lot of opportunities on the table, this can start with the UAE islands that have now been under occupation now for over 40 years,” Al Zayani said.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Dubai-based professor and political analyst, Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told Al Arabiya News it was a way to attend to the smaller issues before tackling on the bigger ones.

“With Iran, one has to start somewhere and that means going back to the basics. It’s difficult to tackle the macro issues with conflicts here and there. Maybe a practical gesture on this long-standing issue with the Gulf Arab states can be a stepping stone to a more meaningful dialogue later on,” Abdullah said.

‘Enabling the Arab youth’

Secondary discussions during the summit’s opening day focused on the role of Arab youth and the necessary steps needed to be taken in order to guarantee a strong future for them.

“The biggest challenge facing the Arab world today, is providing sufficient jobs for its young people. Young people, who are left idle with little hope for the future, become easy prey for evil forces,” said the UAE’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan.

Also speaking on the sidelines of the summit, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, told Al Arabiya News that the one concrete action the Arab world needed to undertake was to broaden beyond security issues when talking to younger generations.

“When we focus simply on the security prism, we lose sight of the range of issues from human rights to governance, education, [and} a whole host of other issues. Constraining the debate to extremism and violence is excluding, not inclusive,” Amos told Al Arabiya News.

Honoring Saud Al Faisal

The opening day of the summit ended with tributes to, and the honoring of the late Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal for nearly four decades service, and the UAE’s Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi for her humanitarian efforts.

Although discussions of the Syria file and the role of Arab youth dominated the first day of the summit, one key topic that stood out was Palestine.

Saturday saw more violence as weeks of unrest left many asking whether Israel and Palestine were facing another intifada. It comes after Israeli forces on Saturday shot dead two Palestinians aged 12 and 15, during protests along Gaza’s border fence, raising the number of Palestinian dead in the past 11 days of unrest to 19 killed in Occupied Jerusalem alone.

When offered the last word during his panel discussion, Prince Turki Al Faisal simply said: “The last word is Palestine.”

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