Heirs to the Ottoman Empire. Failing to cut the Gordian knot, is dialogue the way?

Jean Freymond, Director of Geneva Dialogues (D@G) and President of the Network for Governance, Entrepreneurship & Development (GE&D) offers his opinion on the lack of  dialogue and negociations in the Middle East and more globally, in the Mediterranean area. He draws on possible solutions to counter insecurity and violence which have been plaguing the region for decades.


 

 

English

History is movement. Sometimes it gets carried away and begins to look like a tumultuous river. It sweeps its path without giving us the possibility to resist, compromises what is, to make room for what is becoming.

At the beginning of XXI century, history is on the move. Our planet is breaking down from all sides. It has moved like never in 500 years. On the background of globalization, rapid population growth and breakthrough innovations, power relations and the dividing lines are being questioned. The systems come apart and the powers in place flicker. The institutions, often obsolete, are being upset. The world is tumbling from the West to the "Rest" and the path it follows is random. There is uncertainty about what tomorrow will be with a corresponding destabilizing general confusion, which causes self-withdrawal and the rejection of others.

This shift towards a different and more complex world is not easy. It engenders crises and conflicts. Crimes, massacres and destruction are part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of human beings, which brings Pope Francis to say that "we can perhaps speak of a third war by pieces." And it is true that men seem to have reinstated war in their minds, because they fear it or, in certain circumstances, because they judge recourse to arms and violence appropriate.

This evolution is concerning. It is manifest everywhere. It is pronounced in the Mediterranean region, especially on this vast expanse which at one time or another of a secular history, was in the orbit of the Ottoman Empire, the northern shores of the Black Sea - Odessa, Crimea -, on the borders of Maghreb el-Aqça, passing through the Balkans and Greece, the borders of Persia and the southern shore of the Mediterranean. This is a zone of turbulence which never stops trying to find a new balance and long-term stability.

The profound instability of what was once ruled from Constantinople did not start today. It is characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It has recently only increased and accelerated. What has brought it about? Summary explanation, the superficial observer of almost two hundred years of history has the impression that none of the states created in the wake of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire has managed to find a lasting and based foundation. It is probably of States as of human beings. It is essential that they "become what they are." How could they have done so? Their creation and destiny are due just as much if not more to the selfish will and struggles of the powers of the time, to their respective weight on the European stage, then the world’s, than to the aspirations of peoples and nations . To the point that we can ask ourselves if, on the ruins of an empire, something more than just an artificial juxtaposition of states was built, themselves being a sum of disparate, if not hostile communities. Not to mention that most of these states are characterized by an obvious lack of governance, combining a denial of fundamental rights and the exercise of power in an authoritarian and rarely competent way. This deficit has particularly serious consequences as governing increasingly complex societies, today, cannot be improvised and requires men and women who possess the skills to do so.

The "Arab Spring", from this perspective, sounds like a cry of despair of peoples who are tired of surviving every day with difficulty, societies falling apart at accelerated speed, even greater due to galloping demography and urbanization. Eating, caring for oneself, learning, the basics are no longer within the reach of millions of people to whom the simplest of dignity is denied. The headlong rush becomes a possible outcome. Finding remedy in the sirens of a violent sectarianism resembling a religion, to which we cling to as to a buoy, is one form of it.

Disoriented and angry peoples, overwhelmed governments, desperate and dominated by a thirst for power until it is quenched, and fanatics using terror now inhabit these lands that once were under the authority of a large Empire. It does not take much imagination to speak of a pathological situation which is deteriorating daily. The symptoms are there. But tackling them is illusory and vain as long as the sum of the problems they are consequences of is not grasped. Nobody seems to know how.

Some see solutions solely in the hand which will cut the Gordian knot, that is, the route of a radical surgery for which nobody has the means, nor the will. For the rest, everything suggests that there is no vision or concept or strategy on the future of the entire region. Neither, there seems to be a reflection and discussion on the subject, if only sporadic and mainly, from which many remain excluded. They are therefore partisan.

A dialogue between all of those whose destiny is hostage to the inability to break out of the rut of history seems to be lacking. Initiating it could be useful. It would be good to involve a constructively reinstated Iran in the concert of the region, and even Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Such a dialogue should be modest, discreet and informal. It should by no means be official. It could gather people who are likely to take distance and height, who are characterized by their wisdom, knowledge and experience, and at the same time are representatives of all the parties. From their conversations the outline of a common vision could be born.

Such a dialogue could begin with a situational analysis to which all stakeholders can subscribe. It would be followed by the search for what is common to all, through the recognition of shared values, if only because the Mediterranean and its surrounding land were their crucible. From an agreement on a few values, some common principles could emerge, particularly principles of organization. The participation of civil society is one of them. Without it, no community can cope with the complexity of our time, the state no longer being able to do so alone.

Any dialogue cannot solely be conceptual. It would have to deal with concrete issues, those, among others, that affect the daily lives of peoples, access to health, education, food and water, freedom of enterprise, to name a few examples.

This proposal is utopian. A dialogue cannot be improvised. It is important that all want it. It cannot be a panacea. We should not expect miracles from it. It will require wisdom. The region is not lacking it. It will require listening. It will take patience. But why not try, in the absence of other means?

The Mediterranean area at large is cradle to some of the greatest civilizations. Its history is thousands of years old. Peoples, cultures and religions have cohabited there forever, share the same space. At all times, they have made war, often with extreme brutality. The time seems right for all to recognize having a common destiny and to attend to defining it together in the interest of all and respect for everyone.

This time is counted.

 

Coppet, July 2015

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