Arab World: Utilizing Diplomacy to Serve Development

Arab countries, just like most countries in the world, are undergoing quantitative developments and profound qualitative transformations at all political, economic, social and cultural levels, and at a faster pace in many cases. The old policies and the accompanying various support measures are no longer able not only to address these transformations but also to keep pace with the speed of their fluctuations.

In view of the severity of the problems that have multiplied and proliferated due to the incapability of tackling these transformations, several Arab governments had the courage to admit the limitations and even the failure of approaches and policies that were previously adopted. These policies had come into force either by a sovereign decision or by the recommendation and cooperation with international financial institutions. The failure was embodied in a set of facts, most notably:

* The exacerbation of spatial gaps among regions, as wealth and its sources, as well as the intensity of economic activity have become concentrated in specific and limited regions. Meanwhile, other “unlucky” and remote regions have become marginalized and depleted physically and in terms of human resources.

* The widening of social disparities, evident in the exacerbation of poverty, which has come to affect large segments of the once-called middle class for the benefit of a small minority that has become extremely wealthy, benefiting mostly from the spoils of those in authority.

Some governments did not only recognize limitations and failures. Being aware of the seriousness of the issues and threats that these differences pose to peace and security in society, they began searching for means of dealing with these emerging andurgent data. Eventually, they ended up crystallizing new and comprehensive economic and development models and visions, most of which amounted to practical plans for integrated and sustainable development. These visions aim to free energies and regain once-lost confidence, especially those whose success was associated to achieving certain goals. Accordingly, they were restricted to being implemented as per specific deadlines.

Examining the goals set in these documents, it grows clear that they are very ambitious. They revolve in their entirety around the pursuit of a rupture with heavy reliance on the proceeds of exporting primary materials of various kinds in favor of supporting productive sectors with high added-value. The goal is to diversify sources of income, achieve a kind of justice in its distribution, and raise the annual growth rate to levels that would secure the provision of a sufficient number of job opportunities for the youth who represent the majority of the population of Arab countries.

The keenness on securing the successful implementation of the various programs in these new development policies prompted the concerned governments to deem them a national workshop and a public affair that everyone should be involved in achieving it. These governments were also instigated to mobilize all available human capacities, financial resources, as well as all internal and external state institutions to ensure a successful implementation.

Even though several Arab governments do not lack the financial capabilities required to have huge sovereign investment funds and credit facilities that can be used quickly, they seemed determined to involve external entities in their development efforts, either as financiers, investors, or an export market, or to attract tourism. Therefore, it was no surprise to mention the role of Arab diplomatic mechanisms at all levels in helping to attract the external entities, and to promote the diverse projects included in its visions and models, and the advantages and temptations they provide.

There is no doubt that this role required of Arab diplomatic institutions is a new and major challenge. Ever since these countries gained their independence, their diplomacies have been used to dealing almost completely with critical political issues. These matters have been prioritized in the agendas of Arab countries and their diplomatic activity is at the expense of other issues related to the economy and trade, which should have been given priority.

The reason behind the dominance of political issues over Arab diplomatic interests is that some of these issues are chronic, haunting and fateful for a number of Arab countries or for the future of the entire region. Examples include the issues of the continuous foreign occupation of the lands of some countries, and the constant threat to the territorial integrity of other countries, not to mention the degree of international and regional interventions and their continuous violations of the sovereignty of several countries.

Nevertheless, since the end of the nineties of the past century, there has been a growing awareness of the great role that diplomacy can play in the economic policies and development plans of many Arab countries. Some of these countries have not only the advantages and benefits of engaging in the trend of globalization and the wave of free trade agreements, but also the negative repercussions of that engagement if it does not go hand in hand with intelligent, conscious and effective diplomatic activity.

Of course, a diplomatic apparatus that keeps pace with the rapid developments in the international arena and is well-versed in science and knowledge is best able to head constructive and positive negotiations in order to market projects, attract foreign investments, and expand the scope of foreign markets for its country's products. It is also capable of persuading immigrant talents and brains to return to their countries and facilitate the establishment of promising capacities of developed countries to learn, develop skills and contribute to the transfer of technology.

Have some Arab diplomatic institutions managed to attain this level?

The low volume of economic and investment cooperation among the Arab countries, the pocket-sized volumes of inter-Arab trade, and the obstacles facing the establishment of a true Arab free trade zone, which was bound by the agreement establishing it with thousands of exceptions that emptied it of its content, are all indications that Arab diplomacy has not yet lived up to expectations.

If we also consider the degree of political and security restrictions that prevent a rapid flow of capital, and an easy movement of labor and tourism, it is certain that there is still a long way to go ahead of Arab diplomacy, which does not lack competencies and capabilities, but lacks instead the sovereign political will.