The Middle East has inherited instability and conflict down the ages. It has been hotbed of conflict and insurgencies for decades. In recent years, fresh challenges are arising in the region. These instabilities and turbulence of the region have implications on a global scale and has an impact on Bangladesh as well.
These observations were made by speakers on Wednesday at a roundtable, 'The Changing Dynamics of the Middle East: Implications for Bangladesh'. Held at The Westin in the capital city, the event was jointly organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) and Dhaka Tribune.
In his opening remarks as moderator of the roundtable, BIPSS president Major General ANM Muniruzzaman (retd), said that the Middle East at present is faced by a number challenges. There is the Syrian war, the on-going humanitarian crisis in Yemen, instability in Lebanon and many order turbulent situations, including the Palestine issue, which was close to the hearts of Bangladeshis.
He also highlighted the current role of Iran, the role of Saudi Arabia, the US-Saudi relations and changing dynamics of the region.
Ideologies don't work as before and people do not want revolution as before. So Iran wants to export its resources, not revolution. It is presenting itself to the world as a peaceful nationLailufar Yasmin, professor of international relations, Dhaka University
Taking up the topic, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, Lailufar Yasmin, pointed out that the Middle East was connected with Bangladesh for many reasons. "We need to ensure energy security, religious and other affinities," she said.
"The Middle East is not a unified region as we may imagine, she pointed out, "it is not a region or just one region or culture, as we tend to view it from Bangladesh."
Referring to Iran, Saudi Arabia and the emerging geopolitical games, she said that Iran's first and foremost interest is maintaining its sovereignty. Its foreign policy was shaped on its determination to maintain its identity and territorial integrity. Things had changed from the past, she pointed out, saying that, "Ideologies don't work as before and people do not want revolution as before. So Iran wants to export its resources, not revolution. It is presenting itself to the world as a peaceful nation."
She referred to Iran and Saudi Arabia as regional powers, saying that European countries are not always consistent and Asia was looking for responsible powers to go to in time of need.
Parvez Karim Abbasi, assistant professor of the economics at East West University, started by saying that the Middle East was the birthplace of four monotheist religions and so had always been a source of revolutionary ideas.
He, however, was skeptical about the region being termed as the "Middle East" which was a name coined by an American. It was a contradiction, defined by Western construct.
He said, the region was home to 5.5 per cent of the world population and controlled 55 per cent of the world's energy. That is why the Middle East continued to remain relevant. This relevance was all the more following the Russian war with Ukraine.
Given the large youth demographic of the Middle East, Parvez Karim Abbasi pointed out that smart phone penetration, YouTube videos and such ideas also had a role in mobilising people against the state. This happened during the Arab Spring and he said that the governments needed to be careful so a second Arab Spring did not take place.
He said there was a mistaken view that the people of the Middle East were backward and dependent on the west. "That is not true," he said, "they are well prepared for the post fossil fuel world. The UAE has taken up all sorts of reforms from agriculture to banking."
China has been piggybacking on the work of the US and Russia. It is becoming a major power in the Middle East through BRIParvez Karim Abbasi, assistant professor of the economics, East West University
Saudi Arabia has seen sweeping changes too. Abbasi pointed to its policies of liberalisation, imposition of taxes and VAT, which had been unthinkable in the past. Other countries of the region were also moving away from full fuel dependence.
Bringing up the changing geopolitics of the Middle East, he said China is the smartest player in the Middle East, exerting influence without entanglement. "China has been piggybacking on the work of the US and Russia. It is becoming a major power in the Middle East through BRI," he said.
The deliberations of the panelists were followed by a lively interactive session with the participants who included foreign diplomats, retired civil and military bureaucrats and former ambassadors, academics, journalists, students and others.
Concluding the event, Dhaka Tribune editor Zafar Sobhan said the Middle East was a crucial area for the rest of the world. Petroleum and gas reserves alone will ensure centrality of the region. "Bangladesh is intrinsically tied with the Middle East," he said, "with cultural and spiritual ties. And the more practical ties included oil resources imported from the Middle East, remittance to Bangladesh from the expatriate workers there."
He said, whatever happens in the Middle East is crucial to us in Bangladesh.