Mashriq is a delicate matter. But very promising

It’s all in the terms

Traditionally, the concept of «middle East» and «North Africa» refers to the Arab countries and their neighbors, who are related to each other historically, culturally, geographically, economically, politically, have a number of similar socio-economic parameters. In order to have a complete picture to a more narrow view of the middle East as a combination of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arabian Peninsula adds North Africa and the Middle East. In some cases, given the common issues and the convergence of regions, there are direct connections to the Middle East with the countries of East Africa, Central and South Asia. Such additions dilute the contents, first of all, the very concept of the Middle East and affecting the formation of strategic approaches to the development of countries in the region.

We believe that the term Western Asia, often used in documents of the UN, research scientists, international relations experts from the region, would be a good synonym for traditionally consumed in the narrow sense of the term Middle East. A more clear reference to the name of the region to geographical direction would not only a new look at old problems, but also to introduce comparability with other (above) regions of the world, to bring to the fore economic and geographical aspects of cooperation. This can be done in contrast to the historical-political division of the middle Asia, Middle and far East – the names to which we are accustomed, but which primarily reflect the logic of the former colonial expansion of Europe to the East. Today, obviously, the process is reversed – the expansion of Asia into the Western world. Hence the need to use terms that are more neutral in color.

Moreover, special attention is given the development of ideas about intra-regional division. There is a special place Mashriq includes Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt.

Middle position in Mashriq West Asia towards Turkey, Egypt and Iran, and to some extent Israel, unwittingly pushes the question about the possibilities of regional cooperation.

Is there any chance for economic integration?

In West Asia and North Africa, the development of integration initiatives has been very uneven. Not the last role in it play the objective resourcedefinition, the diverse nature of the modes and differences in the purposes of national development of countries in West Asia and North Africa.

Some of the results, though largely formal, made up of the States of the Maghreb and the Persian Gulf. Has established the relevant structure of the sub-regional level of integration. In 1989 he began the work of the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU), which includes Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia. Although in the last decade due to the internal differences of the members of HE organization practically does not develop, this initiative continues to be in the foreign policy agenda of a number of North African Arab countries.

In 1981 was founded the cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG). Today it includes Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia. The Council discusses the issues of improving the unified energy system, the prospects of establishing a currency Union.

Against this background, the development of integration projects in the Mashreq were not so successful. Bright initiative in 1958 to create the United Arab Republic consisting of Syria and Egypt in 1961, in fact, waned. And other comparable ideas appeared.

However, the point about the necessity of integration within the Arab Mashreq has become quite popular in the early 2000-ies. In scientific works of researchers from countries in West Asia the project has been dubbed «the New Arab Mashriq». With this approach, it inevitably has a competitor in the form of other, more popular project, «New middle East» based on the us-Israeli cooperation and maintaining the leading role of Israel in the region based on its technological, military and political superiority[1] while maintaining the fragmentation of the remaining countries etnokonfessionalnoy principle. However, it is the consolidation of Arab Mashreq countries is seen as a stabilizing factor in inter-state relations between the Arab countries and Israel and within the West Asian region as a whole.

The most significant challenge for development in the Arab Mashreq may be consolidating or increasing the fragmentation of States in the subregion. Under the influence of external pressures and internal processes of existing government institutions can weaken and finally give way to quasi-state entities such as terrorist groups or individual tribes.

To strengthen cooperation and overcoming of conflicts in the Mashreq, it seems appropriate launch for the Arab States of the subregion’s integration initiatives. Its key focus would be to ensure that the political dialogue between the two countries and the desire to implement joint economic projects in the subregion. Such an initiative could be institutionalized and to have the working title «cooperation Organization member States in the Arab Mashreq».

For the development of such a project, there are certain prerequisites.

Transport capacity in the Arab Mashreq attract a lot of attention, given the transit potential of the subregion. According to the world Bank report of 2010, approximately 31,000 km today require upgrading of roads used in the territory of the Mashreq[2]. In 2003, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt ratified the construction of Railways on the project «Agreement on international Railways in the Arab Mashreq», prepared by the Economic and social Commission for Western Asia (UN) (UN ESCWA at), although 60% of the railway project is not completed. As the pre-crisis period in the Arab Mashreq ports of Latakia, Tartus, Tripoli, Beirut, Aqaba and Um Qasr – improved their performance over 2005-2010 for container transport.

Along with the traditional interest of external players to the oil in the Arab Mashreq, in particular meaning to the recently discovered gas field of the Levantine basin (collectively at least 3.8 trillion cubic meters[3]) and is not developed and requires the study of possible fields of Syria and Iraq. One of the most important cross-country projects can be associated with the construction of the pipeline between the Arab Matricom and Europe with the aim of integrating the gas markets of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria (with possible involvement of Turkey and Iraq as observers) and Europe. In 2009-2010, has been found a major gas field in Israel, «Tamar» (proven reserves of 280 billion cubic meters) and «Levitan» (620 billion cubic meters). Then Cyprus was revealed to the field «Aphrodite» (120 billion cubic meters), and in 2015 – in Egypt, «al-Zuhr» (850 billion cubic meters). In the future could be relevant joint projects of exploration, production and bringing to consumers gas Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus, and also Iraq pipeline through Syria, where they could undertake further exploration, and Turkey in Europe[4]. Reports about the construction of pipelines from Iraq to Jordan and from Iraq to Iran.

States will have to interfere or interact on the issue of water resources. About 80-90% of water consumption is in agriculture, which in the last decade is experiencing a crisis, as in Iraq and in Syria, which is largely associated with the recent dry years. It sharpens the issues of the Arab countries of the Mashreq fresh water. The low level productivity of water use, which is associated with ineffective government policy. It is necessary to optimize management of water resources by countries in the Arab Mashreq, the development of a system of pipelines, the creation or improvement of the system of disposal of liquid industrial and municipal wastes, carrying out technical measures for the conservation and replenishment of underground water sources (as a study of promising approaches to address the experience of the Gulf countries)[5]. Studies in this area are mostly custom designed by the Arab water Council[6], the Centre for environment and development for Arab region and Europe (CEDARE), Arab forum for environment and development (AFED). In addition, there is successful experience of cooperation of Russian centers, for example , state budgetary institution «Central aerological Observatory» of Roshydromet, with countries in the region (with Syria in the 1990s and early 2000s) on the artificial increase of precipitation (by artificial impacts on clouds)[7], the need to return to which is still relevant today.

These features can be used in post-conflict areas and is already included in the strategy of several international organizations, e.g. world Bank Group, acting in coordination with the International Finance Corporation and Multilateral investment guarantee Agency[8], for development of the subregion. It is important that the flow of international investments led to the recovery of the real sector of the economy of the Arab Mashreq, which will provide people with jobs and regular income. The latter is important in order to try to avoid marginalization and constantly emerging wave of radicalization of the situation and increased conflict in the region.

What should be afraid of countries in the region first of all and what to do about it?

Terrorism, the threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, recurrent conflicts and crises of statehood – the fundamental challenges faced by States in different parts of West Asia and North Africa. The key problem remains the low level of trust between the major regional actors with permanent presence in these regions of large international players. All of these factors has so far not led to the formation of effective regional institutions to address development in the countries of West Asia and North Africa. Special attention is drawn to the lack of intra-regional institutional framework for maintaining and strengthening security. A major factor contributing to instability, are the socio-economic problems in Arab countries. To overcome this situation will require a comprehensive vision for the formation and strengthening of mutual trust between the Arab countries and their neighbors, which would consider the interests of all States located in the region of West Asia and North Africa. With this purpose it is necessary to make efforts for the creation and development of a system of collective regional security.

Despite the positive message of this initiative, the creation of such system of relations will cause a lot of controversy. This is largely due to significant differences in the understanding of the States of the region and States involved in the region’s Affairs, ways and methods of formation and development of security systems. A great influence on this process will render the existing system of relations between state actors in the region, a key impact will be the accents which put the governments of these countries in crisis situations. However, threats and challenges facing today’s world and the countries in West Asia and North Africa, forced to change the whole complex of relations in the region.

Transformation processes in the Arab world that began in 2011, greatly undermined, and before the delicate political balance of forces in the countries of West Asia and North Africa. However, these processes identify new opportunities for achieving a more stable system of regional relations. While key importance will be the cross-country projects of economic and infrastructural, where a significant role can play the Russian companies and professionals. But that’s the subject of a lot of work aimed at formation and development of a coherent system of strategic goals of Russia in West Asia and North Africa.

Article podgotovlena in partnership «Expert» and the Russian international Affairs Council (RIAC)


[1] Salim, M. S. New Arab Mashriq // Al-Ahram. 2001. URL:

[2] Economic Integration in the Mashreq // World Bank report. Middle East and North Africa. October 2010, p. 11.

[3] Manafov, A. the Eastern Mediterranean – a new competitor to Russian gas in Europe?

[4] M. E. Stonaker Energy Infrastructure As A Diplomatic Tool: The Arab Gas Pipeline. December, 2010.

[5] Isaev V. A., A. O. Filonik Qatar. The three pillars (socio-economic profile). M., 2015. P. 188

[6] the Arab State of the Water Reports. URL:

[7] Abbas A. The Study of the Possibility of Increasing Precipitation in Syria with the Help of Artificial Impact on the Cloud // PhD Dissertation. Central Aerological Observatory. Dolgoprudny (Russia), 1998. URL: .

[8] Shanta Devarajan. An Exposition Of The New Strategy. Promoting Peace and Stability In The Middle East And North Africa // World Bank Group. 2016.

Mashriq is a delicate matter. But very promising 06.04.2017

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