Displaying items by tag: Peace and Security
The recent announcement of a China-brokered deal to restore diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran has been hailed as a major breakthrough for the Middle East and a significant achievement for Beijing’s diplomacy. The deal, which was made public on March 11, 2023, ended more than six years of formal estrangement and decades of enmity between the two regional rivals, which have been locked in a proxy war in Yemen and have supported opposing sides in other conflicts such as Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
The deal also marked China’s first attempt at mediating a dispute in the Middle East, a region that has traditionally been dominated by the US and its allies. China, which is a top oil importer and trading partner for both Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been expanding its economic and strategic interests in the region while maintaining a policy of non-interference in its internal affairs. By facilitating the rapprochement between Riyadh and Tehran, Beijing has demonstrated its ability to play a constructive role in the region and offer an alternative vision to the US-led global order.
The Saudi-Iran deal has important implications for the Middle East and beyond. It could pave the way for a more durable solution to the Yemen war, which has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and threatened regional stability. It could also reduce the risk of escalation and confrontation between Iran and its adversaries, such as Israel, the US and some Gulf states, over its nuclear programme and its involvement in other regional issues. Moreover, it could create new opportunities for cooperation and dialogue among Middle Eastern countries on common challenges such as security, development, energy and climate change.
The deal also offers some valuable diplomatic lessons for Asean, a regional organisation that comprises 10 Southeast Asian countries with diverse political, economic and cultural backgrounds. Asean has been facing several challenges in recent years, such as the rise of China, the US-China rivalry, the Covid-19 pandemic, the Myanmar coup and the South China Sea disputes. These challenges have tested Asean’s unity, cohesion and relevance as a regional actor.
One lesson that Asean can learn from the Saudi-Iran deal is the importance of dialogue and engagement among countries with different interests and perspectives. Despite their deep-rooted animosity and mistrust, Saudi Arabia and Iran were able to overcome their differences and reach common ground with the help of China’s mediation. This shows that dialogue is possible, even among adversaries, as long as there is political will, mutual respect and a shared desire for peace and stability.
Another lesson Asean can learn from the deal is the need for pragmatism and flexibility in dealing with external powers. Saudi Arabia and Iran both recognised that their relationship with China was vital for their economic development and strategic interests and that they could not afford to alienate Beijing by rejecting its offer of mediation. They also realised that improving their ties with each other would not necessarily jeopardise their ties with other partners, such as the US, Russia or Europe. This shows that countries can balance their relations with multiple powers without compromising their sovereignty or principles.
A third lesson that Asean can learn from the deal is the value of regional cooperation and integration. Saudi Arabia and Iran both acknowledged that their rivalry was detrimental to their own interests and the interests of the region as a whole. They agreed to work together to address common challenges and to promote regional cooperation through existing mechanisms such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Gulf Cooperation Council. This shows that countries can benefit from regional cooperation and integration by enhancing their collective security, prosperity and influence.
In the specific context of Malaysia, these diplomatic lessons can be translated into supporting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s ongoing efforts in promoting Asean centrality and unity in dealing with the South China Sea issue, such as with Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. A substantive and functional Code of Conduct should be negotiated with China as soon as possible, and the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea should be put into effect. This can be done by fostering dialogue and collaboration with China through Asean-led venues such as the Asean-China Communication Partnership, the Asean Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit, and the Asean-Dialogue Partnership for a 21st Century.
Besides, the overarching need to preserve the entire South China Sea as a zone of peace and neutrality as envisaged and respected all these years should be a central concern of not only Asean but also China and the US.
Additionally, both China’s Global Security Initiative and Anwar’s Malaysia Madani are visions that value dialogue, respect and sustainability as the basis for security and civilisation. Through dialogue and mutual respect, both seek to foster peace and harmony, address non-traditional security threats, support a multipolar world order, and create a more just and inclusive world. This common vision can serve as a meeting point for better cooperation between China and Malaysia, as they can collaborate on areas of mutual interest and benefit, such as trade, investment, infrastructure, green technology and digital economy.
In conclusion, the Saudi-Iran rapprochement brokered by China is a significant development for the Middle East and global politics. It has positive implications for peace, stability, economic development and cooperation in the region and beyond. It also provides some useful diplomatic lessons for Asean, which can apply them to its context and challenges.
Dr Syed Azman Syed Ahmad Nawawi is the CEO of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.
Published in The Edge Malaysia on Monday, 17 July 2023.
The recent arbitrary arrest of Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's Ennahda party, by President Kais Saied has brought Tunisia's political turmoil to the limelight.
The 81-year-old Ghannouchi reportedly was breaking his fast on the 27th day of Ramadan when nearly 100 policemen raided his house and took him into custody.
Later, he was ordered detained after eight hours of investigation following a trumped-up charge brought against him for incitement against state authorities.
This was a akin to imprisoning Ghannouchi, as part of a general move by President Kais Saied's ongoing crackdown on his political opponents.
Since his self-coup in July 2021 when the president dissolved the parliament in which Ghannouchi was the speaker, President Saied has dismantled every democratic institution in the country to consolidate power through a hyper-presidential system.
At the same time, he has jailed his critics that include politicians, former judges and government officials, business people, trade unionists, and journalists. Furthermore, the day after Ghannouchi's arrest, the Tunisian authorities also closed the Ennahda party headquarters.
Since the Arab Spring in 2011, Tunisia has been seen as a beacon of hope for democratic change in the MENA region. As the largest party in the Tunisian parliament and a member of the ruling coalition, the Ennahda party under the leadership of Ghannouchi has been a key player in Tunisia's post-revolutionary politics and is largely credited for the country's democratic transition.
As a moderate Islamist party with a self-styled "Muslim Democrat" branding, Ennahda's success to maintain power has been a result of its willingness to work within the democratic system, respect the rule of law, and promote pluralism and tolerance through power-sharing agreement with other political players in Tunisia.
At the same time, despite being perceived as an Islamist movement, Ennahda has been more cautious in setting up its reform agenda. Thus, Ghannouchi has repeatedly affirmed that his party priority after gaining power is not to immediately 'Islamize' the country.
Instead, its main concerns are to uphold the country's democracy and the rule of law and boost its economic growth with a focus on the wellbeing of its people which is seen in line with the objectives of the syariah (maqasid al-shari'a).
Therefore, whereby its Egyptian counterpart, the Muslim Brotherhood under Mohamed Morsi failed to maintain power and was unfortunately overthrown in a military coup, Ennahda has continued to survive and enjoyed growing support from a broad cross-section of Tunisian society helping the country's stability and progress.
However, the rise of President Saied has undone much of the democratic development in Tunisia. Since taking office in 2019, he has steadily increased his power, using the pretext of the Covid-19 pandemic to bypass parliament and take unilateral decisions.
He has undermined the independence of the judiciary, dismissed the prime minister and other senior officials, and imposed curfews and restrictions on civil society organizations and the media.
His efforts to govern without a functioning parliament and to rule by decree during the July 2021 self-coup have faced stiff opposition from Ennahda and other parties, who have accused him of authoritarianism.
Thus, the recent arrest of Ghannouchi and the broader crackdown on the opposition movement are clear examples of the president's authoritarian tactics. The repercussions of President Saied's crackdown on the Tunisian Muslim democrat could be far-reaching.
First and foremost, Tunisia has been seen as the sole successful model for democratic transition in the Arab and Muslim world and it has become evident how the proponent of the Islamist movement may peacefully partake and even flourish in this democratic endeavour.
Thus, if President Saied succeeds in crushing the opposition, it will set back all of the democratic efforts and bring
back Tunisia to the old way of authoritarianism which is so hard to turn back.
But, a more alarming backlash of this lies in the discrediting of all of the peaceful democratic efforts made by moderate Islamists such as Ennahda.
This could have a knock-on effect, leading to disillusionment among moderate Islamists and pushing them towards hard-line and extremist groups. This is a worry which could ultimately destabilize the region and undermine efforts towards peace and stability.
Hence, it is imperative that the international community speaks out against President Saied's actions and call for the immediate release of Ghannouchi and other political prisoners.
Tunisia's democratic progress must not be undone, and its people must be allowed to continue on their path towards a more open and tolerant society.
Lasting peace, security and stability have always been the core tenets of Asean from the outset. It is with great belief that the objectives can be attained through a non-interference principle and respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.
In the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on Asean 2025 adopted in 2015, leaders of all Asean member states reiterated the ZOPFAN concept of Southeast Asia as a zone of peace, freedom and neutrality. The idea was agreed upon by the five founding member states of Asean, namely Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, in November 1971.
The much anticipated Asean Leader's Meeting 12 days ago has simply continued reaffirming Asean principles towards a peaceful, secure and stable region. The chairman's statement, nevertheless, set the record straight, diplomatically and adhering to the principles of mutual respect among member states, that the region must be socio-economically and politically in harmony and prosperous.
Amid all the preambulatory statements, from managing and recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic to strengthening external relations with countries such as China, the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom, the most sought-after statement lies in the final two. They are Asean's stance towards the political turmoil of its member state, Myanmar. With a lot of media fanfare, the audacity of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who staged the coup in February, to attend the meeting, made the meeting look cynical. However, the statement on the situation in Myanmar signified Asean's priority of having a rules-based community in which its people enjoy human rights, fundamental freedoms and social justice, values of toleration and moderation.
Furthermore, the situation in the Rakhine State, Myanmar, which exacerbated during 2017's military crackdown, is also singled out in the statement. Ironically, Min Aung Hlaing was accused of being the architect of the atrocities that saw more than half a million Rohingys displaced. Instead, the very same person was reported in the meeting as having heard the concern of other states and even considered the points raised as helpful.
Therefore, coupled with the Asean's non-interference principles that hitherto has prevented any substantial progress, particularly on the Rohingya issue, the statement would always be perceived with scepticism, albeit the good intention that it aspires towards.
The five-point consensus attached with the statement shall serve as ignition in ending the political saga in Myanmar. The five-point consensus started with a call for the immediate cessation of violence, although calls for the release of political detainees were not explicitly included. Secondly, a reconciliation process through constructive dialogue should take place, through, thirdly, the mediation of a special envoy of the Asean chair with the assistance of the Asean secretary-general.
The fourth and fifth point ask for the safe passage of humanitarian aid and the visit by the special envoy to the country.
The role of a special envoy in facilitating reconciliation and democratisation in Myanmar is not something new. Despite falling short on many occasions for any meaningful outcome, such a mission provides a glimpse into how the junta could be approached and how national reconciliation between opposing parties should be carried out, as penned by the former first UN Special Envoy to Myanmar, Tan Sri Razali Ismail.
The importance of this five-point consensus could not be overemphasised towards guaranteeing lasting security and stability in the region. This is evidenced in the influx of refugees from Myanmar, mostly of Rohingyas, to neighbouring countries. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 2019 reported that Myanmar is the fifth-largest source of refugees globally, with 1.1 million have been displaced. More than 742,000 Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh, 120,000 are internally displaced in the Rakhine state, about 153,000 in Malaysia, and about 93,000 in Thailand.
Myanmar's internal crisis at this scale needs swift action to avoid more bloodshed as reports emerged that clashes continue to erupt. The five-point consensus needs to be hastened to prevent the crisis from escalating further, thus, jeopardising the security and stability of the region. Perhaps on a more serious note, the Asean Troika should be activated to address this urgent situation for an effective and timely impact on regional peace and stability.
The writer is a research officer at Parliament of Malaysia.
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 05 May 2021