Professor Francesco Mancini is currently Associate Dean (Academic Affairs) and Visiting Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), NUS.
As part of a webinar series for alumni, he led a webinar this semester titled ‘Middle East Explained: Power and Conflict in the Most Dangerous Region of the World’.
Bernard Oh (MPP’ 11)
“I commend the School's effort to make learning accessible even for alumni. I attended Prof. Mancini's webinar via the phone because it was convenient, interactive and time-efficient.
I could have missed out on this great learning opportunity, had the lecture been conducted in school as I was between two appointments elsewhere. I would encourage the School to continue to offer more dial-in/Internet-enabled options for future lectures/seminars.”
Three Layers of Analysis
While showing the map of Middle Eastern and North African countries, he emphasized upon the complex nature and difficulties of understanding this troubled region. This is mainly due to how social media only focuses on breaking news with large-scale crises, whereas policymakers must solve day-to-day issues.
He suggested the need to consider the following three layers for analysis:
1) Old (History): Need to understand past regimes, contexts, and momentous events
2) New (New Dynamics): Related to evolutions, transitions and complications
3) External (Foreign Interventions): Long-term playground for major powers inside and outside the region
The Crisis Triangle
The problem is not simply about data and facts, but also about perceptions and narratives. He pointed out three clusters of challenges facing the Middle East:
1) Geopolitical Changes: A key factor is the rise of Iran and its nuclear deal with the US because a normalization of Iran would fuel animosity from the region’s traditional players such as Saudi Arabia. Arms race is another hotbed for regional hostility, evidenced by $100 billion spent by Gulf countries on weaponry orders with the US, Canada, Russia, and China.
2) Political Instability: In specific, the 2011-2012 Arab Spring was caused by socioeconomic crises with unaddressed root causes among which are the population growth, high youth unemployment rate, budget deficits, excessive dependency on oil/energy, failure in quality of knowledge to equip market skills for job search, as well as gender issues and women’s rights.
3) Radicalism: Notably, violent extremism such as ISIS has caused great global concerns. Furthermore, terrorism has not only affected Middle East, but also countries with Muslim populations, specifically Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
Questions and Responses
Would there be a spill-over impact of the Shia-Sunni conflict in Middle East on Asia?
Countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan are more likely to be affected, especially with foreign investments from Saudi Arabia. With regard to Southeast Asia, he would be more worried about radicalism via ISIS activities. That said, he reassured that this conflict had a small chance of escalating to be confrontational.
What is your personal recommendation for peace resolutions for this region?
Prof. Mancini cautiously responded that there might not be enough political space for resolution. For instance, America’s role as a negotiator in Middle East has diminished due to its recent controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Hence, he suggested avoiding feeding the sectarian narratives and using military force as the main tool to deal with problems only of social or political nature.
Would there be an emerging political leader or party in the region?
Prof. Mancini stated that he was quite uncertain about rising leadership from a particular country, although he admitted that Saudi Arabia has been progressing in a more open, liberal way with recent developments in its economic and social reforms. Indeed, he advocated again the role of a stable, legitimate leader, for which Saudi Arabia could be a promising fit.
How could access to Internet help this region integrate better with the rest of the world?
The Middle East has a strong Internet base, besides the widespread use of smart phones and other advanced devices. In fact, the Arab Springs was claimed to have been enabled by the Internet penetration. Another example was the filming and distribution of the Syrian violence, thus triggering a wide range of reactions from across the globe.
Can we think of a scenario in which Middle East could grow like India and China?
Prof. Mancini emphasized that this comparison was quite unreasonable, mostly because the region’s political instability has undermined all of its socioeconomic potential. On the other hand, despite their current challenges, India and China have established more solid governance.
You can watch the full webinar here.
Expert’s Bio: Professor Mancini is also an Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). His work focuses on global governance, United Nations, conflict analysis and resolution. Before joining LKYSPP, he was Senior Director of Research at the International Peace Institute (IPI) in New York - an independent, international think-tank devoted to the prevention and settlement of armed conflicts. For his detailed profile, please visit: http://lkyspp.nus.edu.sg/our-people/our-faculty/faculty-profile/francesco-mancini/