During the first plenary session of day two of the 9th Al Jazeera Media Forum entitled "Conflict and Change in the Arab World", a number of key officials emphasised the necessity of supporting the desire of the Arab peoples to attain freedom, stating that the fate of the Arab region is governed by the Arab leaders' ability to meet their peoples' demands.
Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, Qatar's deputy foreign minister for International Cooperation Affairs, confirmed that his country has always supported the Arab revolutions and that it shall continue favouring peace over war. Meanwhile, Advisor to the Iranian Foreign Ministry Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour authoritatively stated that Iran has been a victim of demonization, adding that Tehran shall remain inseparable from the Arab region and that cooperating with it will yield better results than attempting to contain or exclude it.
His Highness Shiekh Muhammad bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani started his speech by voicing his reservation about the title of the forum, "Conflict and Change in the Arab World", underlining that "the basis of Qatar's vision of its regional and international ties is dependent on spreading hope among peoples and encouraging both sides of the conflict to reconcile through dialogue in order to reach mutual visions that enable them to coexist peacefully". He emphasised that "Qatar has been committed to promoting positive mediation by including all factions and encouraging all nations equally to find common grounds for creating peace and stability".
His Highness also added, “We have never believed that war could resolve any problems. Upon the eruption of Arab Spring revolutions, which started peacefully, Qatar clearly stood beside the peoples and helped them in defending their rights to existence. Nevertheless, it has never stopped calling for dialogue and favoring political solutions".
Finally, he stressed, "We are all advocates of peace war and violence. Qatar supports peaceful political solutions in all disputes, conflicts, and issues of disagreement in the world. It wagers on dialogue as a means of achieving sustainable solutions".
Baroness Warsi: I resigned from my post when it conflicted with my values and principles.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former minister of state for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the United Kingdom, spoke about her personal experience in the British government and how she, the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant, assumed a very influential position.
The baroness said that she was a member of the British cabinet when the Arab Spring erupted and the British government had to deal with this new situation. No one could predict what would happen in the Arab world, so the government found itself facing the question of whether they should stand beside our friends or remain faithful to our values when they conflict with our interests as was the case during the colonial era. How could the United Kingdom have its young men involved in the throes of war in Libya?
She explained that, during those events, she was wondering whether the Arab region actually has a vision or merely sought to survive.
She declared, “The situation will not only change in the Arab arena but globally. The way the West responds now has changed and its desire to interfere in the Arab world has diminished. It can no longer afford massive military expenses”. "Is the Arab world ready to accept partners with no influence? Do they have solutions to regional problems?" she inquired.
Regarding Arab countries, she affirmed, "Due to my work at decision-making centres, our vision and decisions cannot be as clear as your visions".
Warsi also focused on the Palestinian issue, which was a turning point in her resignation from the government, as she "was shocked that the Arab world remained silent towards the aggression on Gaza. I was a government official in charge of communications with the United Nations. I did not realize kids in Gaza were tragically getting killed while playing football. I felt that my country's government needed sincerity. The government should have been prepared to act".
She added, "The popular rage of British masses could have been more than mere protests if countries in the region were more honest about resolving the crisis in the Middle East, or if the crisis was not just a game for them". "Following weeks of disputes, victory for my principles, beliefs, and British values of equity had to be achieved. Therefore, I resigned. Being accused of making political miscalculations was for me better than standing on the wrong side of history", she added.
The baroness made note of Qatar's stance on the Palestinian cause and the Arab revolutions. She said, "The state of Qatar spoke more frankly and tried to adopt consensus and peaceful solutions and offer necessary humanitarian support. Qatar should be proud of its stances”.
Relations between the Arabs and Iran
Advisor to the Iranian foreign minister Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour stressed at the beginning of his speech that he would speak as an academic, not as a diplomat.
He delivered a speech on the current relations between Iran and the Arabs, pointing out at the beginning of his speech that the region is experiencing a conceptual historical shift. He noted that there is a lot of militarisation and conflict in the region. He added that there are various political players, both Arab and non-Arab, including Iran, and that Arab countries cannot be detached from their non-Arab neighbours.
Sajjadpour maintained that there are three perceptions of relations between Iran and the Arab world, arguing that they are often exaggerated or misunderstood. He urged journalists to analyse these perceptions as they may very well be the cause of conflict.
He believes that many Arabs, including both hardcore anti-Iran writers and moderates, hold Tehran responsible for what is happening, explaining that "Iran has been used as a pretext to cover up incompetence, lack of democracy, sectarianism, setbacks and other issues”.
Iran is a player that cannot be ignored. It is an emerging player in the region. It is not seeking hegemony as some Arab writers believe. The secret behind Iran’s rise and excellence is that it adopted a largely institutional system after the revolution. The institutions made Iran internally strong. It also relied on itself to a large extent and underwent pressures over sanctions experienced by no other country in the modern times.
Furthermore, he expressed regret that the Arabs supported these sanctions based on the assumption that Iran has nuclear ambitions. He maintained that Iran is the only country in the region that established its security, with armament training, independently.
The Iranian official pointed out that one of the reasons for the rise of Iran is what he considers to be the miscalculations of other players such as the United States and the regional powers. These players have realised that there are other powers, aside from Iran, that are a source of danger.
He outlined the second perception of Iran’s relations with the countries of the region by saying, "Iran and its position have become more acceptable by others. The diplomatic process is yielding positive outcomes unlike before when the nuclear programme was rejected based on the assumption of ill intention. The peaceful purposes of Iran’s nuclear programme are now accepted".
In addition, he indicated that Iran was not in favour of a military solution for the Syrian issue, but some parties in the region were supporting extremist groups from which the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) emerged.
The third perception is based on the idea that Iran's relations with the countries of the region has become based on the necessity of acceptance and peace agreements for attempts during the last 30 years to contain, marginalise, and antagonise Iran have failed.
To elaborate, he suggested that
If we engage in negotiations [such those those related to the nuclear programme], cooperation in other issues can be achieved because diplomacy works. Containment and confrontations lead to bloodshed. I do not give advice to the neighboring countries, but I say - as an Iranian - that we have a political sphere through which we can bring about change.
He reiterated that the talk about Iran’s rise does not mean hegemony and arrogance, but national pride. Iran’s position has become more acceptable, and it is better to negotiate with it.
He addressed the Arab countries by saying: "The Arab players should understand that Iran is part of the solution to the regional issues, not part of the problem. They should understand that there are no solutions to the region's issues without Iran. If conceptions change, Iran can be part of the solution. But the Arab world faces difficulties because it neighbours Tehran”. Moreoever, he argued, "The internationalisation of issues is not a good thing; regional solutions should be reached. I would like to assert that Iran has an honest desire to cooperate with the countries of the region".
Finally, he concluded by averring, "The relations between Iran and the Arabs require a realistic analysis, not a sectarian or emotional one. Cooperation between Iran and the Arab parties is a necessity because it is a major key to the region. We cannot change the geography, but we can change our destiny though cooperation."