On the 9th-10th of December, Forward Thinking convened a meeting of the Helsinki Policy Forum’s Working Group. At the meeting, senior representatives from Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey met with European counterparts from Finland, France, Germany, UK and EU to discuss recent developments in the Gulf-MENA region and the practical steps that policymakers can take to improve the prospects for stability and security.

Conflict continues to grip large parts of the Middle East, not least in Syria and Yemen. Relations between key states remain fraught, creating the possibility of further escalation. Long-term challenges remain unaddressed, even as new crises emerge, stretching the ability of policymakers to respond. Beyond issues of geopolitics, large parts of the region still need to set themselves on the path of faster growth and more sustainable development, as demonstrated by the recent protests in Algeria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Yet amidst these challenges, there are tentative signs for optimism. In Syria, the newly formed constitutional committee has begun its work, which if successful, could represent a first step towards a political solution. In Yemen, a growing fatigue on all sides may be creating opportunities for diplomacy, with the recent talks between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis representing a positive development. Meanwhile a growing number of politicians in the region have discussed the need for regional crises and conflicts to be resolved politically rather than militarily.

Participants at the Berlin meeting examined these issues in-depth and outlined an agenda for activities at the Helsinki Policy Forum in 2020.

The Helsinki Policy Forum is supported through a grant from the Foreign Ministry of Finland for core running costs.  The Steering Group meeting in Berlin, 10th December was made possible with a grant from the German Federal Foreign Office’s Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen (IFA).