On the 8th of September an online meeting of the Helsinki Policy Forum was organised. It brought together officials and parliamentarians from the European External Action Service (EEAS), Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, the UAE, the UK, and the Order of Malta. Its aim was to reflect on key trends in the Gulf-MENA and identify where opportunities exist for de-escalation and cooperation.

The Gulf-MENA region remains in a period of profound upheaval. While positive developments occur, they happen sporadically. In contrast, challenges stem from systemic weaknesses that undermine the region’s long-term stability and security. The emergence of Covid-19 has accelerated these pre-existing trends. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the virus cannot be defeated by the efforts of any one state. The virus does not respect borders and if takes hold of one country, it will directly threaten the economic and health security of its neighbours. The pandemic therefore demands greater multilateralism – not only in coordinating responses to the virus but in de-escalating regional crises, the question is how this can be realised.

In addition to these larger trends, participants explored specific challenges, including the conflicts in Libya and Yemen; how to support the new government of Iraq; the economic crisis in Lebanon ; and the implications of the Abraham Accords. The further development of the Egypt-Iraq-Jordan trilateral arrangement was noted and seen as a potential model for other countries in the region to develop cooperation on shared challenges.