Arab world key to new multipolarity

Region can unite to form important component of a changing globe, with support from China, others

The global governance structure is democratizing and multipolarizing — economically, politically, financially, culturally, and militarily. The recent initiatives of the Arabs to address challenges and enhance integration in their region are contributing to regional and global multipolarity. Just as a major power shift is taking place at the global level, many sub-global shifts are happening at regional levels, especially in the Middle East. 

The Arab world is going through major changes as old paradigms are being broken and new future-oriented thinking is being embraced. The new Arab leaders are more ambitious about their place in the world and less conventional in their plans to achieve Arab prosperity. They are doing away with old dogmas and implementing new bold initiatives domestically, regionally, and globally. The signs that a new Arab world is emerging — led by the key trio of the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — are hard to miss. They are the top three Arab economies, forming a growing nucleus for broader Arab cooperation and integration. 

The Arabs are blazing a new trail in their foreign relations, rebalancing regional power architecture, and diversifying strategic partnerships with global powers. They no longer view their interests through the outdated prism of only security and energy, which for too long dominated their worldview. Their interests are expanding, covering a wide range of fields from technology and science to infrastructure investment and space exploration. The Arabs are going beyond traditional relations and building solid partnerships with re-emerging and rising powers such as China, India, Russia, Brazil, and Indonesia. 

They are joining developing countries’ organizations and initiatives such as the BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Belt and Road Initiative, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and New Development Bank. These multilateral platforms and initiatives are offering the world, including the Arabs, alternatives to the post-World War II organizations such as the IMF and World Bank. While the Washington consensus and its organizations are becoming less relevant and less fit-for-purpose, the new groupings are progressively viewed as a nucleus for the new emerging world order. 

Becoming more self-confident and self-reliant, the Arabs are now taking initiatives to handle their regional challenges on their own with some support from trusted global partners. The conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya are being regionally resolved and the region is gradually returning to stability. The Arabs are becoming more convinced that solutions to their regional conflicts should come from the region itself — not from nonregional powers who have their own selfish interests. Global powers such as China and India, whose interests are increasingly aligned with those of the region, can offer support for regional reconciliation. However, tackling regional disputes can be done primarily through intra-regional efforts as have been demonstrated by Saudi-Iran rapprochement and Syria’s renormalization, which China has sponsored and supported, respectively.

The Arab leaders, especially those of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, have been working tirelessly to unite the Arabs as one important pole in the emerging multipolar world. Not too long ago, the idea of having a common Arab market, currency and central bank was considered by many Arabs and foreigners alike as an impossibility. Now, the idea is seen as a strategic choice for future Arab prosperity.

The Arabs are pursuing initiatives to develop and integrate their economies from the Gulf to the Levant and North Africa. The Gulf Cooperation Council states recently announced that their electricity networks would connect with Iraq’s grid to boost power generation capacity and reliability. In May 2022, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan signed an agreement on Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Growth, focusing on five major industries: food agriculture and fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, textiles, minerals and petrochemicals. Saudi Arabia announced the Middle East Green Initiative to accelerate green energy transition across the region.

The Arabs understand that picking sides during the current great power rivalry does not serve their strategic objectives. They know that the world is already beyond unipolarity and that multipolarity is the future. Just as the BRICS+ and Shanghai Cooperation Organization are being viewed as a nucleus for the new multipolar order, the Arab alliance of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Bahrain is considered the basis for Arab unity and a nucleus for an emerging multipolar Middle East. 

The Arab world is a pivotal region in the current great power competition. The regional and global leaders are acutely aware that the Arabs’ decision about their future strategic direction will help determine the victors of the current great power competition. The Arabs should actively shape their regional order and contribute to emerging global multipolarity. The Arabs must maintain their strategic autonomy and seek more agency in the current fluid state of global affairs.

The Arabs should never allow foreigners to impose their vision and values on them. The Arabs should make sure that the Arab world of the next 100 years will be different from that of the last 100 years. They must not allow their region to become a battleground for external powers. 

They should focus on unlocking the region’s full potential. They must do their best to take advantage of the rising opportunities in the rapidly changing world. The vision of some Arab leaders to be a formidable pole in a multipolar world is a source of inspiration to many Arabs. They should maintain their sense of optimism and self-confidence, and rally as many Arabs as possible behind their evolving worthwhile vision.

The author is former adviser to the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Executive Office, an authority responsible for Abu Dhabi’s long-term strategies, and former head of the strategy division of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. He is a China-based strategist and Asia Global Fellow at the Asia Global Institute of the University of Hong Kong. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.