What Lies in Store for the Region in 2021?

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


2021 is seen across the region as a year rife with opportunities for improving economic performance, addressing climate-change concerns, as well as creating a more stable political and security environment. Whether the reality will match the aspirations of the various commentators and observers in the region remains to be seen. However, it is clear that after a difficult year, many are hoping 2021 will turn out to be a “dull” one.

Looking forward to 2021, Asharq Alawsat’s Zuhair Al-Harthi characterizes his mood as one of “cautious optimism,” noting the upward trends in both economic and security stabilization and, in particular, “the news about vaccines, the political developments, talk about a reconciliation and a Gulf Summit, breakthroughs in Libya, the formation of a new Yemeni government, improved oil prices, economic recoveries, and all other news…. With the United States’ strong return to the region, and with the presence of Russia and Chinese interest, many questions arise concerning the evolution of relations and resolution of issues. Thus, real change will emerge, whether it is escalation or its reverse. We do not know for sure; interpretations and speculations will continue until the right time comes, and we get the answer. What is important is that the world unites in such a way that confronts the dangers and challenges of the new state of affairs endangering its security and stability.”

Not surprisingly, the fight against Covid-19 remains a major preoccupation for many observers. For example, writing for Tehran Times, Faranak Bakhtiari urges more international cooperation to deal with a “global health crisis [that] threatens to overwhelm already overstretched health systems, disrupt global supply chains, and cause disproportionate devastation of the livelihoods of people, including women and children, and the economies of the poorest and most vulnerable countries. In the event of the absence of international attention, future epidemics could surpass previous outbreaks in terms of intensity and gravity. There is a great need of raising awareness, the exchange of information, scientific knowledge and best practices, quality education, and advocacy programs on epidemics at the local, national, regional, and global levels as effective measures to prevent and respond to epidemics…. We need to recognize the primary role and responsibility of Governments and the indispensable contribution of relevant stakeholders in tackling global health challenges, especially women, who make up the majority of the world’s health workers.”

Others see 2021 as a turning point in the fight against climate change, especially given the experience of the last year, where the temporary halt of human activity in some areas had such positive effects for the environment. That is an argument that Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, CEO of Alliances for Global Sustainability and a member of the UAE royal family, makes in a recent op-ed for The National: “2020 has shown us that when global supply chains are impacted, resources need to be managed differently…. We have clearly shown what can be achieved when we work together during these difficult times, be it on a domestic or global level. We now need to work together to find a solution for a bigger threat to humanity: climate change…. We have only one habitable planet and every individual action that damages the Earth affects us all, as does every individual action towards conservation. My hope for 2021 is that we will continue to work together, rather than in silos, as we strive for a global green recovery.”

Prsha Abubakr Othman, a graduate of American University of Iraq–Sulaimani, expresses a similar view on the pages of the Iraqi Kurdish daily Rudaw, urging the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and others in the region to turn their attention to greener sources of energy: “Now more than ever we are in need of political motivation and the support necessary to make climate action targets and move ahead with an energy transition plan. I believe there are three important areas to reduce carbon emissions and support low carbon pathways for sustainability: adoption of a balanced energy transition by the oil and gas companies, support for renewable energy projects, and a shift towards economic diversification…. Last but not least, the government needs to support talented youth who are promoting action on climate change and engage with them in the decision-making and implementation of an energy transition. Investment in clean technology and divestment from fossil fuels should be topics of everyday conversations in the world and the Kurdistan Region to build a better future that is more sustainable, clean, and safe.”

Meanwhile, Israeli observer Moshe Klughaft, a political-campaign adviser, expresses some relief that, at least by his account, 2021 may usher in an “era of boredom for Israeli politics.” In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Klughaft asserts, “After three rounds of elections that looked like one long election, with no dramatic differences in the results, it looks like the 2021 election is going to be one of the most fascinating elections seen in our country. Why is it so interesting? Because it can bring boredom…. Ideology – Right or Left, for sovereignty or against, for a Palestinian state or against, for a free market or for the Histadrut, for LGBT rights or against, for public transportation on Shabbat or against. And, who knows? we might even get to see the parties advertise, perish the thought, platforms…. Another important parameter for the age of boredom: Return to professional politicians and managers…. Even Gadi Eisenkot’s decision not to run in the election symbolizes a spirit of turning one’s back on ‘stars’ and ‘Messiahs’, and he seems to have realized this in time.”

Of course, not missing from the prognostications for the new year are also editorials and op-eds related to the threat of violence and regional instability. However, despite the challenging reality, Jordan Times’ Amer Al Sabaileh points out that the “shared border with Syria could be an advantage rather than a disadvantage, and while national security should always be the highest priority, there must also be a longer-term view which takes into consideration the fact that Syria needs rebuilding and, given our geography, this is an opportunity for Jordan to play a key role or as an international hub for those efforts. Similar opportunities exist with Iraq, so restoring those relations should be a high priority as well. Jordan’s relationship with Saudi Arabia must also be developed, based on a strategic approach with closer military and security ties so that the Jordanian Army and the General Intelligence Department can build their relationship based on mutual strategic interest… to become a strategic regional ally.”

Writing for the Egyptian weekly Al Ahram, Mostafa Ahmady expresses some frustration with Egypt’s slow progress since the 2011 Tahrir Square Revolution and argues for the government “to do more to empower a liberal and secular civil society in Egypt that promotes difference as long as it is exercised in a peaceful and non-compulsive way.  The further promotion of personal liberties and the firm honoring of the rule of law are essential if Egypt is to proceed with a final and lasting solution to the atrocities committed under the name of ‘religion’. Above all, committing to the constitutional stipulation on the prohibition of all faith-based parties is now a more pressing need than ever. Such policies may serve as a shield to prevent the recurrence of the kind of dark scenario that was seen in 2012, when many ordinary people elected, voluntarily or not, a group that publicly preaches violence and regrettably instilled false thoughts into the minds of millions, causing them to elect it to the government of Egypt.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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