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MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE: MAPPING GEOPOLITICAL SHIFTS, REGIONAL ORDER AND DOMESTIC TRANSFORMATIONS

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MENARA (MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE: MAPPING GEOPOLITICAL SHIFTS, REGIONAL ORDER AND DOMESTIC TRANSFORMATIONS)

Reporting period: 2016-04-01 to 2017-03-31

Over the past decade, the South and East Mediterranean Countries (SEMCs) and the Middle East have witnessed profound geopolitical shifts, prompting extraordinary levels of unpredictability and instability. At the domestic level, various deep-reaching social and political changes have been unfolding amid contestation processes since 2010.
The effects of new patterns of contestation during the so-called Arab Spring live side by side with long-lasting domestic dynamics such as sustained demographic pressures (youth bulge, rural exodus) and the polarization of sectarian politics and communal strife.
At the same time, other geopolitical shifts like the growing importance of violent and non-violent non-state actors, nuclear proliferation, failed and fragile states, forced migrations and changes in the distribution of natural resources are reshaping many of the traditional features of the pre-2011 geopolitical order, while others may have the potential to do so in the near future. Consequently, understanding the nature, scope and depth of these transformations becomes crucial for fully evaluating how the regional geopolitical future may look like.
The Middle East and North Africa Regional Architecture: Mapping geopolitical shifts, regional order and domestic transformations (hereafter, the MENARA Project) studies the geopolitical order in the making, identifies the driving forces behind it, sheds light on bottom-up dynamics and assesses the implications of these processes on the EU and its policies towards the region.
In order to do so, the MENARA Project poses a single all- encompassing question to help articulate a consistent and coherent research project: Will the geopolitical future of the region be marked by either centrifugal or centripetal dynamics or a combination of both? The project is articulated in three levels of analysis (domestic, regional and global). To answer this research question we examine how it is translated and applied at each of these levels.
MENARA OBJECTIVES
(1) To conceptualise the notions of “order” and “region” in light of the geopolitical shifts underway in the SEMCs and the Middle East.
(2) To identify and map the domestic, regional and global dynamics and trends that shape the regional order.
(3) To identify and map the key domestic, regional and global actors that shape the regional order, and enhance knowledge of their mutual relations and interdependence.
(4) To build future scenarios for mid-term (2025) and long-term (2050) timeframes.
(5) To inform EU policies and strategies through policy-relevant analysis and the production of targeted policy recommendations based on systematic evaluation.
In the first year of the Project (from April 2016 to March 2017) Phase 1 (Conceptualising) was completed and Phase 2 (Framing) is currently active. The MENARA research team has carried out the necessary research to, produced and published three Methodology and Concept Papers. The first one, entitled Re-Conceptualizing Orders in the Mena Region, provides the analytical framework of the whole project. The paper: (a) traces back the major historical junctures in which key powers shaped the defining features of the present-day MENA region; (b) sets the geographical scope of the project, maps the distribution of power and defines regional order and its main features; (c) examines the domestic orders in a changing region by gauging and tracing the evolution of four trends, namely the erosion of state capacity, the securitization of regime policies, the militarization of contention, and the pluralization of collective identities; (d) links developments in the global order to their impact on the region in terms of power, ideas, norms and identities; (e) and finally it proposes a methodology to project trends and build scenarios. The second is entitled On the Importance of Ideas, Identities and Values in the MENA Region. After presenting an overview of the debate on the concepts of ideas, norms and identities in the field of international relations, and their relevance in the non-West, the paper proceeds, based on literature essentially developed in the region and by local scholars, to the discussion of three specific norms in the MENA region: ‘Asabiya as a pre-existing norm that is key to understanding political developments in the region; Umma as a norm that has been revisited and redefined in order to be useful in the region; and nationalism as a norm adopted from the West which has had to be adapted to the needs and developments in the region. The third is entitled Material Factors for the MENA Region: Data Sources, Trends and Drivers. It selects key datasets for understanding past and present demographic, environmental, energy, economic and military transformations. It introduces the key literature relating to each factor and it identifies the most appropriate databases to assess the conditions in the MENA region. The paper concludes with an assessment of the relative role of material factors in shaping the regional order and the policy options available to the European Union. All these three Methodology and Concept Papers will inform upcoming phases of the MENARA Project.

Additionally, MENARA has also published five Future Notes (shorter research pieces with a strong foresight analysis dimension) on the following topics: Implications of the EU Global Strategy for the Middle East and North Africa; The New US President: Implications for the Middle East and North Africa; Energy Relations between Turkey and Israel; A New Phase in Turkish Foreign Policy: Expediency and AKP Survival; and Precarious Resilience: Tunisia’s Libyan Predicament.

Besides, the MENARA consortium has organized a major free-access public event in Barcelona in May 2016; the participation of the researchers associated with the project in different international symposia and collaborations with public mass media; and the organization of some meetings with political stakeholders in different European capitals.
Two main progresses going beyond the state-of-the arts have achieved by the end of the first year of the project. The first is that a theoretical and analytical framework has been developed and it's being applied which integrates three levels of analysis (domestic, regional and global) that are often treated separately. MENARA is currently exploring how domestic developments impact on regional dynamics and vice versa and also the relation between the global order and the regional one. In that vein, the project is taking an innovative approach by looking at dynamics like the securitization of opposition politics or the accommodation of communitarian diversity as ingredients of emerging domestic orders. Similarly, the project team has started reflecting on whether tensions in what it is often referred to as the “social contract” are replicated in the articulation of potential “regional and global contracts”.

The second progress is the introduction of a methodology that forces all streams of research to incorporate an intra-temporal approach. Thus, MENARA systematically looks at the origins of existing dynamics and identifies previous critical junctures. It also examines unfolding events, identifying driving forces and mapping constellations of relevant actors. It then projects those aspects into the future, with a particular emphasis in the identification of areas of vulnerability, game-changers and mega-trends.
MENARA Project Leaflet