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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MENARA (MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE: MAPPING GEOPOLITICAL SHIFTS, REGIONAL ORDER AND DOMESTIC TRANSFORMATIONS)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2019-03-31

The MENARA Project identified five main objectives:
(1) To conceptualize the notions of “order” and “region” in light of the geopolitical shifts underway in the Middle East and North Africa.
(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.

Thus, the project has a multifaceted nature: explanatory (what is happening, why and by whom?), prospective (how could this situation evolve and which are the drivers of change?) and prescriptive (which are the policy options for the EU?).

This project has been designed and implemented in a context in which the region has become more volatile and the EU has become more aware of the importance of this region. MENARA depicts a situation in which regional conflicts proliferate and intersect, where different local, regional and global actors have a say and forge liquid alliances among them and where the effects of instability in the region reach Europe in different forms. Researching this complexity has been a challenge but also one of the added values of this project.

At the end of the project, a document with 15 key takeaways was published and widely disseminated (see image)
MENARA provides a bottom-up assessment of local, regional and global dynamics in the MENA region and their projection into the future. The findings are based on numerous fact-finding missions covering 30 countries from the region and beyond, almost 300 face-to-face interviews, a Delphi survey with 71 experts, 3 focus groups (Brussels, Rabat and Beirut) and 2 stakeholders meetings (Istanbul and Rome).

The project was divided in four phases.
• The first one aimed at reaching a common conceptual and analytical framework with a particular focus on clarifying the notion of regional order, the limits of this region, the importance of historical factors and the interplay between domestic, regional and global levels of analysis.
• The second one looked at material and ideational factors shaping the regional order. This includes, among other, key issues such as the links between religion and politics, nationalism, militarisation, energy, demographic and environmental factors.
• The third phase zoomed in into specific actors and cooperative and conflictual dynamics. This effort covered the three levels of analysis (domestic, regional and global)
• Finally, the fourth and concluding phase of the project aimed at characterising the regional order and assessed the intensity and direction of changes since 2011. It also built scenarios for the medium and long-term futures and identified policy-options for the EU.

During the whole duration of the project communication has been fundamental pillar of this collective endeavour. MENARA reached out to different audiences, thus bridging the gap between policy, research and practice. The dissemination activities have been fully integrated in the research activities. The projects website has been constantly updated. Every two months, MENARA has sent a newsletter to more than 13.000 subscribers summarizing all the research activities and events conducted by the researchers within the project. Also, the research activities have been disseminated through the social media, Twitter (@MenaraH2020) and Facebook (Menara2020). The researchers also delivered informed comments to several media outlet in Europe and the MENA region and have written Op-ed for the MENARA blog on the Huffington Post Maghreb.

At the policy-level, the members of the project kept regular contact with their national ministries and the coordinator has also liaised with European institutions regularly. The coordinator was invited to present preliminary results of MENARA in the European Parliament and in the EEAS. The project also organized two Stakeholder meetings targeting expert, policy-makers and academics working in the MENA and a final conference in March 2019 attended by more than 200 Brussels-based decision-makers and members of the EU institutions staff. This conference was opened by the High Representative and VP of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini.

Finally, the project produced specific products to further communicate the results:
• 20 infographics and maps that visualise the main research outcomes of the project.
• 5 time-lines on the Middle East and North Africa,
• 28 videos (MENARA voices)
• 4 booklets translating the results of the research for specific target audiences (academia, humanitarian sector, business and development agencies).
MENARA has made a significant progress in establishing a methodology combining the analysis of domestic, regional and global dynamics. It also proved that a thorough academic analysis and field-work is key when projecting trends and building scenarios. Similarly, the identification of needs and perception in the region as a preliminary step is what helped the project define policy-option which go beyond conventional considerations of the EU interests and priorities.

All in all, the contributions of the MENARA project (see image with the key takeaways) are relevant both in academic and political terms. They provide an analytical framework that can be applied even beyond the MENA region and updated information and analysis on unfolding events (e.g. the war in Syria, Libya’s militiaization process, the GCC crisis).

In relation to the project initial expectations, MENARA confirms the need to combine the three levels of analysis not only to better understand the reality but also when attempting to change it (e.g. when defining strategies for conflict resolution). It also concludes that while there have been major transformations since 2011 the situation can be best described as a change within the order rather than a change of order. The project confirms that when analysing geopolitical dynamics the idea of the MENA regional scope is better suited that a EU-centred Mediterranean approach but that is key to grasp the peculiarities of specific sub regions (Maghreb, Gulf) and the connections with neighbouring regions (Sahel, Horn of Africa). Finally, the project identifies the factors that could lead to a new phase of region-wide popular uprisings and a subsequent repression. Those factors are bad governance (especially corruption), repression, inequalities (with job unemployment and territorial disparities in the forefront) and environmental degradation. The concentration of these four factors in specific territories should allow researchers and policy-makers identify priority areas.

The potential impact of this project will be felt in the popularisation of a multi-level analysis, a more robust and frequent exchange between research and decision-makers circles and specific contributions on specific issues on which MENARA has put major efforts such as regional alliance formation patterns, the Maghreb-Sahel insecurity nexus or the embeddedness of the region in global dynamics.