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HomeBlogCharting a New Path for Canadian Engagement with the Middle East

Charting a New Path for Canadian Engagement with the Middle East

Image credit: Office of the Prime Minister

By Dr. Jeremy Wildeman

This article is published as part of IPD’s project and policy paper series, Deconstructing the Changing Middle East Security Architecture.

The Middle East plays a critical part in international politics and the global economy. This makes it naturally important for Canada and millions of Canadians who have ties to the region. Yet, Canada is criticized today for not having a coherent Middle East policy that adequately reflects the realities of the region or defines a long-term strategy to protect and advance its interests in this part of the world. This article offers recommendations on how to address such a deficit by first reviewing Canada’s historical engagement with the Middle East, particularly its effective role in influencing regional events during the Cold War and in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union. The article then examines a precipitous decline that takes place in Canada’s regional influence and standing in the mid-2000s during the US-led war on terror. Ultimately, it argues that, in light of the current geopolitical environment in the Middle East, Canada needs to review and renew its Middle East engagement strategy. To this end, the article concludes by offering a list of policy recommendations that could upgrade Canada’s regional standing and its ability to pursue its interests in the Middle East. It contends that part of doing this will come from reviewing and learning from Canada’s past practices and approaching the region as a fair-minded actor with an aim of contributing to its peace, security and prosperity.      

Introduction

The Middle East is a region of great cultural, religious, and geostrategic importance. It is an axis of global transit and trade, accounting for nearly half of the world’s oil and gas reserves.[1] This has turned the region into an important theatre for Great Power rivalry both historically and in current times.[2] It is also a rich and dynamic region that Canada has significant and growing demographic ties to, through large communities of first and second-generation Canadians of Middle Eastern descent, who maintain a strong connection to the region. Yet, Canada has long missed the opportunity to utilize this unique national characteristic in advancing the country’s interest and engagement with the region. It is important to note that this missed opportunity stems from an ill-defined Middle East policy that itself is a product of a lack of overarching foreign policy strategy, vision, and sober understanding of what Canadian priorities are in this strategic region. At best, Canadian Middle East engagement can be seen as an extension of the United States’ regional strategy, haphazardly working around its edges with a series of discordant policies, actions, and programming. Yet, Canada has at times had an important impact on the region, and some of these actions have even contributed to the development of Canada’s national identity and influence on the international stage. The Middle East has, in turn, had an ongoing impact on Canadian politics and society as well.

Canada and the Middle East in the Cold War

Canadians played a key diplomatic role in the 1947 United Nations decision to partition Palestine and create the State of Israel.[3] This came at the end of British Imperial rule during the onset of the Cold War, while global decolonization got underway. The establishment of Israel fundamentally changed the composure of the Middle East and was met with hostility by most countries in the region, who considered the UN decision unjust.[4] For the European states that still dominated global politics, Canada’s role contributed to the perception that it was an effective middle power actor,[5] stepping further out of Britain’s shadow on the world stage. The establishment of Israel also led Canada to have its only close regional friend since.

In 1956, Canada helped de-escalate the Suez Canal Crisis caused by Britain and France’s invasion of Egypt. Only recently independent from British colonial rule, the invasion threatened to reverse Egypt’s hard-fought freedom. The invasion was deeply unpopular in a world where decolonization had taken hold, with even the Soviet Union and the United States threatening retaliation if the aggressors did not withdraw. This caused a real crisis for Canada, which considered the Transatlantic UK-US alliance a linchpin in its foreign policy. Consequently, Canada stepped in and, with the UN, devised a plan to create and send peacekeepers to the Middle East. This helped Britain and France save face and retreat while Egypt would remain independent. This Canadian-led diplomatic initiative later became a national milestone in Canadian foreign policy with Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester B Pearson winning a Nobel Peace Prize for his diplomatic efforts in peacefully resolving the Suez Canal Crisis. This also secured global recognition for Canada as an independent peacemaker in the post-colonial era.                    

This marked the Golden Age of Canadian foreign policy, an era which would have a lasting impact on how Canadians perceive themselves on the world stage as a progressive, liberal internationalist, peacemaker nation. Canada’s actions in the Suez Crisis were indeed oriented in pursuit of its national interest, by supporting its oldest (UK) and newest (US) benefactors by helping extricate them from conflict. However, Canadian leadership was also cognisant of profound changes taking place in the world. They realized Europeans would no longer dominate the power politics like before and recognized the threat decolonization represented to Western interests in their struggle with Communism, if not accepted and respected.[6] 

Canada thus adopted a strategic function in the Western Camp, engaging in sophisticated diplomacy on behalf of itself and its allies, reaching out and fostering good relations in the Global South. Canada’s significant contributions to UN peacekeeping missions coupled with a general aversion to armed intervention only enhanced its image, contributing to a façade of benign neutrality that contrasted with the historical imperialism of other Western powers. This provided Canada with soft power prestige that well exceeded its hard power capacities. Canada’s position only benefitted further when, in the 1970s, the country started to depart from its own colonial past, by embracing multiculturalism and welcoming immigration from all over the world.

Canada and the Middle East Peace Process

Canada had its missteps. In 1979, a newly elected minority Progressive Conservative (PC) government, led by Joe Clark, was engulfed in crisis the moment it came to power, over a campaign pledge to relocate Canada’s Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.[7] Canada’s generally good international image had already suffered in the Arab world over its perceived closeness to Israel.[8] The PC pledge took place twelve years after Israel seized and occupied the remaining regions of Palestinian land, the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), in the 1967 Six Day War; and just six years after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war led to a 1973 Arab-led OPEC oil embargo of countries, like Canada, for their perceived support of Israel. The embargo caused significant economic turmoil in the West while the Arab States in the Gulf region emerged as global influencers, forcing the US to pay closer heed to Arab views. By contrast, Clark’s PCs made a campaign promise completely oblivious to the aspirations of the Arab world, and the diplomatic response was swift with Arab states threatening Canadian national interests, economic well-being, and Canada’s hard-earned diplomatic standing.[9]

The embassy affair raised early doubts about the Clark government’s competence.[10] Though losing power after just nine months, the Clark government commissioned an important report that would propose a new Canadian Middle East policy.[11] Clark in 1979 tapped former PC leader Robert L Stanfield as a Special Representative to travel to the Middle East to ascertain how Canada could improve its image in the region. Stanfield’s immediate interim recommendation was for Canada to put on hold any plans to move its embassy. Broadly, he found consensus across the region against Israeli occupation of the OPT and concerns for the plight of the Palestinians. Stanfield’s 1980 final report included recommendations that Canada take a more fair-minded approach respecting all the peoples of the Middle East, and that Canada should foster peace and development in a region where scarce resources had been wastefully diverted toward military expenditures.[12] Writing in 1985, Tareq Ismael described the document as unique because, “for the first time, the Canadian public had a direct input into Canada’s Middle East policy, Canadian foreign policy-makers were forced to address the real issues in the area and to frame Canadian policy in terms of national interest.”[13]

Stanfield’s recommendations were shelved when Pierre Elliott Trudeau and the Liberal Party returned to power in 1980. Yet, the spirit of the report lived on and by the early 1990s crept into Canada’s Middle East policy. This happened at the same time that public opinion was changing, such that Canadians were exhibiting concern not only for Israel but also for the Palestinians.[14] This also happened after a 1985 Senate Report suggested Canada take a more nuanced and less partisan approach to Middle East politics,[15] and the US became focused on building an enduring peace in the Middle East.[16] By taking a more fair-minded diplomatic approach, even voting at the UN on resolutions considered sympathetic to Palestinian self-determination,[17] Canada was able to improve its diplomatic standing to a point where it could take a leadership role on the most sensitive issues of the US-led Middle East Peace Process between Israelis and Palestinians. This bolstered Canada’s diplomatic standing among its Western allies and the international community.[18] Broadly, Canada was well appreciated in the region for its efforts.[19] This marked the height of Canada’s ability to engage as a global actor in the Middle East.

Canada’s Middle East Foreign Policy Today

Canada’s approach to the Middle East changed after the 9/11 terror attacks, and especially from 2004 onward, becoming progressively more securitized and more divisive through successive Liberal and Conservative governments. This included new diplomatic rows with Gulf Arab powers like the UAE in 2010 over landing rights at Canadian airports,[20] and Saudi Arabia in 2018 over mild tweets in support of Saudi civil rights activists.[21] Along the way, Canada dropped the façade of neutrality and any semblance of fair-mindedness. It now regularly votes with a handful of countries against resolutions sympathetic to Palestinians at the UN,[22] staking out pro-Israel positions deemed unpopular in the region. It has adopted some of the more hawkish policy positions toward countries considered unfriendly to Western interests, like Syria and Iran,[23] castigating and sanctioning them over their human rights records while clearly overlooking violations by friendly powers such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Far from a peacemaker, Canada has become more invested in furthering its political and economic interests, even if that means selling military equipment to countries like Saudi Arabia that have reportedly used such equipment to crush protesters in their war in Yemen.[24]

Canada is also an active member of the Global Coalition Against Daesh that helped reverse the growth of the Islamic State. Canada was involved in the disastrous 2011 Libya intervention, which led to the collapse of the state and harmed African regional stability. Meanwhile, it is noteworthy to mention that Canada has in recent years been an active donor providing billions of dollars of regional humanitarian and development aid to key partners like Jordan and Iraq for various projects related to security and stabilization enhancement, refugee protection and gender-based violence, among others.[25]

At home, the securitization of Arabs and Muslims has contributed to harmful Islamophobia across the nation with high-profile racist attacks and the mass killings of Muslims in Canada.[26] Meanwhile, Canada’s diplomatic standing has declined to the point where it seems unable to secure a seat it was once a lock to win on the UN Security Council.[27] While being far from fair-minded, it has simultaneously pontificated about its foreign policy being values-driven, engendering ill will over its perceived double standards in the process. This approach even motivated some Canadian civil society organizations to campaign against Canada’s 2020 UN Security Council bid.[28]

A Path Forward

The absence of a strategic vision toward the Middle East is harmful to Canadian interests at home and abroad. It renders Canada ineffective as a mid-sized power active in the world from within the Western alliance system, contributing in the process to the decline of Canada’s once out-sized ability to influence world affairs and pursue its national interests. While a wholesale rethinking of Canada’s overall foreign policy is long overdue, there are some immediate changes Canada can pursue to improve its standing and engagement in the Middle East.

1. Canada undermines its diplomatic standing when it appears to have blatant double standards in its policy positions such as the support for human rights. One option is to back away from its rights-based language and values projection. However, we know that Canadians expect their governments to promote human rights abroad. Therefore, a better solution for Canada is to be consistent in its support for human rights and applications of its values, regardless if a perpetrator is a friend or foe.[29]

2. If Canada expects states to respect a rules-based order governed by international law, it needs to be consistent in its application. That is, no rules-based order that Canada purports to support can survive long-term unless that order and its supporters are considered fair in its application and international law neutral by nature.

3. Canada needs skilled personnel with diverse and alternative viewpoints that challenge prevailing orthodoxies about the Middle East. This will allow Ottawa to craft contextually accurate and responsive foreign policy positions while avoiding the pitfalls of groupthink among the policymakers in the government.

4. Canada is an incredibly diverse country with millions of citizens who have personal ties to the Middle East.[30] The government needs to find ways to navigate a plethora of diverse community groups’ views on the Middle East, in a way that is coherent and consistent and serves Canadians’ broader interests. Adopting support for just some groups’ interests at the expense of others sows division and harms Canada’s interests.

5. Stanfield’s 1980 advice stands today that Canada’s ultimate goal should be to encourage moderation and conciliation, with the objective goal of justice and reconciliation in the Middle East.[31]

6. Canada can look to its past for inspiration for more nuanced positions that allowed it to better pursue its interests, while still supporting its Western allies and regional friends.

Conclusion

Canada and Canadians’ interests lie in a secure and stable Middle East guaranteed by regional peace and prosperity. Canada needs a structured and contextually appropriate Middle East strategy that speaks to a broader foreign policy vision. In the meantime, there are steps it can take to improve its standing and influence in the region while commensurate with its limitations as a mid-sized actor. That includes drawing lessons from its past when it enjoyed influence in the Middle East. This will become increasingly essential in a multipolar world where even the seemingly closest Western partners in the region are building closer ties to competing powers like Russia and China.[32]

Jeremy Wildeman (@jeremywildeman) (PhD – Exeter) is a Fellow at the Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa and the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Diversity at Queen’s University. He is a lecturer and researcher of Middle East politics, a scholar of Canada and the Middle East, and an adjunct professor at Carleton University.


[1] ‘Statistical Review of World Energy 2021 – Middle East’, Middle East’s energy market in 2020, BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy and the Energy Outlook (BP, 2021).

[2] Aziz El Yaakoubi and Eduardo Baptista, ‘China’s Xi Arrives in Saudi on “epoch-Making” Visit to Deepen Economic and Strategic Ties’, Reuters (2022).

[3] Richard Newport, ‘The Outsider: Elizabeth P. MacCallum, the Canadian Department of External Affairs, and the Palestine Mandate to 1947’ (Thesis, Carleton University, 2014); Eliezer Tauber, Personal Policy Making: Canada’s Role in the Adoption of the Palestine Partition Resolution (Greenwood Press, 2002); Hassan Husseini, ‘A “Middle Power” in Action: Canada and the Partition of Palestine’, Arab Studies Quarterly 30, no. 3 (2008): 41–55.

[4] Newport, 134; Husseini, 46.

[5] John W. Holmes, The Shaping of Peace: Canada and the Search for World Order, 1943-1957, vol. II (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 63.

[6] Asa McKercher, ‘The Centre Cannot Hold: Canada, Colonialism and the “Afro-Asian Bloc” at the United Nations, 1960–62’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 42, no. 2 (2014): 329–49. The Communist bloc was typically ready to support former and existing colonies in their resistance to Europe’s dying colonial Empires and to encourage rejection of the West.

[7] Charles Flicker, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem: Joe Clark and the Jerusalem Embassy Affair’, International Journal 58, no. 1 (2002): 115–38.

[8] Maurice Jr Labelle, ‘Jameel’s Journal: Jim Peters, Anti-Orientalism, and Arab Decolonization in 1960s Canada’, in Undiplomatic History: The New Study of Canada and the World, ed. Asa McKercher and Philip Van Huizen (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019), 163–83.

[9] News Footage from 1979 as Prime Minister Joe Clark Plans to Move Canadian Embassy to Jerusalem, YouTube, The National (CBC News, 1979), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSWwmXcoZfo&feature=youtu.be; Elizabeth Thompson, ‘Secret 1979 Documents Shed New Light on Why Joe Clark Broke Jerusalem Embassy Promise’, CBC, 7 December 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/jerusalem-embassy-tel-aviv-clark-1.4436795; Tareq Y. Ismael, ed., ‘Canadian Foreign Policy in the Arab World: An Overview’, in Canada and the Arab World (University of Alberta, 1985), 7–25.

[10] John Hilliker, Canada’s Department of External Affairs, Volume 3: Innovation and Adaptation, 1968-1984, IPAC Series in Public Management and Governance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), 310.

[11] Robert L Stanfield, ‘Final Report of the Special Representative of the Government of Canada Respecting the Middle East and North Africa’ (Global Affairs Canada Digital Library, 1980).

[12] Ibid, 2-3.

[13] Ismael, ‘Canadian Foreign Policy in the Arab World: An Overview’, 17–18.

[14] Arab Studies Quarterly, ‘Attitudes of Canadians toward the Middle East Conflict: Highlights of a National Survey, January 1983’, Arab Studies Quarterly 5, no. 3 (1983): 292–96; Gallup Canada, ‘Canadian Gallup Poll, February 1988, #530_1’ (Scholars Portal Dataverse, 11 October 2019).

[15] ‘Report on Canada’s Relations with the Countries of the Middle East and North Africa’, Government of Canada (Canadian Parliamentary Historical Resources, June 1985), 33-1 F6 A12, http://parl.canadiana.ca/view/oop.com_SOC_3301_5_2/1?r=0&s=1.

[16] David Taras and David Goldberg, Domestic Battleground: Canada and the Arab-Israeli Conflict (McGill-Queen’s Press, 1989), 159–61.

[17] Andrew N. Robinson, ‘Talking with the PLO: Overcoming Political Challenges’, ed. Jeremy Wildeman and Emma Swan, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal 27, no. 1 (2021): 21–30.

[18] Andrew Robinson, ‘Canada’s Credibility as an Actor in the Middle East Peace Process: The Refugee Working Group, 1992-2000’, International Journal 66, no. 3 (2011): 695, 702.

[19] Marie-Joëlle Zahar, ‘Talking One Talk, Walking Another: Norm Entrepreneurship and Canada’s Foreign Policy in the Middle East’, in Canada and the Middle East in Theory and Practice, ed. Paul Heinbecker and Bessma Momani (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), 45–72.

[20] Steven Chase, Jane Taber, and Brent Jang, ‘UAE Rift Exposes Division in Harper Caucus’, The Globe and Mail, 13 October 2010, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/uae-rift-exposes-division-in-harper-caucus/article4389989/.

[21] Jacques Marcoux and Caroline Barghout, ‘How Events Unfolded after Foreign Affairs Minister Sent Tweet Rebuking Saudi Arabia’, CBC, 7 December 2018, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/how-events-unfolded-after-foreign-affairs-minister-sent-tweet-rebuking-saudi-arabia-1.4935735.

[22] Phil Leech-Ngo and Emma Swan, ‘A “Determined Peace-Builder”? Analysing Canada’s Role in the Israel-Palestine Conflict’, in 2016/2018 Canadian Yearbook of Human Rights, vol. II (Ottawa, Canada: HRREC, University of Ottawa, 2019), 21–38.

[23] Michelle Carbert, ‘Liberals Back Tory Motion to End Diplomatic Talks with Iran’, The Globe and Mail, 13 June 2018, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-liberals-back-tory-motion-to-abandon-diplomatic-talks-with-iran-until/; Vahid Tolooei, ‘Choosing Between Bad and Worse: An Iranian-Canadian Conundrum’, New Canadian Media (2019).

[24] Steven Chase, ‘Saudis Use Armoured Vehicles to Suppress Internal Dissent, Videos Show’, The Globe and Mail, 11 May 2016, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/saudis-use-armoured-vehicles-to-suppress-internal-dissent-videos-show/article29970955/.

[25] Global Affairs Canada, ‘Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy’, GAC, https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/mena-moan/strategy-strategie.aspx?lang=eng.

[26] Randy Richmond, ‘The Painful Recent History of Targeted Attacks on Muslims in Canada’, The London Free Press, (2021); Reda Zarrug, ‘Canada’s Islamophobia Problem Is Made Even Worse by Its Foreign Policy’, IAffairs (2021).

[27] Stephen Kimber and John Kirk, ‘Opinion: Compassionate, Constructive Canada Not Really “back” as Government Bids for UN Security Council Seat’, CBC, (2020).

[28] Marc-André Blanchard, ‘To All Member States and Observer States’ (Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, 2020).

[29] Such principled guidance has precedent. For instance, in 1980 Robert L Stanfield advised that to foster peace between Arabs and Israelis, Canada should be prepared to express its disapproval when actions are taken by one or other of the parties that are counterproductive to the peace process. That is, if Canada is to have respect, it must avoid total identification with one party when there is also a case on the other side of the question. Stanfield, ‘Stanfield Report’, 15.

[30] Statistics Canada, ‘Canada in 2041: A Larger, More Diverse Population with Greater Differences between Regions’, Government of Canada, The Daily (2022), https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220908/dq220908a-eng.htm.

[31] Stanfield, ‘Stanfield Report’, 15.

[32] Martin Chulov and Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent, ‘Putin and the Prince: Fears in West as Russia and Saudi Arabia Deepen Ties’, The Guardian, 5 October 2022, sec. World news, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/05/putin-mohammed-bin-salman-russia-saudi-arabia-deepen-ties; Aziz El Yaakoubi and Eduardo Baptista, ‘China’s Xi Arrives in Saudi on “epoch-Making” Visit to Deepen Economic and Strategic Ties’, Reuters, 7 December 2022, sec. World, https://www.reuters.com/world/chinas-xi-starts-epoch-making-saudi-visit-deepen-economic-strategic-ties-2022-12-07/.

Panel 4: Pathways to Manage Non-Proliferation in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:45 PM ET)

The Western powers have failed to effectively manage the increasing threat of proliferation in the Middle East. While the international community is concerned with Iran’s nuclear program, Saudi Arabia has moved forward with developing its own nuclear program, and independent studies show that Israel has longed possessed dozens of nuclear warheads. The former is a member of the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), while the latter has refused to sign the international agreement. 

On Middle East policy, the Biden campaign had staunchly criticized the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal and it has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier since assuming office in January 2021. However, serious obstacles remain for responsible actors in expanding non-proliferation efforts toward a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. 

This panel will discuss how Western powers and multilateral institutions, such as the IAEA, can play a more effective role in managing non-proliferation efforts in the Middle East.  

Panelists:

Peggy Mason: Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Mark Fitzpatrick: Associate Fellow & Former Executive Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

Ali Vaez: Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Negar Mortazavi: Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

David Albright: Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security

 

Closing (5:45 PM – 6:00 PM ET)

Panel 3: Trade and Business Diplomacy in the Middle East (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

What is the current economic landscape in the Middle East? While global foreign direct investment is expected to fall drastically in the post-COVID era, the World Bank reported a 5% contraction in the economic output of the Middle East and North African (MENA) countries in 2020 due to the pandemic. While oil prices are expected to rebound with normalization in demand, political instability, regional and geopolitical tensions, domestic corruption, and a volatile regulatory and legal environment all threaten economic recovery in the Middle East. What is the prospect for economic growth and development in the region post-pandemic, and how could MENA nations promote sustainable growth and regional trade moving forward?

At the same time, Middle Eastern diaspora communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between North America and the region. In this respect, the diaspora can become vital intermediaries for advancing U.S. and Canada’s business interests abroad. Promoting business diplomacy can both benefit the MENA region and be an effective and positive way to advance engagement and achieve foreign policy goals of the North Atlantic.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian and American national interests, and explore relevant policy prescriptions.

Panelists:

Hon. Sergio Marchi: Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Scott Jolliffe: Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj: Founder and Publisher of Bourse & Bazaar

Nizar Ghanem: Director of Research and Co-founder at Triangle

Nicki Siamaki: Researcher at Control Risks

Panel 2: Arms Race and Terrorism in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

The Middle East continues to grapple with violence and instability, particularly in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Fueled by government incompetence and foreign interventions, terrorist insurgencies have imposed severe humanitarian and economic costs on the region. Meanwhile, regional actors have engaged in an unprecedented pursuit of arms accumulation. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have imported billions of both Western and Russian-made weapons and funded militant groups across the region, intending to contain their regional adversaries, particularly Iran. Tehran has also provided sophisticated weaponry to various militia groups across the region to strengthen its geopolitical position against Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Israel. 

On the other hand, with international terrorist networks and intense regional rivalry in the Middle East, it is impractical to discuss peace and security without addressing terrorism and the arms race in the region. This panel will primarily discuss the implications of the ongoing arms race in the region and the role of Western powers and multilateral organizations in facilitating trust-building security arrangements among regional stakeholders to limit the proliferation of arms across the Middle East.

 

Panelists:

Luciano Zaccara: Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Dania Thafer: Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

Kayhan Barzegar: Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of Azad University

Barbara Slavin: Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Sanam Shantyaei: Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Panel 1: Future of Diplomacy and Engagement in the Middle East (10:30 AM-11:45 AM ET)

The emerging regional order in West Asia will have wide-ranging implications for global security. The Biden administration has begun re-engaging Iran on the nuclear dossier, an initiative staunchly opposed by Israel, while also taking a harder line on Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen. Meanwhile, key regional actors, including Qatar, Iraq, and Oman, have engaged in backchannel efforts to bring Iran and Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. From a broader geopolitical perspective, with the need to secure its energy imports, China is also expected to increase its footprint in the region and influence the mentioned challenges. 

In this evolving landscape, Western powers will be compelled to redefine their strategic priorities and adjust their policies with the new realities in the region. In this panel, we will discuss how the West, including the United States and its allies, can utilize multilateral diplomacy with its adversaries to prevent military escalation in the region. Most importantly, the panel will discuss if a multilateral security dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, proposed by some regional actors, can help reduce tensions among regional foes and produce sustainable peace and development for the region. 

Panelists:

Abdullah Baabood: Academic Researcher and Former Director of the Centre for Gulf Studies, Qatar University

Trita Parsi: Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi: President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Jon Allen: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

Elizabeth Hagedorn: Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

Panel 4: Humanitarian Diplomacy: An Underused Foreign Policy Tool in the Middle East (4:30 PM - 5:30 PM ET)

Military interventions, political and economic instabilities, and civil unrest in the Middle East have led to a global refugee crisis with an increasing wave of refugees and asylum seekers to Europe and Canada. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has, in myriad ways, exacerbated and contributed to the ongoing security threats and destabilization of the region.

While these challenges pose serious risks to Canadian security, Ottawa will also have the opportunity to limit such risks and prevent a spillover effect vis-à-vis effective humanitarian initiatives in the region. In this panel, we will primarily investigate Canada’s Middle East Strategy’s degree of success in providing humanitarian aid to the region. Secondly, the panel will discuss what programs and initiatives Canada can introduce to further build on the renewed strategy. and more specifically, how Canada can utilize its policy instruments to more effectively deal with the increasing influx of refugees from the Middle East. 

 

Panelists:

Erica Di Ruggiero: Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Reyhana Patel: Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

Amir Barmaki: Former Head of UN OCHA in Iran

Catherine Gribbin: Senior Legal Advisor for International and Humanitarian Law, Canadian Red Cross

Panel 3: A Review of Canada’s Middle East Engagement and Defense Strategy (3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET)

In 2016, Canada launched an ambitious five-year “Middle East Engagement Strategy” (2016-2021), committing to investing CA$3.5 billion over five years to help establish the necessary conditions for security and stability, alleviate human suffering and enable stabilization programs in the region. In the latest development, during the meeting of the Global Coalition against ISIS, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau announced more than $43.6 million in Peace and Stabilization Operations Program funding for 11 projects in Syria and Iraq.

With Canada’s Middle East Engagement Strategy expiring this year, it is time to examine and evaluate this massive investment in the Middle East region in the past five years. More importantly, the panel will discuss a principled and strategic roadmap for the future of Canada’s short-term and long-term engagement in the Middle East.

Panelists:

Ferry de Kerckhove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Chris Kilford: Former Canadian Defence Attaché in Turkey, member of the national board of the Canadian International Council (CIC)

David Dewitt: University Professor Emeritus, York University

Panel 2: The Great Power Competition in the Middle East (12:00 PM - 1:15 PM ET)

While the United States continues to pull back from certain regional conflicts, reflected by the Biden administration’s decision to halt American backing for Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen and the expected withdrawal from Afghanistan, US troops continue to be stationed across the region. Meanwhile, Russia and China have significantly maintained and even expanded their regional activities. On one hand, the Kremlin has maintained its military presence in Syria, and on the other hand, China has signed an unprecedented 25-year strategic agreement with Iran.

As the global power structure continues to shift, it is essential to analyze the future of the US regional presence under the Biden administration, explore the emerging global rivalry with Russia and China, and at last, investigate the implications of such competition for peace and security in the Middle East.

Panelists:

Dmitri Trenin: Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Joost R. Hiltermann: Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Roxane Farmanfarmaian: Affiliated Lecturer in International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa, University of Cambridge

Andrew A. Michta: Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

Kelley Vlahos: Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Panel 1: A New Middle East Security Architecture in the Making (10:30 AM -11:45 AM ET)

The security architecture of the Middle East has undergone rapid transformations in an exceptionally short period. Notable developments include the United States gradual withdrawal from the region, rapprochement between Israel and some GCC states through the Abraham Accords and the rise of Chinese and Russian regional engagement.

With these new trends in the Middle East, it is timely to investigate the security implications of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy. In this respect, we will discuss the Biden team’s new approach vis-à-vis Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. The panel will also discuss the role of other major powers, including China and Russia in shaping this new security environment in the region, and how the Biden administration will respond to these powers’ increasing regional presence.

 

Panelists:

Sanam Vakil: Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Denise Natali: Acting Director, Institute for National Strategic Studies & Director of the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University

Hassan Ahmadian: Professor of the Middle East and North Africa Studies, University of Tehran

Abdulaziz Sagar: Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Andrew Parasiliti: President, Al-Monitor