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Institute for Peace & Diplomacy Presents:

Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2021)

May 19th - 20th 2021

Hosting a diverse group of renowned speakers and experts from the Middle East, Europe and North America, MESF 2021 is the first Canadian annual conference that focuses specifically on the geopolitics of West Asia.

About the Conference

The Institute for Peace & Diplomacy is pleased to host the inaugural Middle East Strategy Forum (MESF 2021) on May 19-20th. 

The IPD aims to launch the Middle East Strategy Forum as an annual Canadian conference that brings together high-level policymakers, diplomats, foreign policy experts, business leaders, and journalists to engage in constructive discussions around current and emerging issues in the region. 

Hosting a diverse group of speakers and experts from the Middle East, Europe and North America, MESF 2021 is the first Canadian annual conference

that focuses specifically on the geopolitics of West Asia. As part of MESF 2021, IPD hosts a series of keynote speeches, panel discussions, seminars and networking sessions to discuss the path to sustainable peace and constructive diplomatic engagement in the region.

MESF 2021 will be in a fully-virtual environment to accommodate COVID guidelines. Starting in 2022, this conference will transition to an in-person event held annually in Ottawa, Canada. 

Speakers

Hon. Sergio Marchi​

Hon. Sergio Marchi

Canada’s Former Minister of International Trade

Ferry De Kerchove

Ferry de Kerckhove

Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak

Dennis Horak

Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Peggy Mason

Peggy Mason

Canada’s former Ambassador to the UN for Disarmament

Jon Allen

Jon Allen

Canada’s Former Ambassador to Israel

sanam-vakil

Sanam Vakil

Deputy Director of MENA Programme at Chatham House

Mark Fitzpatrick

Mark Fitzpatrick​

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

Denise Natali

Denise Natali

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

Hassan Ahmadian

Hassan Ahmadian

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

Lawrence Wilkerson​

Lawrence Wilkerson

Retired United States Army Colonel and former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

Director of Iran Initiative, Atlantic Council

Dmitri Trenin

Dmitri Trenin

Director of Carnegie Moscow Center

Erica Di Ruggiero

Erica Di Ruggiero

Director of Centre for Global Health, University of Toronto

Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi

Executive Vice-President, Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft

Joost Hiltermann

Joost Hiltermann

Director of MENA Programme, International Crisis Group

Ali Vaez

Ali Vaez

Iran Project Director, International Crisis Group

Luciano Zaccara

Luciano Zaccara

Assistant Professor, Qatar University

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi

Ebtesam Al-Ketbi

President, Emirates Policy Centre​

Kayhan Barzegar

Kayhan Barzegar

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

Abdulaziz Sager

Abdulaziz Sager​

Chairman, Gulf Research Center

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

Founder of Bourse & Bazaar

Abdullah Baabood​

Abdullah Baabood

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

Bijan Ahmadi

Bijan Ahmadi

Executive Director, Institute for Peace & Diplomacy

Dania Thafer

Dania Thafer

Executive Director, Gulf International Forum

photo_2021-04-09_09-48-11

Amir Hossein Barmaki

Former Head of UNOCHA in Iran

Arta Moeini​

Arta Moeini

Research Director, Institute for Peace & Diplomacy

Negar Mortazavi​

Negar Mortazavi

Journalist and Political Analyst, Host of Iran Podcast

Sanam Shantyaei​

Sanam Shantyaei

Senior Journalist at France24 & host of Middle East Matters

Scott Jolliffe

Scott Jolliffe

Chairperson, Canada Arab Business Council

David Dewitt​

David Dewitt

University Professor Emeritus, York University

Younes Zangiabadi​

Younes Zangiabadi

Executive Vice President, Institute for Peace & Diplomacy

Kelley Vlahos​

Kelley Vlahos

Senior Advisor, Quincy Institute

Zachary Paikin​

Zachary Paikin

Research Fellow, Institute for Peace & Diplomacy

Reyhana Patel

Reyhana Patel

Head of Communications & Government Relations, Islamic Relief Canada

parasiliti

Andrew Parasiliti

President at Al-Monitor

Catherine Gribbin

Catherine Gribbin

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

Nicki Siamaki

Nicki Siamaki

Researcher at Control Risks

Elizabeth Hagedorn​

Elizabeth Hagedorn

Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor

David Albright

David Albright

Founder and President of the Institute for Science and International Security

Roxane Farmanfarmaian

Roxane Farmanfarmaian

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

Nizar Ghanem

Nizar Ghanem

Co-founder and Director of Research at Triangle

Chas Freeman

Chas Freeman

Former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs

Andrew A. Michta

Andrew A. Michta

Dean of the College of International and Security Studies at Marshall Center

David H. Petraeus

David H. Petraeus

Retired US Army General and Former Director of the CIA.

Roxane Farmanfarmaian

Roxane Farmanfarmaian

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

MESF Audience

Over 1000 participants are expected to attend the live sessions during the two-day conference. MESF 2021 attendees include policymakers, think tankers, academics, foreign policy professionals, business executives and journalists across Canada, United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

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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)

Canada’s multicultural social landscape includes prosperous Middle Eastern communities. While such communities are often underrepresented in the Canadian political process, they are significantly impacted by different social, political, and economic developments in the Middle East. Simultaneously, such communities have become financially successful and can help promote trade between Canada and the region. In this respect, multiculturalism can become a tool for advancing Canada’s business interests abroad.

Ottawa’s pro-immigration multicultural policies have helped attract skilled workers from the region, allowing them to integrate and become financially successful dual citizens. The federal government has an opportunity to seize this untapped potential and provide inclusive platforms that can help facilitate trade in the region, advocating business diplomacy between Canada and these immigrants’ home countries in the region.

This panel will investigate the trade and investment opportunities in the Middle East, discuss how facilitating economic engagement with the region can benefit Canadian 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 Kerchove: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Egypt

Dennis Horak: Canada’s Former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

Bijan Ahmadi: Executive Director, Institute for Peace & Diplomacy

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