The 14 partners of the MENARA Project (Middle East and North Africa Regional Architecture: Mapping geopolitical shifts, regional order and domestic transformations) met in Barcelona from the 4 to the 6 of May 2016 for its first public conference and kick-off meeting. The project, which will last until March 2019, 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.


This meeting was instrumental to lay the basis of this joint endeavour as well as to start engaging with relevant stakeholders and the wider public. In that vein, the public event that took place in CIDOB, the coordinating institution, served to discuss the intensity and direction of changes occurred in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) since 2011, assess whether the region is increasingly fragmented, to what extent the region may be a global laboratory or a global exception and which are the policy challenges and critical junctures ahead of us.


While delineating the current political, socio and economical context of the region, the participants noted that there has been little progress in fighting corruption and youth unemployment or reforming institutions since 2011, and that the reasons that triggered unrest at the time are still there. Similarly, the MENA region is highly militarised and this has not contributed to robust nation-building processes or economic prosperity. The regional powers have fuelled identity politics and sectarianism has taken a life of its own. Consequently, regime-survival rather than national interest is the backbone of the foreign policy strategies in many countries of the region. Finally, trust is missing, both in societies and among regional and global actors.


On the other hand, one of the specificities of the MENA region is the importance of natural resources: the MENA region is a water-stressed region, which is also the largest oil exporter and the top food importer worldwide. The capacity to adapt to major global transformations (technological revolutions, climate change) will therefore shape the region’s future.


Concerning Europe, it was highlighted that the EU is not a distant observer, in many respects it is part of the regional dynamics and cannot afford to be cynical or naïve. It has to face geopolitical realities and be pragmatic while sticking to its values.


This event and the internal project working sessions were a first step in fulfilling MENARA’s raison d’être: search the roots of ongoing dynamics; identify drivers of change and critical junctures and propose scenarios for a highly unstable and unpredictable region.


Please Kick-off Meeting Programme.