On Wednesday 22 February 2017, IAI’s research team held a policy-briefing at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to present goals, methodology and outputs of the MENARA Project. The meeting was attended by policymakers from a number of offices charged with the political, economic and humanitarian dimensions of Italian foreign policy towards the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Participants included members from Italy’s Policy Planning Unit, career diplomats and advisors in Italy’s Prime Minister Office and the Offices of the President of the Italian Republic. The meeting marked the first gathering between the MENARA research team at IAI and the Italian Foreign Ministry, following a meeting by CIDOB’s team with the Spanish Foreign Ministry and a number of similar appointments scheduled for the upcoming months in different European capitals.

The meeting provided an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion and exchange of views on some of the most pressing geopolitical challenges facing the MENA region.

In presenting the overall focus and objectives of the MENARA Project, diplomats were struck by the ambition and timeliness of the research goals and focus, expressing an interest in sharing information and outputs moving forward. As acting President of the G7, Italy will direct much effort towards the Mediterranean and Middle East, a focus that will also expand on the basis of Italy’s Chairmanship of the OSCE Mediterranean Contact Group (2017) and upcoming Presidency of the OSCE Secretariat in 2018. Against this backdrop, Italian diplomats stressed that in light of the fluidity of contemporary events in the region and the significant levels of local and international uncertainty as to the where the region is heading in the medium to long term, projects such as MENARA are of important value for both the academic and policymaking communities.

In outlining a number of themes and issues that will figure prominently on Italy’s international agenda for the coming years, Italian diplomats focussed on the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on the MENA, the role of Political Islam, the growing activism of China, Russia and other external players in the region, the importance of intercultural dialogue and gender issues, including in the context of youth empowerment and the resilience of state institutions and state-society relations.

In emphasising the need for focussed, short-term policy analysis on a number of important themes, Italian diplomats expressed an interest in cooperating in the choice of topics and focus areas to be addressed in MENARA’s policy brief series, the Future Notes, beginning from an analysis of current developments in Syria, Libya and Algeria, the impact of new technologies and energy discoveries, the ongoing Saudi-Iranian rivalry and the continued importance of the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts as a significant regional and international fault-line.