SRMG Think Research and Advisory (SRMG Think), an independent research and strategic advisory firm focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), is pleased to announce the second edition of its flagship annual MENA Forum, providing a global platform to showcase the region’s growing role in contributing innovative solutions to address important issues impacting the world today. Hosted in partnership with non-partisan think tank, the Middle East Institute (MEI), MENA Forum 2023 will convene on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on Friday, September 22nd.
SRMG Think’s mission is to bridge the knowledge gap by offering data-driven, fact-based analysis and insights on the MENA region. Its dedicated team of leading experts and analysts serves as a trusted source for governments, businesses and NGOs seeking to better understand and navigate the region. The MENA Forum represents how SRMG Think utilizes its experienced team and global network to foster dialogue, promote understanding and offer fresh perspectives on a region undergoing significant transformation.
The exclusive one-day policy forum will explore topics at the heart of the global conversation as world leaders and policy-makers gather to discuss global priorities during UNGA’s high-level week. The Forum’s theme “MENA: Reinforcing Global Resilience Through Sustainability” will facilitate constructive dialogue examining the ways in which MENA can work with the international community to develop sustainable, long-term solutions to critical regional challenges. It will also provide a unique lens on how the region is evolving into a dynamic hub driving new trends and contributing to the global agenda.
As the MENA region assumes a greater leadership role on the world stage, the Forum will deliver unparalleled insights and address the region’s pivotal role in the energy transition, global peace and stability efforts, and economic sustainability. The Forum will similarly explore how enhanced cooperation among key regional players is fostering sustainable development and stability.
The Forum will provide a collaborative environment for a diverse range of regional policy-makers, diplomats, leading experts and private sector decision-makers to deliver distinct perspectives through eight high-level keynotes, talks and panels. This year’s participants include Her Excellency Rania Al Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, and Governor for the World Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the African Development Bank, and other international institutions, Arab Republic of Egypt; His Excellency Dr. Ayman Al Safadi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment, United Arab Emirates; Ahmet Yıldız, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Türkiye; His Excellency Dr. Majed Al Ansari, Advisor to the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Spokesperson, State of Qatar; Timothy Lenderking, U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen, United States Department of State; Dr. Amer Bisat, Managing Director and Global Head of Emerging Markets, BlackRock; and Dr. Sara Vakhshouri, Founder and President, SVB Energy International, among others.
Neil Quilliam, Director of Energy, SRMG Think, said: “As MENA continues to achieve its development aspirations and evolves into an engine for global growth, it has become increasingly important for governments, businesses and decision-makers to understand the region. However, there is currently a lack of actionable insights that these entities and individuals can rely on. In light of this, a MENA-focused UNGA side event, featuring invaluable perspectives from the region, is more crucial than ever. The MENA Forum fosters open and frank discussions on the economic, political, and environmental challenges and opportunities present in MENA through the lens of regional leaders and the brightest thinkers. SRMG Think’s mission is to provide independent research and advisory and this event, co-hosted with MEI, demonstrates how our deep regional and global network provides a roadmap to navigate a rapidly evolving region.”
Paul Salem, President and CEO, Middle East Institute, said: "MEI is proud to collaborate with SRMG Think on this year's MENA Forum. As the world confronts challenges around energy transition, climate change, economic diversification, trade, and human security, the MENA region remains a focal point where all of these complex dynamics converge. It is critical to bring leaders and policy practitioners from the region to engage with the international community in order to build on common interests and opportunities for a better global future."
Think Research – ‘MENA Forum Report: the case for cooperation beyond de-escalation’
This research report complements MENA Forum 2023’s dialogue concerning the evolving dynamics within the MENA region. The report explores MENA's potential for promoting regional cooperation and contends that the de-escalation of tensions in the region has opened a window of opportunity for states to collaborate on pressing, shared issues in three key areas: geopolitics and security, economics, and energy. However, the report underscores that while factors such as the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran have helped create an opening for regional states to cooperate, this time-limited opportunity must be seized now to boost long-term stability and support energy transition.
Geopolitics and Security: The shift towards multipolarity in the global order, driven by factors such as rising great power competition between the United States and China, and the reprioritization of US interests towards the Indo-Pacific, has allowed ‘middle powers’ in the MENA region to rise in importance. MENA countries are responding to global power shifts by pursuing de-escalation and greater intra-regional cooperation. Factors motivating this shift include both the ‘great power’ competition, the Iranian threat, and the need for economic sustainability. As a result, the region is acting as a bridge in an increasingly fragmented global political order and MENA states have also adjusted their approaches towards each other on issues such as regional security, investment and financial aid, and trade relations. However, the report emphasizes that the progress made in de-escalation and regional cooperation must be fortified by more robust foundations to ensure its endurance.
Economics: MENA's economic performance is divided into two contrasting regions: high-income GCC countries and middle-to-low-income economies. This disparity has been exacerbated as high oil prices have supported GCC growth and economic diversification. Oil revenues for GCC countries amounted to more than US$570 billion in 2022 (Saudi: US$311 billion, the UAE: US$119 billion, Kuwait: US$98 billion, and Oman: US$42.9 billion). While lower-income nations in the region grapple with high public debt levels, and difficulties accessing capital markets, GCC countries, buoyed by high oil prices, are advancing robustly with their economic diversification policies, offering the prospect of financial support to their lower-income neighbors. However, the GCC's new investment strategy focuses on profitable investments and attaches conditions for financial support, including often painful IMF reforms. The GCC’s change in approach from delivering financial aid to MENA countries to focusing on strategic investments that deliver financial returns reflects their aim to secure and grow their wealth – in full recognition of the eventual shift away from hydrocarbons – while still influencing regional development and underpinning stability. This approach provides a newfound opportunity for lower-income MENA countries to implement structural reforms for positive economic development.
Energy: As the MENA region embarks on a journey to redefine its energy landscape, it confronts a series of challenges from rising energy demands to the urgent need for integrating renewable resources into existing infrastructural setups. The technical and financial requirements of these increasingly complex energy systems require regional collaboration on multiple fronts: in electricity grid interconnections and exchange markets and cross-border renewable energy investments, and in knowledge and technology sharing. The abundant yet unevenly dispersed renewable energy resources in the region which sees varying levels of wind and solar resources for instance, further underscores the need for a strategy rooted in cross-border collaboration to achieve ambitious energy targets. Both the ambitious strides towards energy diversification and the region’s extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change mean that this collaboration is increasingly essential.
The report finds that MENA is at a critical juncture and must capitalize on the current momentum and lay the foundations for the long-term cooperation in geopolitics, economics, and energy that is essential for addressing common challenges and mutual gain in the region.