As a result, Arab countries can no longer rely wholly on global powers for assistance in confronting the existential challenges they face. While some Middle Eastern countries are in talks with the International Monetary Fund for emergency financial assistance, most governments lack the political bandwidth to adhere to IMF conditionality.
And even if the Fund relaxed its usual requirement of tight fiscal consolidation, its assistance would help only with funding short-term social protection. After the immediate crisis, it will be up to the region’s policymakers to devise a more sustainable development model.
That task cannot be carried out by any one government, even one that has the support of international donors. Because the region’s economic problems are so interconnected, only an integrated approach can address them.
Public health at the top of the agenda
Among the most pressing issues, public health is and will remain high on the agenda. But the Middle East also needs to expand the availability of water, gas, oil and transportation, as well as strengthen its environmental protections. All of these issues involve cross-border dynamics, and therefore require regional co-ordination. Likewise, to revive economic growth, Middle Eastern countries need to boost regional integration in tourism, trade, services and other major sectors.
Such a holistic growth strategy cannot be achieved through existing cooperative frameworks. The traditional model of Arab regionalism is now defunct. The Arab League’s regular summits are increasingly viewed as useless gatherings – all talk and no action. Sub-regional structures such as the Gulf Co-operation Council have become equally irrelevant, owing to internal discord among member states.