By Hatice Karahan, Yeni Safak

I was recently in Doha to join a conference held by UCLA. The conference, titled “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future” and attended by significant international participants, addressed the future of the region in various aspects. Also, within this scope, a special session on “Turkey’s role in the Middle East” was held.

Honestly, the economic future of the Middle East is challenging. We are talking about a mixed picture in terms of economic size and the level of income per capita. Considering growth performances from past to present, we see volatile development. Solving the basic problems of societies, especially young unemployment and income inequality, requires countries to display a healthy and stable economic performance. However, the present structure does not and cannot provide a solid basis for this in general.

There is an important factor in developmental volatility as much as in the differentiation of income levels: Energy sources, especially oil. Obviously, there is hardly any country that has diversified its sectors like Turkey. Data for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) reveals that a significant part of the countries in the region are oil producers and exporters. 

Trade data in MENA confirms the situation very simply: Only two product groups – roughly crude oil and propane – constitutes 30 percent of the region’s exports, followed by gold and diamonds. Therefore, regional economies, especially dependent ones, have a lot to do in terms of production diversification and risk elimination.

And in fact, the volatile economic performance of the Middle East, since the past, has been meaningful proof of the situation caused by this dependency. Indeed, long-term data indicates that volatility is more clearly seen in oil exporters.

Breaking the curse

As I have written earlier on the resource curse, and I will not repeat it. However, building an economic future for MENA is mainly possible with breaking this curse of dependency.

Indeed, the Middle East economy has not been able to show its true potential for decades and has always been below its potential. Today, the situation is progressing in the form of a repetition of history. The prescription can be defined as carrying our investment- appetizing reforms in company with macroeconomic stability. In recent days I have also mentioned that countries that have become aware of the diagnosis and treatment of this disease, especially Saudi Arabia, are in a hurry to set a vision. Therefore, some strategies have been introduced in order to break the curse of attractive resources. However, how it will be practiced is unclear for now.

Another curse

On the other hand, making the future of the Middle East prosperous, of course, will not be possible only with reforms that break the curse of resources. The basic condition to achieve this is to get rid of the other curse – war and fighting – that has long haunted the region, and to achieve stability. At this point, it is hard to cling to hope.

Sadly, the recent Middle East situation is gradually strengthening the projection of the controversy between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the region. This struggle for power, which is also seen in Lebanon’s recent oddity and in the message that has been launched in Riyadh, is undoubtedly escalating with multiple factors such as the U.S. and Israel. Again, Qatar’s crisis, a related issue of the period, is still waiting for solution, and more precisely for intention. While Iraq cannot attain peace, Syria and Yemen are still suffering.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to talk about a safe economic future in the Middle East, as this aggression, which has led countries to instability, has caused political and economic shocks. It is ugly to talk about reform and visions in such an environment where strife is persistent while struggling with terror and a refugee crises. However, agendas that will bring long-term power to governments by satisfying the people are right here.

While continuing its struggle to play a constructive role in the region, Turkey is also trying to observe sensitive balances in its relations. As President Erdoğan pointed out during his visit to the Gulf this week, the most basic requirement is to resolve the crises in our region with common sense and to make peace dominant.

In short, breaking two curses in the region is both challenging and necessary.

Otherwise, the Middle East’s current sad state will never turn into prosperity.