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Tue 14 Nov 2017 08:16 PM

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'The Middle East is now in the hands of its own people and its own governments' - Andrew Neil

Inevitable withdrawal of US interests creates great opportunities for region, if it is prepared for change, according to top broadcaster

'The Middle East is now in the hands of its own people and its own governments' - Andrew Neil
Headwinds, and also great opportunity, lie ahead for the Middle East as the United States scales back its involvement in the region, prominent BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil told guests at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards on Monday.

Headwinds, and also great opportunity, lie ahead for the Middle East as the United States scales back its involvement in the region, prominent BBC broadcaster Andrew Neil told guests at the Arabian Business Achievement Awards on Monday.

The rise of China and costs of direct intervention, coupled with a growing self-sufficiency of US energy needs, has triggered America’s waning interest in the Middle East and also Europe, Neil said in a keynote address.

But this process also leaves the destiny of Middle East in the hands of its own governments and people, which presents many opportunities, said Neil, who is also the chairman of ITP.

Below is Neil's speech delivered to the audience in Dubai:

“2017 is a special year for the ITP media group. It marks 30 years since the company was founded. Originally a UK-based organisation, its operations shifted to the UAE in 1993, and we never looked back. Over the years it has become one of the biggest media companies in the Middle East, with a portfolio of more than 100 brands, including of course, Arabian Business.

"These decades have seen incredible changes in our country and our region, and at Arabian Business we’ve been privileged to document them.

"So this year we decided it was time to look back at these decades and honour the people who worked tirelessly to create jobs and opportunities along with prosperity and hope for millions. And we all could do with a bit of hope.

“I come to you tonight from the United States, via Europe and everywhere I go I find a growing uncertainty. Uncertainty about Donald Trump, uncertainty in Europe about Brexit, a myriad of uncertainties in the Gulf and in the wider Middle East. You can say uncertainty is always with us, and that is true, but there seems to be more of it at the moment.

"The biggest uncertainty is how Europe and the Middle East will cope with the gradual, relentless withdrawal of United States’ power and influence from both regions.

"I’m in no doubt that this withdrawal is happening, even if sometimes it is not perceptible. It began under President Obama, and, despite the warmer words of President Trump, it is continuing.

"It will continue, I believe, no matter what happens in the White House in 2020. Withdrawal from this hemisphere, to relocate resources and capacity to the Pacific hemisphere, may be unpalatable for some of the region’s rulers, but it is the new and growing consensus in Washington across all parties.

"President Trump has lent vocal support to the governments of the Gulf. But the depth, substance, and longevity of that support remains to be seen. It is symbolic that, as we speak, Mr Trump is finishing one of the longest foreign tours of any recent US president in the Pacific, and that makes sense given the recent history and geo-political trends.

"The rise of China, which forces America to move its resources and capacity to the Pacific, the fact that it’s now self-sufficient in energy, oil and gas, is making this region simply less important to them.

"A recent study by an American Ivy League university found that the US spent almost $6tn on wars and military intervention in this region. With what to show for it? The appetite among, not just the US political elite, but many ordinary voters for intervention or even involvement in this part of the world, is waning.

"So it’s my contention that the destiny of the Middle East is now in the hands of its own people and its own governments. It will produce many challenges, create many opportunities, and will sharpen the focus on goals and independent decision-making. What is happening in Saudi Arabia may be seen as part of the Kingdom getting its house in order for this post-American world.

"While Europe faces the same challenges of American withdrawal, it does so perhaps with fewer opportunities. The most important military and intelligence power in Europe, the United Kingdom, is leaving the European Union.

"Germany is struggling to assemble a new government after elections in September, which left Chancellor Merkel diminished. France has an ambitious, young president, who was recently in the region, but he is untried and untested. He has a massive domestic programme of reform that could consume him.

"The US now sees President Putin’s Russia as the original threat to Europe, rather than a global one like the old Soviet Union. Yet Europe is not equipped with the hard or the soft power necessary to deal with this threat.

"Europe and the Middle East will therefore have to get their acts together, to grab their own destiny, to make their own way, even to make their own mistakes. The good news is that it’s a process. It’s not happening overnight, so we have time to adapt and change.

"The bad news for those who think its reversible, is that it is not. Perhaps it’s a good thing. Perhaps we’ve been too over-dependant on America and its time we took control of our own destiny.

"Meanwhile, those of us in business must get on with the business of business. We have no choice. It is business that pays for the defence of our nations. It is business that allows for the alleviation of poverty. It is business that pays for the education of our children.

"Now it is clear from the array of business talent being honoured here tonight, that this region is already shaping its own business and economic identity. I offer my personal congratulations to all those being awarded tonight.

"Business, in many ways, is showing the way to a more self-sustaining, self-governing region with the destiny of its future in its own hands.

"As we gather tonight to award those in business, who have done that, let us hope that our governments and politicians learn from your example."

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