Lakhdar Brahimi, Algerian UN Diplomat, at the International Government Communication Forum 2015, in Sharjah Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/ Gulf News

Sharjah: When the political flashpoints first went off in the Arab world, people were calling for real change, and when governments chose not to respond, they became victims of the change, Lakhdar Brahimi, former Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said on the concluding day of the International Government Communication Forum in Sharjah.

In a live onstage interview with Raghida Dergham, New York Bureau Chief for Al Hayat newspaper, Brahimi spoke about the crisis in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and problems in other Middle Eastern countries, including the power Iran wields in each of those countries.

Brahimi said any crisis cannot be limited to certain territory and that it will end up affecting neighbouring countries, just as what happened in Syria.

“In early events, Syrians were just calling for dignity and freedom, but these demands were not dealt with properly, and what started as a peaceful movement turned into something much worse. Syria’s past, present, and future have been destroyed, and I believe neighbouring countries should have dealt with the crisis in a better way.”

He said Lebanon deserves to be saluted, because it took it upon itself to bear the burden of millions of Syrian refugees, which no single other country agreed to do. “Even if there are still problems and things that were not achieved, Lebanon did it what it can,” he said.

“As Syria’s crisis became worse, the so-called Islamic State or Daesh in Iraq found a reason to expand into Syria and ended up calling themselves Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”

Speaking about Iran and its involvement in the Middle East, he said: “It is not possible for us to ignore the existence of Iran, but we can object to their control in Syria and Iraq.”

“Iran considers itself the most important country in the Middle East, especially after gaining power in Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. We must consider the fact that since it is part of the problem, it could also be part of the solution.”

Brahimi said that it is important that Iran collaborate with other governments to fight Daesh and not just say they disapprove of the group.

“To be frank, the biggest issue with the region is that there are a lot of divisions. This doesn’t help the UN do its part and this doesn’t help Syria in return. In one of the reports I wrote, I highlighted how Syria cannot deal with the issue alone, neither can neighbouring countries because of the divisions, and the only way to solve it is to rely on external circles.”

Brahimi moved on to discuss how America’s invasion of Iraq was the fundamental reason for what is happening in Iraq today and why Iraqis are suffering.

“I’m not defending Saddam Hussain, and I don’t mean the US created Daesh, but the conditions following the invasion led Al Qaida to come to Iraq and for Daesh to gain power.”

As for the role of government communication in the Arab world, Brahimi said that the capacity of Arab governments to reach out to people is really disappointing and not up to expectation.

“There is a dire need for governments to communicate with the people more. There is a lack of confidence among people. I hope through this forum people will take note of everything being discussed.”

When Brahimi was asked about his best achievements, he said the richest and most successful experience he had was when supervising the elections in South Africa, which brought Nelson Mandela to power.