When one looks to the West from our current geographic location, we tend to overlook what’s in between. Instead, we focus on what’s immediately available. It’s not wrong to do so. For centuries, we have looked up to Western societies and civilizations with its mighty talks of “human-rights and democracy”. Although Western civilizations has made errors, we must not dismiss it in total. Likewise, we must not make hasty judgements about West Asia1.
For centuries, West Asia did not give us any reason to look into the vast pool of opportunities that lay within in. What was once thought of as endless tribal and/or civil wars, the unknown, or in Edward Said’s words the “Orientals”, is now expanding with regards to national and regional developments that may or may not dominate the global scene. Countries in West Asia are gushing to create more developments within their respective countries.
Countries like Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are investing much of its petro-dollars and its sovereign wealth fund on national developments and transforming its social policies. Recently, Dubai outgrew China’s Shenzhen and the United States’ New York in having built more skyscrapers in the year 2020 alone. Aside from infrastructure development, KSA has also outlined gender equality and tolerance in its Vision 2030 National Transformation Plan (NTP), once, only a mere illusion. Women have become more visible amongst the Kingdom’s workforce and are driving changes in digital transformations, energy sectors and military industries. The Kingdom is also looking into expanding its tech-industry through its recent NEOM City projects (of building zero-carbon city) and digitalized apps that could overturn the Kingdom’s image of being ‘backwards’ or mere ‘desert dwellers’.
Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, albeit being small countries, are also tallying up the race amongst six other GCC members. Last year, Oman overturned a law on freedom of expression, guaranteeing freedom and liberty to its people under the sanctity of Omanis’ private life. Bahrain is also expanding its technology and innovations by stating that it will launch its first ever satellite by the third quarter of this year. Qatar, in between cosying up to Iran and Turkey, as well as, fixing relations with its fellow GCC members, is also upscaling its efforts in procuring more LNGs and shedding off oil in the upcoming energy shift.
When we talk about historical and cultural preservation, we have to turn towards Egypt, with its vast pool of significant and monumental artifacts and library, and how it has shaped the country into becoming “Um Al-Dunya” (Mother of the World). The country is known to have built and persevere its ‘City of the Dead’ within 6 years. The country is also looking into securing a deal with Germany to build high-speed rail links that could cut across the Mediterranean coast and the Red Sea.
But we must remind ourselves, like how ASEAN countries are jumbled up as a whole, that West Asia is no different. We are all pooled into a giant web of entanglement with one another; we must always tread cautiously and wisely. Although the region is known for its human-rights abuses and endless arguments over territorial disputes, maybe, just maybe, all we need to do is to not ignore it any longer. Ignoring the significance of this region will only undermine out effort to build a more prosperous and united world. The region – with all its glory and mistakes – has proven to be too valuable to shed off. We must learn from the region’s mistakes in order to find a sustainable resolution for it. Is it too late for Malaysia to start looking towards West Asia? Nothing is ever too late if we set our right minds to it.
1The term West Asia (instead of the Middle East) is only used in this article to define its spatial geographic location to Malaysia. This term of reference also includes North African countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco and etc.
This article was first appeared in New Straits Times on 1 February 2021.