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What Can the Middle East Learn From Post-War Europe?

18/12/2014 07:31 GMT | Updated 16/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Moving back to London this year and covering stories in this part of the world has reminded of one important historic reality: Western Europe is a political, social and economic miracle.

Think about it: A mere seven decades after one of the most deadly and genocidal wars in human history, the mere idea of conflict in this region is unthinkable.

Covering the fall of the Berlin Wall in November, I realised that we were commemorating a unique moment in history, when a popular uprising against an oppressive police state brought down a symbol of division and tyranny. The people won. The dictators were ousted. All just a few years after the end of World War II.

So does this mean there is hope for the Middle East? After all, more people died and more was destroyed between 1939 and 1945 than ever has been in the Arab World.

Often, I hear those who want to remain hopeful about events in the Middle East use post-war Europe as an example of what can be achieved. Even after the worst kind of war - tens of millions of victims - and the most destructive kind of conflict - 70% of housing in Germany was destroyed after World War II - that it is possible not just to recover in peacetime, but to thrive.

Western Europe even had its most intense period of growth in the three decades after the Second War. Political unions were signed between enemies. Economic and trade deals were put into effect. Why not in the Middle East?

Well, sadly, there are plenty of reasons why.

Perhaps the main issue is the absence of even a shell of working democratic institutions across much of the Arab World. The region has gone from Ottoman Empire rule, to colonial rule, to a very brief period of post-independence political chaos, to dictatorships.

Germany had at least flirted with democracy during the Weimar Republic. Western Europe had matured politically and socially over 300 years. The Arab world has had none of that.

There is another reason the same post-conflict model cannot be replicated now: Germany and Japan had highly skilled workers that could help rebuild.

In countries like Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, skilled workers are leaving in their droves. The brain drain has gutted the Levant of its brightest minds; and when they move, they usually move for good (and given the chronic instability in these countries, it is not hard to see why).

Reason three is that the wars of division and re-composition had already happened in Europe by World War II. The Middle East is only now going through that process. The collapse of artificial nation states and - perhaps - the redrawing of whatever new countries may emerge, has only just started. Think about that: we are at the beginning, not at the end of a process that took Europe three-hundred years.

"The Middle East state system was put in place by colonial powers with no regard for social or economic viability," the London School of Economics professor Fawaz Gerges told me recently. He added that what the region needs now is what Europe got after the war: historical leaderships.

"At the end of World War II, the U.S. stepped in. It took major decisions and invested considerable resources," he told me. But he added that none of that has happened in the Arab World, with recent major Western intervention limited to a disastrous invasion of Iraq.

I was among those who thought awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was a great idea. When the Nobel committee made its announcement in 2012, it was met with disbelief by some. But as a habitual observer of the disaster that is now the Middle East, I personally found that decision inspiring.

At the time, the Nobel Committee justified its unusual choice by arguing that "over a seventy-year period, Germany and France had fought three wars. Today war between Germany and France is unthinkable. This shows how, through well-aimed efforts and by building up mutual confidence, historical enemies can become close partners."

The odds are stacked against the Middle East. But for the sake of all those suffering today, perhaps this is the best time of year to hope for a miracle.

Hala Gorani is an anchor and correspondent based in London. She is the host of The World Right Now with Hala Gorani which airs on CNN, weekdays at 8pm GMT.