Voices from the Middle East: Evaluating the UN’s Role in Peace and Security

UN Secretary-General António Guterres (left) meets with Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, during the Cairo Summit for Peace in Cairo, Egypt, 21 October 2023 (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)


As the Middle East grapples with a myriad of intricate geopolitical challenges, the role played by the United Nations (UN) in ensuring peace and security becomes increasingly pivotal. This article aims to delve into the perspectives of Middle Eastern citizens regarding the capabilities and effectiveness of the UN in addressing the security threats prevalent in the region. Additionally, it seeks to elucidate the expectations that Middle Eastern citizens have concerning the UN’s role. While drawing insights from the report titled Global South Perspectives on Global Governance Reform published by the Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability (FOGGS) for contextual background, our primary focus is on distilling the sentiments of individuals residing in the Middle East, representing the broader spectrum of ordinary citizens, towards the UN’s initiatives in the realm of peace and security.

Furthermore, this paper aims to scrutinize whether the UN has been able to meet the needs and expectations of the Middle East, particularly in light of the recent conflict in Gaza. The examination of the UN’s response during this critical period serves as a lens through which we assess its effectiveness and relevance to the specific concerns and challenges faced by the Middle East. By addressing these dimensions, we aspire to contribute to a nuanced understanding of the dynamics between the Middle East and the UN in the realm of peace and security.

Perceived Threats and UN Effectiveness

The Middle East region faces a multitude of challenges, including wars, religious conflicts, terrorism, and organized crime, which significantly impact peace and security. When examining the sentiments of the region’s inhabitants regarding these issues, certain concerns consistently stand out. Religious conflicts, terrorism, and organized crime are seen as paramount threats to peace and security in the region.

It is important to note that while Middle Eastern residents recognize the need to address these challenges by their own means, they also acknowledge the role of international organizations in promoting global security and peace. However, there is a prevailing sentiment that their voices struggle to reach the United Nations  or encounter delays in being heard.

This perception of the UN’s (un)responsiveness and (in)effectiveness in upholding peace in the Middle East is influenced by several factors:

  1. Limited Representation: Middle Eastern populations often feel that their perspectives and concerns are inadequately represented within the UN system. This perception contributes to a sense of exclusion and a belief that their voices are not given sufficient weight in global decision-making processes.
  2. Political Interests and Power Dynamics: The Middle East is a region characterized by complex political dynamics and power struggles. Some residents believe that the UN’s actions and decisions are influenced by geopolitical considerations and the wishes of big powers, like the US and Russia, leading to a perceived lack of impartiality and fairness in addressing the region’s peace and security challenges.
  3. Slow Response and Incomplete Implementation of Resolutions: There is a perception that the UN’s response to peace and security issues in the Middle East is often slow and lacks effective implementation. Delays in taking action or the inability to enforce numerous resolutions, notably in the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contribute to skepticism about and erode confidence in the UN’s ability to effectively address the region’s challenges.

While Middle Eastern residents may express concerns about the UN’s effectiveness, it is important to note that this does not necessarily amount to an outright dismissal of the organization or other international bodies. Instead, it reflects a belief that improvements are needed to ensure that their voices are more effectively heard and that the UN can act promptly and decisively in addressing the pressing peace and security challenges faced by the region.

Addressing these concerns requires fostering greater inclusivity, ensuring broader representation of Middle Eastern perspectives within the UN, and enhancing the organization’s responsiveness to the specific needs and priorities of the region. By actively engaging with the Middle East and addressing these challenges, the UN can work towards building trust and demonstrating its commitment to upholding peace and security in the region.

The Gaza Dilemma: A Test of UN Effectiveness

An undeniable testament to the challenges faced by the UN in the Middle East is the ongoing Gaza war. The inability to effectively enforce a permanent ceasefire and protect civilians highlights a broader issue: the UN’s limited capacity to act decisively in urgent and critical situations. This conflict sheds light on the unfolding humanitarian crisis and raises fundamental questions about the UN’s role as a neutral and effective force in the region.

Since the beginning of the conflict between Palestine and Israel, the UN Secretary-General has consistently called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. However, these calls have yet to yield concrete results. In fact, Secretary-General Guterres was called upon to resign by the Israeli Ambassador to the UN when he tried to put this latest war in the context of the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a statement to the UN Security Council.

Currently, Palestinian and Israeli authorities have agreed to a 4-day ceasefire, which also allows the UN to bring humanitarian supplies to Gaza, but it is widely acknowledged that this is not a lasting solution. The people of the Middle East expect the UN to serve as both their voice and arbiter in such conflicts, ensuring the protection of civilians and facilitating meaningful negotiations towards a sustainable peace.

The Gaza dilemma underscores the urgency of enhancing the UN’s effectiveness in crisis situations. It highlights the need for the organization to strengthen its mechanisms for conflict resolution, peacekeeping, and humanitarian assistance. Addressing the root causes of the hostilities, such as the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, requires sustained and unbiased efforts from the international community, with the UN playing a central role.


The Middle East’s perspective on the UN’s role in peace and security reflects a complex interplay of expectations, frustrations, and aspirations. While many individuals recognize the importance of international organizations in addressing global challenges, there is a prevailing sentiment that the UN’s effectiveness in the region can be further enhanced.

To bridge this gap, the UN should prioritize inclusivity, ensuring that Middle Eastern voices are adequately represented in decision-making processes. It must strive for impartiality and demonstrate its commitment to upholding peace and security, even in complex and protracted conflicts. The Gaza war serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by the UN in the Middle East, highlighting the need for greater capacity to act decisively in urgent situations.

Ultimately, the UN’s success in addressing peace and security challenges in the Middle East hinges on its ability to adapt, engage, and respond to the evolving needs and expectations of the region. By actively listening to the concerns of Middle Eastern citizens and working towards meaningful solutions, the UN can foster greater trust and demonstrate its relevance as a key actor in promoting peace and security in this critical region.

Mohammad Taher Gholi Tabar is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Studies of Religions at the University of Religions and Denominations (URD) in Qom, Iran, where he is the Director of the Office of European and American Affairs. Professor Gholi Tabar lectures regularly in various fora and universities in Iran, as well as in Europe, and is engaged in interfaith programmes and peacemaking activities worldwide. His publications include papers on inter-religious dialogue, religious tourism, and co-existence.

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