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Influencer 2014 Special

Aired January 1, 2015 - 11:00:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: A very warm welcome to a special edition of Connect the World with me, Becky Anderson.

Well, I'm Dubai at the popular Kobara (ph) restaurant along with some of the UAE's local residents. And if you are a regular viewer of this

show, some familiar faces, key contributors to Connect the World over the past 12 months.

Alam wa salam (ph) to all of you.

We've teamed up with our colleagues at to identify who has influenced the Middle East most this year in 2014. Coming up, I'll

unveil the results of our online survey as decided by our digital audience.

Well, those that gathered here will then be able to discuss that shortlist of characters and vote on who they think had the most influence

on the region #influencer2014.

Well, the Oxford English Dictionary defined influence as "the capacity to have an effect on the character, development or behavior of someone or

some thing."

Influence can be a powerful force for good in the right hands. It can be a deadly and equally potent asset in the wrong hands.

Well, here is the shortlist for Middle East Influencer 2014.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: ISIS and Hamas are branches of the same poisonous tree.


They differ widely in character: from leaders of influential regional powers to the powerless refugee to the first female Emirati fighter pilot

all capturing news headlines. But one thing they share is influence.

Well, Caroline Faraj is the editor-in-chief of CNN Arabic. You ran this survey, Caroline. What was the response?

CAROLINE FARAJ, CNN ARABIC MANAGING EDITOR: We got almost 10,000 voters within the two weeks that the survey was on. And we've also noted

that lots of people actually commented as well on the survey. In addition to this, the voters from all over the globe and lots of buzz was also on

the social media.

ANDERSON: A lot of lively discussion online.

FARAJ: Absolutely, yes.

ANDERSON: All right. Well, without further ado, let's reveal the shortlist as chosen by CNN Arabic's users in no particular order. The

Middle Eastern refugee, the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.

Well, that is the shortlist. And that is up for discussion with our audience here today as we anticipate who will be their influencer 2014.

That is coming up next. We're going to take a very short break. Back after this.


ANDERSON: Welcome back to a special edition of Connect the World. From the Kobara (ph) restaurant in Dubai.

You join us as we discuss who has had the most influence on the Middle East in 2014.

What a year it has been for this region.

Our audience here will shortly vote on who they believe has made the grade. But we have a shortlist, so let's kick off first the Middle Eastern



ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One jagged line into the horizon, refugees from Syria walking to safety towards Jordan. The

hundreds of thousands that fled Mosul didn't even have time to pack a bag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A modern-day exodus, thousands of people trudge across a river to escape a violent enemy.


ANDERSON: Faisal al-Yafai, you are economist for the National Newspaper, a regular guest on our show. Why do you think our digital

audience attributed so much influence to the reguee this year?

FAISAL AL-YAFAI, CHIEF COLUNMIST, THE NATIONAL: Well, all of the people -- all of the individuals on that list have had an enormous

influence on the Middle East in 2014, but I tend to think that the problems of the Middle East are too big to have been caused by one person and too

big to be solved by one person. So I think the Middle Eastern refugee is both a symbol and a reality.

The symbol, of course, is about the nature of the Middle East today and how interlinked it is. But the reality, as you see in that video, is

horrific. 9 million people on the move from their homes without schools, without families.

This is not just a catastrophe, it is a cataclysm, and one that will be with the Middle East for decades.

ANDERSON: Ali Khedery, you are a regular guest on this show, Connect the World with me Becky Anderson and a former U.S. -- former insider, as it

were, to the U.S. administration. Your thoughts?

ALI KHEDERY, PRINCIPAL, DRAGONMEN PARTNERS: Well, with roughly 10 million Syrians and Iraqis both as refugees and over in neighboring

countries and internally displaced, what you have a problem here is that so many people obviously disenfranchisement and disillusionment could occur

very easily and radicalization and thus militancy.

So even if 1,000 of those 10 million were to become radicalized, you have thousands of jihadis running around.

ANDERSON: Yes, sir.

MOHAMMED HAREB, THEATER DIRECTOR: Usually when you have them in the millions we find it very hard -- the brain just puts them as a bloc and you

lose all kind of emotional connection and you just pass through them.

ANDERSON: And we've said regularly on the show that it is to our shame that we talk in numbers, not in names; in numbers, not in faces. You

make a very, very good point.

Anybody else. Kim Kelisha.

KIM KELISHA, JOURNALIST: Unfortunately, we can't talk in names, because there's just too many numbers. And it's heartbreaking to see it.

And especially living -- and I've lived in this region for 18 years, and when I see the growth in what's happening around us in -- it's phenomenal,

especially in a place like Dubai. But then you look at our borders and it's a hopeless situation so many times. And I feel like there needs to be

more participation in these moderate states to maybe not build the largest stadium in the world and maybe help the neighbors.


ELIZABETH DICKINSON, JOURNALIST: I would like to pick up on that point, exactly. That the burden that's been placed on the host countries

is really remarkable.

I think one of the lessons of the last three years is that Arab countries -- Arab people are ready for more economic empowerment, more

freedom, more opportunity. Well, the countries that are hosting this incredible burden of refugees, that's just gotten a lot harder. How do you

provide jobs not only for your local citizens, but in Jordan 600,000 plus refugees that are also in need of economic opportunity and support. It's

really a remarkable burden.

ANDERSON: Back to you Faisal just for a closing though on the refugee.

AL-YAFAI: Well, the point made by my colleague about the lack of a face goes to the heart of this issue, because the majority of the displaced

in Syria are not externally displaced in the neighboring countries, as Beth points out, but inside Syria itself. And the reason we don't see them is

that they are invisible.

But the repercussions of it -- and this is why I think it's so important and why they held such an influence, the repercussions of it --

socially, economically and politically will be felt for years.

ANDERSON: Thank you, everybody. Good discussion.

That is -- and as I said, in no particular order -- one of our three candidates for influencer 2014 on the shortlist.

Let's move on to the second candidate, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah.


ANDERSON: The biggest and most influential Sunni Arab country, shedding its preference of quiet diplomacy to get militarily involved.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were joined in this action by our friends and partners, Saudi Arabia...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: change is afoot in this ultra-conservative kingdom, driven from the very top by the ruler King Abdullah...

AL-YAFAI: The danger that Saudi sees in Iraq goes far beyond what is happening with ISIS.


ANDERSON: Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, you're a regular guest on this show. You're a professor at Emirates University.

We saw a lot of tension in the Gulf amongst the GCC countries this year that has apparently been resolved by Riyadh at this point. Does King

Abdullah emerge as a sage leader once again?

ABDULKHALEQ ABDULLAH, EMIRATES UNIVERSITY: There are two reasons why I think King Abdullah should be chosen as the influencer -- or I consider

him the influencer for the others -- among all the others -- is for two good reasons, I think.

One has to do with the fact that ISIS momentum had to be stopped. And it was King Abdullah who put all the moral, the political weight behind the

international coalition to stop ISIS's momentum. That is for me a gamechanger, and that's for me very important. And we would not have had

the chance to do it without King Abdullah.

And the second reason has to do with the fact that King Abdullah also moved in strongly to stabilize Egypt. The stabilization of Egypt is the

key to stabilizing this whole region. So for these reasons -- two reasons probably -- I considering King Abdullah is the influencer of 2014.

ANDERSON: Abdulkhaleq, thank you for that.

Salman, you are a Saudi. There are those who might contend that King Abdullah would be the influencer of 2014 but for all the wrong reasons.

SALMAN AL ANSARI, THOMSON REUTERS: Saudi Arabia knows exactly what it -- what kind of threat that ISIS and Islamists can have across the globe.

So the issue right now in the region is that we still have mistrust from so many different countries that think that Saudi Arabia is benefiting

from the rise of ISIS, which is completely ironic, because the most threatened country in the region, or in the whole world, is Saudi Arabia by


ANDERSON: Faisal Abbas, you are editor-in-chief of al Arabiya English, which is a Saudi-owned organization. Your thoughts.

FAISAL ABBAS, AL ARABIYA ENGLISH: I think King Abdullah's influence has been tremendously positive. And I think it's just surreal that among

all the candidates, we don't see President Obama. If anybody had a negative -- I'm not saying deliberate, but a negative impact on -- or

influence on the region, it's been the inactivity of the U.S. administration.

The issue with Saudi Arabia is that it's a body that can be called different things, but as a nation it's generally silent. But behind the

scenes, Saudi has been advising America about the kind of awful strategy in Iraq for 10 years. And until recently nobody listened until finally Maliki

has been removed people started to realize that the Saudi advice was right.

ANDERSON: Thank you everybody. That is two of our shortlist of three most influencial movers in the Middle East in 2014.

The third chosen by our audience online at was the ISIS leader.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much about Abu Bakr al Baghdadi is a mystery, but not his viciousness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His allure comes from promoting brutality.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't just come out to say hello to his followers, he came out to say I am the new leader of the entire Muslim


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Known for ferocious attacks, his mission to fight for an Islamic fundamentalist takeover of Iraq and Syria.


ANDERSON: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, not a name that many of our viewers around the world perhaps would have known in 2013, certainly a name that

resonates now around the world.

Elizabeth, is ISIS, and indeed Baghdadi, a product of the failure of the so-called Arab Spring do you think?

DICKINSON: I think his key innovation was unfortunately the mixture of militant jihadism with territory. So before this phenomenon was very

much a hit and run. You go in, you leave. Now it's a hit and hold.

The implications of this are gigantic for the populations involved, but also not just in the Middle East, the wider world.

ANDERSON: Faisal Abbas, what are your thoughts?

ABBAS: I think with Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, there is no question that he had deadly disastrous impact. And I think we all agree that we wish he

wasn't on the list given that impact, which I would say perhaps not since the days of Osama bin Laden has there been a bigger enemy to Islam, in the

name of Islam itself, which is ironic, then this man on the screen there.

He also created a very interesting debate in the region, which is perhaps beautifully described in a recent article in The Economist called

"The Tragedy of Arabs," which is it has given us a sense of urgency that it's now the time to reverse our civilization decline. And it's -- and I

think it's in our own hands, because now we see if we don't take action what kind of people we are going to have to deal with.

I think there's no denying this is pure evil, but there is a short- term and the long-term. I think after the aftermath of the Arab Spring the countries became a civil war wasteland. And how many casualties died there

between the different sectors of Islam and in the thousands and thousands.

And if you look at what happened with ISIS afterwards, the number of casualties and who is being killed are much less, but much more brutal.

ANDERSON: To get everybody's thoughts in we'll have to keep our thoughts fairly tight just in this last couple of minutes. I know we've got

lots of hands.

Where am I going to go? Abdulkhaleq with you and then I'll come to you.

ABDULLAH: It's no denying that he was an influencer of 2014, OK, you cannot deny this fact. He was there. He was a huge influencer.

But influencer could be either a good or a bad or an ugly influencer like the Clint Eastwood movie The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. And there is

no denying that this guy is not just the ugly, bu the ugly of the uglies, because he stands against everything you and I and everybody else in this

whole stand for -- modernity, nation-state, democracy, women, et cetera, et cetera.

But he is no doubt an influencer of 2014, Becky.

ANDERSON: I wonder, Ali Khedery, whether you think that if the leader of ISIS were to be chosen by this audience here as the influencer 2014,

that just provides more oxygen for the soft power, as we have discussed today, the oxygen of publicity, which might take him into 2015 as the

influencer in the Middle East?

KHEDERY: I think it would, indeed. But I think Mr. Baghdadi is obviously the face of the movement that is ISIS, which numbers probably in

the tens of thousands, but I believe ISIS is actually a symptom of an underlying much more serious cancer, and that's the problem of poor

governance in places like Baghdad and Damascus.

ISIS rose because of literally decades of poor governance under Saddam Hussein and Maliki in Iraq for decades, and under the Assads in Damascus.

So, through corruption, literally genocide where hundreds of thousands of people died, millions of Syrians and Iraqis became disenfranchised and

disillusioned, then they moved toward rebellion and insurgency, and now they've moved toward terrorism. And that sucked in global disillusioned

and disenfranchised youth to wage this jihad.

It's a very dangerous phenomenon.

If we don't tackle the problems of poor governance in Baghdad and Damascus with their patrons in places like Tehran and Hezbollah in Lebanon,

then this probably will expand into a broader regional war.

ANDERSON: You were also nodding here.

AMNA AL HOSANI, STUDENT, SHEIKH ZAYED UNIVERSITY: I think Baghdadi is the most obvious influencer, because throughout all the people we

mentioned, like King Abdullah and Mariam al-Mansouri and the refugees, his name and ISIS keeps coming up, like they're influencing all the

influencers. And the decisions that are being made are all -- a lot of them are related to ISIS and to Baghdadi.

ANDERSON: Faisal al-Yafai, back to you. ISIS is the influencer 2014.

YAFAI: It would be hard to disagree that ISIS is the story of the year. I think Ali's point about the failed state is the essence of this.

This came out of a context. And the context of governance is very important.

The importance of a group like ISIS, and the reason why they will continue to be influential into 2015 is not because of what they do, but

what the region does around them. And so what the reaction that the Middle East has, the unity that ISIS has brought about, is going to mean that

their influence stretches far beyond what actually they've done.

ANDERSON: Great discussion. Thank you very much.

Coming up on this special edition of Connect the world from the Kobara (ph) restaurant in Dubai, the moment of truth: our audience here gets the

chance to vote for #influencer2014.


ANDERSON: Welcome back to a special edition of Connect the World with me Becky Anderson at the Kobara (ph) restaurant in Dubai.

Well, in collaboration with our colleagues at, we identified a shortlist of people who have had an enormous impact on this

the Middle East region in 2014.

My audience here with me has had a chance today to discuss the characters and debate their significance, now the time has come to vote for

who this audience believes has had the most influence.

Who is it guys? Audience, cast your vote.

Do we have a result?

And let me reveal for our audience here and for our viewers around the world who the #influencer2014 is here in the Middle East. 52.63 percent of

the audience here Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi resonated most with, and just ahead of King Abdullah, the Middle Eastern refugee. What a fascinating result.

What a fascinating discussion we have had today.

Well, it's been a year of sweeping change in what is this pivotal part of the world from Tripoli to Tehran, influencers old and new have taken a

commanding role on the global stage. And perhaps it's in areas where clear leadership is somewhat lacking that the changes have been most significant.

And as we move into 2015, there will be new stakeholders, new characters and new groups who will jockey for good and bad positions as

influencers, as ever you can rely on CNN and Connect the World with me Becky Anderson to go there, bringing you the stories that matter most.

To our audience here at Kobara (ph) restaurant, we thank you very much indeed for joining us. Our audience has made their choice, but the

discussion continues through the end of the year. Tweet me @BeckyCNN, our teams @CNNArabic and @CNNConnect.

Thanks for joining me. I'm Becky Anderson. Goodbye.