The Arab world must focus on global rather than regional competitiveness to achieve sustained growth, Emaar Properties Chairman Mohamed Ali Alabbar told senior government executives and business leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Middle East meeting at the Dead Sea today.
Alabbar, speaking at a WEF Middle East plenary session focused on diversification, also called on regional leaders to act quickly to make the most of existing growth conditions.
The Emaar chairman addressed the plenary session on the second day of the three-day meeting. Operating under the theme of Putting Diversity to Work, this year’s WEF meeting focuses on efforts to accelerate economic diversification in a time of prosperity for the region. Emaar is a founder partner of the WEF on the Middle East.
“We have a great opportunity on hand in the region, with high liquidity, a large youth population and a genuine drive to change the destinies of the Arab people,” Alabbar said in the Saturday panel. “History will never forgive this generation if we waste this opportunity, if we do not make a positive change.” “Our nations are doing well compared to our own history, but trail behind in global comparison,” Alabbar said. “Even our best performing countries lag their international peers in terms of competitiveness, primarily because of a lack of innovation.”
Without innovation, the Emaar chairman added, the Arab world will not be able to sustain its growth and will instead be the victim of changing global cycles. “The Arab world should no longer be stuck in a state of victimhood, but get up and change the culture of patronage. We should go into overdrive to focus on sustained growth,” he added.
Alabbar also called on governments in the region to move out of core sectors and encourage private sector and enterprise. Governments, he added, need to play supporting roles rather than dominant ones in the region’s economies. “Governments should be like gardeners: They should prime the land, plant the seeds and create the right conditions for growth. Then they should step back and let nature take its course,” the chairman said.
He also called on governments of the region to tighten their purse strings, and stress accountability in every sphere of operation. “Al-Tamkeen, the new UAE National Strategy laid out by the Vice President HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is exactly the kind of initiative our region needs,” he said. “The Al-Tamkeen strategy makes it clear that there will be little room for inefficiency, for business as usual, for wasted resources and mismanagement. Accountability is key.”
The ‘Driving for Diversification’ session also featured speakers Ziad Fariz, Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance; Daniela Gressani, World Bank Vice-President for the Middle East and North Africa Region; Arif Naqvi, Vice-Chairman and CEO, Abraaj Capital; and Naguib Sawiris, Vice-Chairman and CEO, Orascom Telecom Holding, Egypt. The session was moderated by Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek.
More than 14 heads of state are attending the WEF Dead Sea event, in addition to numerous government ministers and business leaders from across the region and around the world.