Business leaders and civil society activists left the final session of the World Economic Forum’s Special Meeting on the Middle East with a strong sense of optimism, despite the major problems with which the Arab world is wrestling in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
In particular, the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan took hope from the dramatic announcement of the total liberation of Libya from Mahmoud Jibril, chairman of the National Transitional Council, indicating that even in a country where a brutal war has been fought for more than eight months, things are moving forward.
Over the two days, the Special Meeting heard from politicians trying to cope with regime change, business leaders offering engagement on social change, and social activists looking to build a stronger civil society. One example of business confidence was expressed by Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s global chairman and CEO, who spoke of his company’s decision to invest $5 billion (Dh18.37 billion) in the region in next ten years.
Others looked at the regional political and business scene, and Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, spoke of the need for a more balanced relationship between the Arab states and the USA, based on transparency, predictability, and consistency. He was supported by Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, CEO of Mashreq Bank, who said that the Arab world wants to work with the USA as a strategic and equal partner, “but with no more zigzags”.
The dominant theme of the Special Meeting was the need to expand the Arab economies to build at least 75 million new jobs within the next 20 years to offer opportunities to the next wave of young people.
This colossal task needs the engagement of a wide range of forces to achieve better education, more vocational skills, better social acceptance of entrepreneurialism, more investment and access to funds, and enforcement of the rule of law. While many agreed that these themes have been discussed for many years, the impact of the Arab Spring has brought them to the fore.