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The Arab world needs independent think tanks

Our region is facing alarming threats and there is a need to support independent civil society think tanks.

Samar Fatany

Published: Updated:

Our region is facing alarming threats and there is a need to support independent civil society think tanks that can provide innovative solutions to our political, economic and social challenges. Political experts assert that in times of crisis and threatening situations and when decisions are highly consequential, a thorough understanding of evolving realities is very critical. Think tanks can certainly play a vital role in addressing these challenges.

The Saudi-based think tank and research center, Al-Aghar, the brainchild of Prince Faisal Bin Abdullah, the former deputy commander of the National Guard in the western region and the former Minister of Education, is one of the few Saudi research centers that has succeeded in creating an impact on the national front.

The nonprofit think tank held a workshop on Feb. 13 at the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah to review the future direction of the organization and empower it with a new strategy combining think tank research with international consulting expertise. A.T. Kearney an American consulting firm based in the Middle East was commissioned to provide expert advice to help position Al-Aghar as a reliable Saudi think tank. The experts identified the necessary tools to make the think tank more effective and came up with ideas to promote a better strategy for a sustainable future.

The success of any think tank is based on the relevance of its research to real challenges and the trust of decision makers in the advice provided

Samar Fatany

The workshop included researchers, intellectuals, economists, professionals and media experts who identified the main weaknesses of Arab think tanks. They stressed the need to upgrade the quality of research that suffers from limited resources, inadequate expertise and restricted means of influence. They also pointed out that in Saudi Arabia society is not familiar with the culture of research which makes it difficult for researchers to access information and hinders their efforts to conduct research.

The Saudi experts concluded that Arab and Saudi think tanks are required to build trust by enhancing their capacities and expertise to produce high quality data and policy papers. They need to build a strong communication network that is more diversified and independent. In order to boost their chances for recognition, they need to upgrade their services and learn from the experiences of more advanced professional agencies.

Real challenges

The success of any think tank is based on the relevance of its research to real challenges and the trust of decision makers in the advice that a think tank provides. It is unfortunate that Arab governments and the majority of stakeholders do not trust local think tanks to produce valuable research and knowledge, or are unwilling to consider that their analyses are as reliable as those of American consulting firms. Foreign research centers often have their own agendas and their findings may not always have our interests in mind. It is critical for our nation to support Saudi think tanks and to come up with more reliable homegrown solutions to our problems.

Al-Aghar has conducted valuable research and presented a national strategy to transform Saudi Arabia into a knowledge-based society. It has conducted workshops nationwide and produced projects that are relevant to the current economic and social context. The research agenda of the home-based think tank is focused on engaging global experts and civil society experts to formulate national strategies that can boost the Saudi economy and address key issues to support reforms.

Members of the board of Al-Aghar, who include former ministers and Saudi intellectuals, are committed to making home-based think tanks more credible and reliable. Our country is in need of sincere expert recommendations that are based on scientific research to address social conflicts and economic challenges. Our policy makers today are under greater public scrutiny and need to review a wider range of potential solutions to current challenges.

The intellectual in-depth Saudi think tank is keen to provide the necessary research to address the complex challenges that continue to threaten our security and national stability. Independent Saudi-based think tanks are in a better position to provide valuable research to support public policy, build consensus and advance the interests of citizens in all their diversity. It is time we put our trust in our own think tanks and support their role in addressing our challenges.

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Feb. 27, 2016.
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Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.