The skewed Middle East equation
An important first step is to work towards ensuring economic inclusion in the region
The Egypt Economic Development Conference that was held in Sharm al Sheikh in March last year was a dramatic show of international investor support for Egypt’s ambitious economic plans that aim to restore security and stability to the Arab world’s most populous and, arguably, most important country.
World leaders, industry captains and investment heavyweights flew in from around the world to deliver this very message, and by the end of the three-day conference, had pledged US$36.2 billion in investments. It was, indeed, very impressive – but more than a full year later, long after all the clapping and cheering has finally quieted down, we must be a little more pragmatic both about what was since achieved, and about what we need to do next.
Sustainability, for example, was a key recurring topic throughout the conference and, while there is no arguing the importance of sustainable economic development to the security and stability we so desperately seek, we seem to remain entirely unable or, perhaps, unwilling to face a key fact: we’ve got our fundamental equation entirely askew.
For the past sixty years or so, post colonization, most countries in the Middle East have worked on the basis that security brings stability, and that stability brings sustainable development. Unfortunately, it is the other way around entirely: sustainable development brings stability, stability brings security. That’s why we’ve never quite managed to make it to the “sustainable development” part of the equation.
Egypt alone needs about US$85 billion over the next five years simply to create a process for, and a path towards, sustainable development. To succeed in this specific goal, these investments cannot be exclusively in glamorous, big-ticket projects like many of those announced at the conference.
For the past sixty years or so, post colonization, most countries in the Middle East have worked on the basis that security brings stability, and that stability brings sustainable developmentKhalid Abdulla-Janahi
In fact, I am not sure how much of the money pledged or spoken for during the conference is truly being earmarked for genuine sustainable development. Unfortunately, it sounds like the majority of it is being invested in the security-end of the equation: many are simply thinly-veiled attempts at trying to buy security in the hope that this will, in turn, lead to stability and, from there, sustainability.
It is tragic because we already know it doesn’t work. It is even more so because we already know, as demonstrated by many, many developed economies, what actually does work.
We must think of our long-term goals, and recognize that all of us who participated in the Sharm conference are part of the establishment and that we must all, individually and collectively, pay a price to ensure that economic sustainability becomes a tangible reality.
An important first step, and another key recurring topic at the conference, is to work towards ensuring economic inclusion. This really is an obvious prerequisite to any meaningful attempt at economic sustainability. We must recognize that we are all born equal and that we should all be given the same equal opportunities in a merit-based society.
Unfortunately, the concept of meritocracy does not seem to exist in the Arab world. For many of us in the Middle East, this is a very difficult pill to swallow – but, until we do, we will not be able to address the social ills that are plaguing our communities.
Khalid Abdulla-Janahi was elected Vice Chairman of WEF's Arab Business Council (2003 to 2007). He was also the Co-Chair of WEF's Global Agenda Council on the Middle East up to 2011. He is the Group Chief Executive of Dar Al Maal Al Islami, a Chairman of Solidarity Group Holding and the Chairman of Naseej. Khalid is based in Geneva.