Magazine article The Middle East , No. 389
THE LATEST WORLD Economic Forum to be held in Sharm El Sheikh 18-20 May sets out to take a new approach to addressing the urgent issues confronting the Middle East region, based around collaborative problem solving, experience sharing, scenario planning and networking. Participants in Sharm El Sheikh will be exposed to leaders in a variety of disciplines including security, IT, natural resources, arts and culture. The programme also sets out to link the Middle East with the latest thinking on broader global issues.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is rapidly becoming a high-growth area, opening up many new opportunities for investment and partnerships. This strong business drive, backed by the extraordinary oil boom of recent years, is weighed up against shifting security and political realities. The Gulf states have gleaned enormous financial benefit from increased global demand for oil and gas and enjoy significant financial liquidity. However, with huge wealth comes huge responsibility and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are striving to put their affluence to good use.
Project participants at Sharm El Sheikh will examine some scenarios which address how GCC wealth can be put to use to ensure the countries involved expand in affluence, while overcoming the internal and external pressures that could shift them from the path of sustainable prosperity and base their debates on two vital questions. Firstly: Will leaders in the GCC countries be willing and able to implement the necessary economic and political reforms and enforce the rule of law, both in public and in private governance? And secondly: How can the GCC countries maintain internal order and stability, in particular vis-a-vis a complex and uncertain regional situation? As important as these questions are, more imperative are the insights that can be gleaned from considering what they imply. In posing three possible futures that address them in different ways, two key themes consistently emerged as being crucial to the future of the GCC countries:
* Education and innovation: The GCC countries face the challenge that their collective oil reserves, while vast, will not last forever. In attempting to diversify away from oil, the GCC countries face a major problem in that their existing skill base for workers is low by world standards and relatively little research, development and innovation are occurring in the region. This creates an impediment to development and exacerbates other problems associated with importing both foreign workers and technologies. As a result, the way in which education policies are handled by GCC governments will be a significant determinant of the region's ability to develop as innovation-based economies that do not wholly rely on natural resources.
* Leadership and governance: GCC states are ruled by traditionally-organised family groups, with varying underlying executive, legislative and judicial models. Leadership and governance will therefore be instrumental in determining the path that the GCC countries will take over the next 20 years.
Three different scenario paths for the GCC countries through to 2025 will be under discussion.
"Oasis" is a story where a focus on technocratic governance and top-down institutional reforms pays off in the form of a well-organised, cohesive and prosperous regional grouping. The region's economic growth, however, remains partially constrained by over-regulation and less-inclusive globalisation. Will GCC governments allow regional tensions to spill over and affect their internal security, resulting in a focus on short-term solutions at the expense of tough reforms?
"Sandstorm" is a scenario in which dramatic regional events and domestic unrest contribute to the GCC countries failing to maintain their momentum of reforms, with negative consequences for the region's economic and social development. …