DUBAI: The Arab world will face three major shifts in the next decade, adding fresh urgency to the task of tackling corruption and extremism across the region, the UAE’s minister of Cabinet affairs and the future said on Monday at the 12th Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai.
The three shifts will include a new economic reality, a revolution in information production, and an increase in the Arab world’s contribution to the global economy, Mohammed Al-Gergawi said at the one-day event, whose theme was “Forecasting the Next Decade.”
Delivering the opening address at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Dubai International Financial Centre, he spoke of “renewed hope” for the region and the possibility of a “bright future,” provided Arab states take advantage of upcoming opportunities.
“Our region still has an increasing strategic importance and possesses huge human potential,” said Al-Gergawi, adding that more than 100 million Arab youth are predicted to enter the labor market over the next 10 years.
He attributed the current unrest in the Arab world to corruption, saying it has cost the region more than $1 trillion in the last decade.
Stating that extremism, sectarianism and corruption are keeping the Middle East and North African down, Al-Gergawi posed the questions: In which direction are our countries heading? And will the Arab world be part of the new economic reality?
Drawing attention to what he called a surge in technological advancements and rapid developments, he described the current state of the world as one of great “paradoxes.”
He said: “We live today in a world of permanent revolution in the production of information. Yet it has caused chaos in the decision-making process, leading to a decline in the region’s socio-political ecosystems.”
Citing what he described as another contemporary contradiction, Al-Gergawi discussed the power of communication and advances in web-based technologies.
“It has enabled man to reach a new future, to lift him out of his poverty, strengthen his knowledge, increase his opportunities and renew his energies,” he said.
On the other hand, technology has also resulted in “chaos, frequent unrest, and the spread of protests” that have disrupted law and order in many societies, he added.
Today, the data produced in one second is equivalent to the information found in a library containing 16 million books, said Al-Gergawi.
The information produced in the last two years is equal to “nine times the human knowledge” that has been produced since the dawn of human history, he added.
While this revolution has helped lift 1 billion people out of poverty, the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever before, he said.
Al-Gergawi noted that 1 percent of people own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth, even as 3 billion people remain outside the reach of the internet.
He said competition and conflict over the possession and production of information has already begun.
Over the last decade, the number of new technology patents has grown in the US by 41 percent. During the same time, in China it grew by an astonishing 13,250 percent, Al-Gergawi said.
“China today produces 10 times the data produced by the US annually. And in 2019, the Ministry of Education in China announced the introduction of 400 new majors for undergraduate students in the areas of artificial intelligence, big data and robotics,” he said.
By contrast, the volume of inter-Arab trade does not exceed 10 percent, half of which is in oil, Al-Gergawi added.
“Intra-non-oil trade reaches only 5 percent, while trade between European countries stands at around 60 percent,” he said.
“We have the largest oil stocks, we have the most fertile agricultural lands and the world’s largest rivers. We have history, monuments and landmarks.” The Arab world is visited by hundreds of millions of tourists every year, he said.
“We’re not pessimistic at all, rather the opposite,” Al-Gergawi added. “Our region still has increasing strategic importance, and it has huge potential.”