Arab world capable of creating bright future: Al-Gergawi

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Al-Gergawi spoke of “renewed hope” for the region and the possibility of a “bright future.” (Supplied)
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He spoke at the Arab Strategy Forum held in Dubai. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Arab world capable of creating bright future: Al-Gergawi

  • UAE’s Cabinet affairs minister delivers opening speech at Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai
  • Al-Gergawi blames corruption, extremism, sectarianism for region’s troubles

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.”


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2020

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.