The official opening of the Al Habtoor Research Centre in Cairo, Egypt, is just days away. This center commenced operations nearly a year ago, meticulously completing all its preparations, and it has functioned efficiently ever since. It now holds a talented group of Egyptian and other Arab youths with promising research skills.
As the invitations were distributed for the launch event, I encountered numerous inquiries about why an entrepreneur would establish a nonprofit think tank. This question is understandable, given that it is an unconventional approach in our Arab world and the broader region. Before addressing this query, it is crucial to clarify that my role as a businessman comes second to my role as a concerned citizen who is deeply invested in Arab affairs. I carry the weight of my homeland’s concerns and issues and constantly strive to contribute to its betterment.
Business and public affairs are not mutually exclusive but interconnected. Thus, it is essential not to disconnect from societal concerns, especially for profit-driven enterprises. Our region has not been immune to external shocks, starting with the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which focused attention on the region following the massive changes that occurred beneath the surface of our Arab societies. But we were caught off guard by the planes colliding with the New York towers and the Pentagon headquarters.
The same shock occurred in 2008, with the collapse of global financial institutions as a result of the financial behavior that these institutions had engaged in for many years. It was important to note, monitor and warn about the repercussions. Although the wave of bankruptcy began in the US, its flames spread to the region and put pressure on its people, raising food prices and, with this, political pressures, until they reached a critical mass and demonstrations erupted throughout the region in 2010 and 2011, with Arab national security suffering its worst blow since the 1960s.
After this wave passed, another parallel occurred in the years 2019 and 2021, when the COVID-19 crisis caught us off guard, followed by the Russian-Ukrainian war, which put us in the same situation again, threatening our Arab reality after it took us 10 years to regain some of its health at exorbitant costs that will be paid for by future generations.
The Al Habtoor Research Centre intends to place all its outputs on the table of Arab decision-makers as an additional perspective to the valuable inputs that our Arab nations’ leaders have in the decision-making process.
Between these two waves, I initiated an individual effort to publish several articles in Arab and international newspapers, looking forward to the future of my country and warning of the threats from all sides. Most of them have happened now, prompting me to include them all between the covers of a book titled “Is Anybody Listening? How World Leaders Ignored Prescient Warnings About the Middle East.” It demonstrates that what I predicted has matched what transpired literally years later. We could have reduced their costs if we had anticipated and planned for them.
It is no secret that the Arab world faces challenges and a shortage of think tanks, including limited funding, a lack of international cooperation, technological and data deficiencies, and an insufficient research workforce. In contrast, many countries worldwide heavily rely on strategic studies and research to inform their decisions, enabling progress in technology, education and sustainable development.
This strengthened my resolve to place these efforts in an institutional framework that would magnify, supplement and address the world through competencies that would devote their entire time to examination, study and scrutiny, to broaden the circle of prediction and deepen the capabilities of foresight, especially since I had become convinced that we would inevitably face other, more severe waves. Deadlier, with a greater effect, and coming from unusual and unexpected realms.
That is why I established the Al Habtoor Research Centre, and I was eager to include pure, well-qualified young Arab talent, so that they could pick up where I left off in the fields of foresight and early warning in order to achieve the previous goals and add two new dimensions to it. One is to raise awareness of Arab public opinion, which has become increasingly targeted by the outside world in order to impose a global agenda that may not be compatible with our common Arab interests. And the second is to create more elites who bear the two preceding tasks — foresight and addressing the public — in a way that broadens participation, increases impetus and shortens the time it takes to achieve goals.
Finally, Al Habtoor Research Centre intends to place all its outputs on the table of Arab decision-makers as an additional perspective to the valuable inputs that our Arab nations’ leaders have in the decision-making process, but with young eyes and from the nonprofit civil society, in a way that maximizes the neutrality of the outputs and avoids biases. Thus, the Al Habtoor Research Centre translates an endeavor that I began 15 years ago, which represents my principal interest in my society’s concerns and expresses my being an inseparable part of its Arab surroundings.
Everything that propels it forward benefits me, shields it from the evil of impending shocks and opens the way to realization. A more secure and wealthy future.
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.