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Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber Headshot

The Middle East You Don't See

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It is easy to watch the nightly news and see a Middle East in turmoil - an unstable, insular and oil-producing region of the world. But that picture of the region doesn't suggest the positive change and progress being made by many nations. The Middle East is not homogeneous. I invite you to consider another Middle East - one that is diversifying national economies, building modern institutions and developing its infrastructure.

This Middle East is adopting best practices in government, connecting with its people and investing in its future.

Recent popular movements across the Arab world have taught us that young people want economic opportunity. They want a pathway to find jobs and pursue their passions. And as populations soar throughout the Middle East, the need for economic opportunity will grow even stronger. The World Bank estimates that the region must add 3 million more jobs per year to fight high unemployment and lacklustre economic growth.

With some of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, Gulf nations like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar are in the unique position to invest in a regional blueprint for how to build new revenue streams, create opportunities and help their neighbours - all of which are building blocks for stability in the region.

Today, these nations are investing their oil and gas wealth in a wide range of education and economic diversification programs. These long-term investment projects prepare our national economies to be less reliant on a single source of energy tomorrow.

In Abu Dhabi - in the capital of the United Arab Emirates - one of our flagship ventures is the investment in the future of energy. Devoting billions of dollars for research and development, we see renewable energy and clean technologies like solar, wind and energy-efficient desalination as vehicles for economic growth and diversification. But we also see them as tools to build capacity, develop human capital and find real solutions to the pressing energy and climate challenge.

In the Middle East you don't see, we also recognize the critical role education plays in growing new economic sectors.

In Qatar, the government has invested billions of dollars in a higher education hub that includes eight international universities. Saudi Arabia now has one of the largest endowments funds for higher education in the world. And here in the UAE, we partnered with NYU to offer a best-in-class undergraduate program and with MIT to establish a research university focused on renewable energy, sustainability and the environment.

Much emphasis has also been placed on building a world-class healthcare system, including infrastructure and specialized services. The UAE has partnered with leading organizations, including Johns Hopkins Medicine and Cleveland Clinic, to bring renowned expertise to the region and establish a foundation for medical research.

Equally important to building long-term economic stability is investing in our cultural enrichment. In the Middle East you don't see, we are building culturally diverse nations and welcoming expatriates from all over the world, bringing with them a variety of skills, experiences and traditions.

This inclusive society is a place where artistic expression, religion and culture can coexist.

Today, world-renowned architects like I.M. Pei, Lord Norman Foster and Frank Gehry join brilliant Arab architects, such as Dame Zaha Mohammad Hadid, and are influential throughout the region. And iconic museums like the Louvre and the Guggenheim are being built alongside national and Islamic galleries. These institutions connect East and West and play an important role in building globally minded citizens who also maintain a close connection to their Arab heritage.

In the Middle East you don't see - our leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable. Our governments have constitutions, balance of powers and autonomous courts. And while not all democratic--in the western sense--our governments have the fundamental role to build a better future for their people. This they have done with success. The policies, practices and institutions they have established are commendable. Citizens of Gulf countries receive free healthcare, free education, government pensions and access to the tools needed to enable them to excel in an increasingly competitive global economy.

In the Middle East you don't see, governments are also addressing gender equality though forward-thinking measures. In the UAE, a progressive law was passed this December mandating corporations and government agencies to include women on their boards of directors. Today, women compose roughly 23 percent of national parliament and also hold prominent political and governmental roles as judges, ambassadors and ministers.

This new Middle East is an example of how a commitment to education, investment and embracing cultural differences can provide economic stability.

Because of its strategic location at a crossroads of major land and sea routes - and, most recently, its abundant oil and gas wealth - the Middle East has been unstable for most of its history. And throughout history, attempts at regional stability have been imposed by outside influences - the Ottomans, Europeans and Americans.

Today, however, in this new Middle East, stability is being driven from within.