Dubai: Influenced by the Arab spring, the six Arab Gulf states are in a better position to seize the opportunity and start introducing reforms, an elite figure from the region said in an exclusive interview.
Speaking to Gulf News from Doha, Qatari Shaikh Mohammad Ahmad Jasem Al Thani, in his late 40s, explained that while the states need to take measures to activate the civil society’s institution and further motivate the private sector, the citizens of the region have also a role to play; they need to change their perception to the role of the state.
“According to the formula in my book, I say the best time for change now. It is when you are powerful and you don’t wait for [others] to state their demands and pressure you,” Shaikh Mohammad, former minister of economy and commerce, said.
“The GCC should grasp the opportunity to be the powerhouse driving positive change in the Arab world, while others are in a state of disarray and regression,” wrote Shaikh Mohammad in his book The Arab Spring and The Gulf States — Time to Embrace Change, which was published recently.
In 2011, four Arab presidents were ousted. The former Tunisian president left his country, the Egyptian was sentenced to prison, the Libyan was killed and the Yemeni president survived a massive rocket attack before stepping down.
Shaikh Mohammad expressed, in his book, his strong belief that for achieving stable and prosperous futures for the Arab countries, including the Gulf region, Arab leaders need to learn from past and present developments and accept the need to change. The ultimate goal should be building civil society institutions, where people enjoy more freedoms and democracy, and where peoples’ rights are effectively protected by the law. At the same time, the way should be paved for the private sector to play a bigger role in the economy.
Asked which comes first in the Gulf region, more human freedoms or more fuel to activate the private sector, the former Qatari minister said “in my opinion, they go together hand in hand.”
There is no “successful country” in terms of economy, either after armed conflicts or not, which have achieved good results without following “free economy” policies and the innovation of the “private sector”. He gave South Korea, Turkey and Singapore as successful examples of effective private sectors.
“Without this, there will be no sustainable or constant growth,” said Shaikh Mohammad, who spent nearly 17 years in the field of oil and gas in his country. Qatar is among the top producing countries of oil and natural gas in the whole world.
“I am among the advocates that state institutions become regulators and not become a competitor to the private sector. The state should play the role of the regulator, and establish institutions to serve mainly the people and their needs. Then it lays down the platform, which in this case is the infrastructure, availability of capital, availability of law and order, and availability of security”.
Once the individual finds security and protection from the state, there will be “a revolution in the development process,” according to Shaikh Mohammad, who holds his MBA from the top tier Duke University and is a former visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic studies.
Encouraging citizens to invent and excel in their projects, will “automatically and simultaneously will lead to the development of the civil society… this will take time, seven years, 10 years…etc.”
The GCC countries, which are rich in oil and other natural resources, are working on diversifying their economies to make them less oil-dependent. Yet, the black gold still constitutes the backbone of most of the Gulf economies. Shaikh Mohammad noted that the Arab Gulf countries should be aware of the fact that money coming easily from exporting oil and gas could affect other economic sectors.
At the same time, citizens in the Gulf region should change the perception built over the years especially after the discovery of oil, on entitlement to undemanding jobs in the public sector, while business has grown accustomed to the strong growth recently experienced by the oil-producing economies.
“As a result, wealth has not been accumulated through hard work, experience, innovation, or risk-taking. This does not encourage resilient business, value creation or contribution. GCC countries will need to address this if they are to reform their economies and encourage a more productive society,” he wrote in the book.
Apart from its natural riches, “the GCC, in my personal opinion, has the best chance to be a role model for other Arab countries, because of the homogeny in their structure and closeness to each other,” he said.
“It [GCC bloc] can establish its own system that is accepted and respected by everybody,” he said.
However, the form of “accepted” system is still unknown, and doesn’t mean having an identical system across the six countries. “But the GCC as a bloc should continue to be a bloc” and “we need more proactive ideas and ways.”
Meanwhile, the GCC countries need to coordinate their positions in defence policies and strategies, economical benefit from its citizens’ talents and experience, and manage to use internal sources for food and water. Most of the countries import their food needs from abroad.
“The most danger facing the GCC countries are food and water,” he said.