Harvard’s Arab alumni meet in Oman weigh political, economic issues facing the region

Oman Saturday 02/April/2016 23:52 PM
By: Times News Service
Harvard’s Arab alumni meet in Oman weigh political, economic issues facing the region

Muscat: Innovation in politics and economy is the key to overcoming the problems and challenges the Arab World is facing, experts said during the 11th Annual Harvard Arab World Conference (HAWC), held in Muscat on Saturday.
The HAWC, with the theme “Innovation: Inspiring a New Arab World,” drew Arab alumni of Harvard University and a range of distinguished speakers in the fields of politics, academia, arts and culture and business. The conference, organised by the Harvard Arab Alumni Association (HAAA), explored a multitude of innovative initiatives emerging out of the Arab World.
Yousef bin Alawi bin Abdullah, Minister Responsible for Foreign Affairs, and a member of a panel discussing the common grounds in regional conflicts, said one of the main reasons for the problems in the region is incapable administrations, which are often not able to meet the demands of the growing populations, as well as their unwillingness to admit making mistakes.
“Many governments are not able to run a proper administration and wield their power capably enough to meet any difficulties,” he said. Taking the Arab League as an example, he said that “one hardly sees anyone who admits that he might be making mistakes.” He said that one should be open to advice from others on how to act in the best way. He concluded that the Arab League “should be enhanced.”
Mohammed bin Mahfoodh Al Ardhi, executive chairman of global investment group Investcorp, who wrote a book on successful innovators from the Arab World, “Arabs Unseen,” said a new way of thinking is needed to overcome the negative focus on the region. As the Minister said, Al Ardhi also stressed on the need to work together to find solutions for today’s challenges.
“What we need in the Middle East is new ways of thinking and people who can turn crazy ideas into something with permanent benefit to society. For too long, we have lived with the narrative that the Arab World is in turmoil, thriving with corruption, mired in violence, plagued by weak institutions and the chronic poverty of its people,” he said.
Al Ardhi also used the story of innovating individuals in his book as an example of people who share the same mindset, while coming from different countries and different backgrounds: refusing to follow conventional ways of thinking, but instead coming with a vision on how to make things different, while taking risks and refusing to be beaten.
He said these individuals are living proof that amid reports of violence and chaos, positive change is possible.
“Find a cause and exchange your ideas with others to create the solution this region so urgently needs. Cultivate a frame of mind that we take risks, overcome the obstacles and look for collaborators who complement your own skills,” he said.
Hadi Al Bahra, member of the Syrian opposition movement and former President of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, said that while only a few Arab countries have a clear vision, “There is no clear vision for the Arab World.”
“We need to look at our history objectively, define our mishaps and faults and see how we can correct them. After that we can define our vision and a strategy on how to get there,” he said.
He added that he hoped for a democratic Middle East, “where all people can look forward to achieving a mutual plan for the whole region to achieve peace, prosperity and most importantly to bring a future for the young generation. We need to make room for the younger generation to lead the economy to prosperity.”
The HAAA was founded in 2001 with the objective of building a strong network among alumni of Harvard University with an interest in the Arab World, recognising that its Arab alumni community could have a profound impact on the Arab World when joining forces across diverse geographies, as well as educational and professional backgrounds.