CEOs at the World Economic Forum on The Middle East Agree the Region has Visionary Leaders and Needs to Invest More in People

CEOs at this year’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East, voted on Sunday evening that the Middle East’s leaders do have the long-term vision necessary for the sustainable development of the region. They also overwhelmingly agreed that more investment in people is required to equip them with the skills necessary for the future success of the region.

The CNBC Invest it Forward debate looked at two motions:

“The stewards of the Middle East's oil wealth lack long-term vision.” In a closely-fought debate, the balance of delegates voted with H.E. Mohamed Bin Ali Alabbar, Chairman, Emaar Properties against the motion believing that the Middle East’s leaders do not lack long term vision. The motion was proposed by Mustapha Nabli, Senior Vice President, World Bank.

At the debate, H.E. Mohamed Bin Ali Alabbar said that that the Middle East region had learnt its lessons from previous oil booms and busts and that steps had been taken to invest in the long-term growth of the region.

H.E. Mohamed Bin Ali Alabbar said, “The leadership that you see in the Middle East is a leadership of change. From the capital markets, to education, to transparency, rules, regulations, governments have changed. Governments are not what they used to be.

“We have good strong leadership. They are truly agents of change. We have liquidity on our side. We have strong institutions, at least in the Gulf region… but to be honest also we have to keep the pressure on governments to move on, to create that vision.”

H.E. Mohamed Bin Ali Alabbar concluded, “We are at a very interesting time for the Middle East and I really think that the shift is towards us globally.”

But Mustapha Nabli argued that more countries in the Middle East needed to invest in basic infrastructure, such as schools, healthcare and transport. He said, “There has been a significant increase in investment but I would like to argue that these investments are not really enough and are not part of a vision - a coherent vision - to deal with the fundamental problems of the region.

“The investment has increased in the Gulf countries, in the oil rich countries. It has increased elsewhere as well but this increase which is approximately from 12 percent of GDP private investment to 16 or 17 percent remains well below what is needed.”

“There is a beginning of a promise but we are still far from where we need to be.”

“Can you select 1,000 young university graduates or high school graduates and ask them how they see their future in 10 or 20 years? I think they will not be able to tell you.”

The second motion at the debate was:

“The region is failing to invest adequately in its most important asset: its people.”

The delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of the motion which was proposed by Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa and was opposed by Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Egyptian Minister for Trade and Industry.

Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al-Khalifa said, “Imagine yourself 20 to 30 years in the future where we have a Middle East that is highly productive, everybody is working and we have peace. In order to get there you have to acknowledge that today, we collectively have failed to serve our people and failed in equipping them with the right skills.”

“60% of our population is under the age of 30 with their productive lives ahead of them and in order for us to give these people the opportunities we have to increase investment in education.”

“We must admit we have failed in meeting our challenge and equipping the people of the Middle East with the right skills they need.”

In opposition to the motion, Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Egyptian Minister for Trade and Industry, said, “This is not about the money because we always had the money. This is not about the intention because we always had the intention. We failed because we did not have the right environment in place. Today we do have a completely different environment in place because the economic models have changed. The political systems are changing. The cultural systems are opening up.

Rachid Mohamed Rachid concluded, “We all feel the pressure from the failure of the past years.”

The CNBC debate, which was moderated by CNBC Europe’s Louisa Bojesen, challenged a panel of leading global experts on whether leaders in the Middle East are translating the gains of the oil boom into long-term growth for the entire region. The debate was attended by a packed house of 200 World Economic Forum delegates.

The Invest It Forward debate will air as a special programme on CNBC Europe on 24 May 2008 at 15.30 KSA (13.30 CET).

CNBC has extensive coverage at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Forum, with live interviews and analysis on-air, online and with special programming. CNBC is a World Economic Forum Strategic Partner.

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