12 January, 2008 Wall Street Journal
Our Ambitions for the Middle East
The following is an article written by Sheikh Mohammed, which was published in the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal on January 12, 2008.
During President Bush's visit to Dubai on Monday, he will find a big city like no other that has risen from the Arabian desert. The joke making the rounds here is that the crane should be designated as Dubai's national bird, so extensive is the engineering activity. We also plan to keep on investing in markets and businesses abroad, including in our own neighborhood, where economic development has long been uneven.
Our plans do not flow from mere ambition; they are a necessity. Consider that only 3% of our revenue is from exports of diminishing crude-oil reserves; 30% is from tourism, and there's increasing revenue from manufacturing and other sectors such as hospitality, technology and transportation.
The Burj Dubai tower rises in Dubai. The world's tallest building since July 2007, it has also become the tallest free-standing structure on earth.
But to term our emirate "Dubai Inc.," as some do, suggests that commerce, more than anything else, is our leitmotif. It is true, of course, that Dubai has been a trading port and a commercial hub for several centuries. But the ethos of Dubai was, and is, all about building bridges to the outside world; it was, and is, about creating connections with different cultures.
As a child, I learned how important it was to establish an enabling economy where the government provided incentives and an ethics-based regulatory environment, but left it to the inventiveness and energy of the private sector to expedite economic growth.
I learned my capitalism in the bazaars and boardwalks of Dubai. And perhaps the fundamental question that I learned to always ask was: How can we serve as agents of positive change? That's why I prefer to call Dubai "Catalyst Inc."
We live in a tough neighborhood. We live in a country that has been surrounded by difficult issues for several decades -- the Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, the current war in Iraq. Despite all that, Dubai has learned how to reinvent itself and cope.
We believe that helping to build a strong regional economy is our best opportunity for lasting social stability in the Middle East. That's why, for instance, we strongly support the new Gulf Common Market, which was launched on Jan. 1 and which will eventually lead to more regional economic integration, enhanced intra-Gulf trade, and a common currency for the six countries that form the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
There are more initiatives underway, many of which are aimed at ensuring prompt payment of salaries, and improvements in working conditions for unskilled foreign workers. While capitalism doesn't always create egalitarian societies, I like to think that in Dubai we are making the effort to cast the net wide when it comes to sharing prosperity.
I also like to think that we in Dubai also learn from our mistakes. We have had some object lessons. The Dubai Ports episode in the U.S. last year was one.
We analyzed our experiences, and we now approach our international investments in a much more holistic manner. We take the time to analyze the social, political and economic landscape, identify the stakeholders, and then carefully prepare the way by ensuring that the concerns of all parties are properly addressed. When disputes occur, we generally find a way to work through them.
When there was resistance to our investment in some European bourses, we listened carefully to various arguments and then successfully negotiated our way through the situation. As with CEOs in corporate boardrooms, leaders of sovereign nations need to act collaboratively in order to engender progress.
It doesn't take the visit of a capitalism-boosting American president for this region to freshly understand that it needs to accelerate economic progress.
When you look at the region, there are parts that are behind compared to the rest of the world -- behind when it comes to the economy, business and social development. We would like these less-developed parts of the region to be like Europe, Japan, Singapore and the rest of the industrialized world.
Nearly 1.5 billion people live in our neighborhood, and more than 50% of them are under the age of 25. In the Arab world alone, some 80 million young people -- out of a total population of 300 million -- are seeking jobs. I look at these young people as extraordinary resources for nation-building. If we can take our vision beyond Dubai, I think we can save a lot of young people from humiliating unemployment, from becoming extremists.
Education and entrepreneurship are the twin underpinnings for building a safer world. With these two institutions, we'll have fewer angry young people, fewer frustrated youths ready to embrace radicalism because they have nowhere else to turn.
I am often asked, "What does Dubai really want?" Well, here's my answer: What we want is the continuation of a journey that began with my forebears. I truly believe that human beings have a tremendous capability of changing and improving their lot. Change and modernization are inevitable in this age of galloping globalization. But we in the Middle East need to continually and carefully calibrate that change in the public interest.
I am also often asked, "What are Dubai's political ambitions?" Well, here's my answer: We don't have political ambitions. We don't want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don't see politics as our thing, we don't want it, we don't think this is the right thing to do.
We are engaged in a different type of war that's really worth fighting -- fighting to alleviate poverty, generating better education, creating economic opportunity for people, and teaching people everywhere how to be entrepreneurs, to believe in themselves.
Humility and tolerance run deep in the Maktoum family and are very important in trying to serve one's people. I am anchored in that tradition, which is why my favorite activity is listening.
I always ask: How can I help? What can I do for people? How can I improve people's lives? That's part of my value system. It's too late for me to change that system, but it isn't too early for me to say to the world that the Dubai narrative is all about changing people's lives for the better through smart capitalism, willpower and positive energy.
By Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum