Former President Clinton opens session with plan to make oil revenues benefit region.
This article first appeared in UCLA Today.
By Cynthia lee, UCLA Today Staff writer
Doha, Qatar — To foster economic diversification and create businesses in the Middle East, practical solutions must be found to increase educational and training opportunities, integrate more women into the skilled workforce and promote greater freedom of expression, association and the press, said participants attending a high-level international conference Jan. 29-31 co-sponsored by UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations.
That was one of many recommendations that resulted from “Enriching the Middle East’s Economic Future,” a conference that brought to Doha, Qatar, delegations of private- and public-sector leaders from the Middle East and other Arab states, China, India, Japan, Israel, Europe and the United States to discuss key economic issues facing the region. Joining UCLA as a co-sponsor of the conference was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar.
“Our deliberations in Doha offered a concrete and innovative set of initiatives and ideas to advance our common goals of a secure, stable and prosperous future for the nations and peoples of the Middle East,” said Political Science Professor Steven L. Spiegel of the Burkle Center, who served as conference chair. Vice Chancellor Michael Eicher of External Affairs helped open the conference.
“By bringing together experts from government, industry and academia from Asia, Europe, North America and the Middle East to share views and work collaboratively towards common solutions, we have successfully laid the foundations for a far-reaching agenda for action, research and further dialogue,” Spiegel said.
While affirming that all reform initiatives must be locally designed and reflect local customs, traditions and circumstances, participants looked for ways to improve the business environment in the Middle East; to create societies conducive to development, efficiency and productivity; and to optimize the energy economy to promote sustainable regional economic growth.
Among the many recommendations discussed were:
• A “Bill of Rights” detailing specific freedoms, roles, rights and responsibilities of citizens in the Middle East;
• The creation of an international energy development initiative, a coalition of governments, corporations and private individuals to address the future of energy resources worldwide;
• New policies and regulatory structures that promote the development of the middle class and small business;
• Encouraging governments and businesses in the region to create public/private sector partnerships to provide computers to each student in the region, and, in the longer term, to each person in the Arab world.
Conference participants also reviewed proposals to enhance greater market stability through such initiatives as selling 20% of existing energy reserves to consumer states.
Those attending also stressed the importance of existing initiatives to establish a regional central bank to serve as a common forum and meeting place for the region’s existing central banks. While these institutions would continue to have the same functions and accountabilities they now possess, the new regional central bank could be a venue where all central banks could meet and coordinate policies, especially as regional governments face large and growing surpluses of oil revenues.
Among the participants at the conference was former President Bill Clinton, who called for ongoing investment in education to get more young people into school, increasing opportunities for a university education and maximizing the intellectual capacity of the region.
“If we get the strategy right on the politics of the region, we will have a very positive future in the Middle East,” Clinton told participants.