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Putting a price on US-Arab misconceptions
Perceptions of Middle East in the western business world remain confused and contradictory. Yet the lack of understanding goes both ways and cost millions of dollars a year.
March 15, 2010 6:12 by Liz Peek
Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, pointed out that in the developing world, the president of the United States is viewed as all-powerful. “The speech was a Big Bang; people expected immediate action … Some now view the Cairo speech as yet another trick on the Arab world.”
Other speakers argued that six months was not long enough to reshape relations. Most agreed that it was up to members of both regions’ business communities to take up the initiative.
One objective of doing so is certainly to boost trade – admittedly a less promising prospect in the midst of an economic slowdown. Masood Ahmed of the IMF said the Middle East had coped well with the current crisis thanks to the decision of oil exporters to continue spending, despite a fall-off in revenues. He predicted slower growth in the region.
Even so, the surplus from oil exports, which totaled $400 billion in 2008 and dropped to some $15 billion last year, would amount to between $600 billion and $1 trillion over the next five years.
Not all countries in the region will earn that oil surplus; many will depend more on building exports of other kinds.
Juan Jose Daboub of the World Bank said there are 20 million unemployed in the Arab world; the area needs to provide work for 4 million additional people each year. As Daboub says, countries with the most open relations with the West, such as Jordan and the U.A.E., have been among the best performers in the region.
The need for business dealings is great. The forum kicked off soon after Dubai World threatened to default on its loan payments, which highlighted a lack of transparency in the region. The Arab world does not make trade easy – for legal reasons, and because the countries in the Middle East do not act as a whole.