Dr. Yasar Jarrar
Dr Yasar Jarrar is a senior strategy advisor working in the Middle East on Public Sector and Social Impact issues, and is the co-founder of the Arabic portal for the Future of Government.
He is also chairman of the Open Data Institute, Dubai; Visiting Fellow at the Cranfield School of Management, UK; Senior Fellow at the MasterCard Centre for Inclusive Growth; and a Senior Advisor at the Harvard International Negotiations Program at Harvard University.
“The UAE was simply focusing on the right things, and doing them right. Today, the economy is moving further and further from dependency on oil. The UAE has built vibrant and competitive sectors like logistics, trade, and tourism. The country has produced globally competitive national champions in the global aviation industry, retail, hotels, ports, and is now tackling space. The growth was not only state-driven. The UAE is also home to one of the largest private equity funds in the emerging markets and now can boast homegrown Middle Eastern ‘unicorns.’”
In the 70s and 80s, many youth growing up in a region facing similar challenges to what we see today – stagnant economies, conflict, unemployment, and a lack of opportunity – thought the solution would be to move West, and especially to the US. The so-called American dream captured the imagination of an entire generation. Today, this destination has been displaced by the United Arab Emirates.
In 2001, when I first started working in the UAE, it was clear that something different was happening. In fact, it was that “something” that drove me to resign from my job in the UK and move to Dubai. There was a contagious sense of positive energy, can-do attitude, and a mesmerising vision for the future. Against the odds, the UAE story was being written.
While Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait heralded regional wars, the Levant countries were stagnant and focusing on security issues, and North Africa was witnessing non-inclusive growth, the UAE was building islands visible from space (Palm Island), a world-leading airline (Emirates), expanding its ports and taking over global trade routes, a media free zone (soon to become home to regional leaders like MBC), and unleashing a property, tourism, and retail boom that quickly transformed the UAE into the region’s undisputed business and trade hub.
In those days, this “UAE rising” story was captured by several researchers and journalists who noted that while the region missed an opportunity during the 1970s oil boom, “the UAE … earned their lessons, and we’re getting it right this time. You never had a champion. Today you have one.” 1 It is in Jim Krane’s book2 that I was quoted talking about the UAE Dream back in 2005. In my various meetings with Jim, I kept telling him how a whole generation of Arabs would soon stop hoping to emigrate to the US for a better future. “Forget the American Dream, the goal of a generation of young Arabs, today we have the Dubai dream.”3
All this was not simply a product of good fortune or political timing or even natural resources. It was a direct outcome of sound, well-executed, bold economic policy, led by visionary and inspiring champions.
The UAE was simply focusing on the right things, and doing them right. Today, the economy is moving further and further from dependency on oil. The UAE has built vibrant and competitive sectors like logistics, trade, and tourism. The country has produced globally competitive national champions in the global aviation industry, retail, hotels, ports, and is now tackling space.
“The Arab world needs a new development model, and the UAE holds a lot of lessons, experience, and potential to help this transformation. Not every Arab youth can go to live and work in the UAE, but they can (and will) push their governments to adopt a development model that delivers similar results.”
The growth was not only state-driven. The UAE is also home to one of the largest private equity funds in the emerging markets and now can boast homegrown Middle Eastern ‘unicorns’ like Souq.com and Careem.
Indeed, after the 2014 oil price decline, the only GCC country that is projected to get back to non-oil GDP growth levels similar to the 2006-2015 period is the UAE. The numbers are also very favourable when it comes to inclusive growth4. In 2015 a report5 on inclusive growth in the Middle East and Africa found that the only country in the region that had a balanced growth picture was, again, the UAE. In fact, it came close to the OECD standards and far ahead of regional standards.
This impressive economic development is one side of the coin of the UAE Dream story. Jobs and economic opportunity have consistently ranked as the number one concern for the region’s youth. The other side of the coin is softer, but equally important. The UAE inspires hope in a better future; something the Arab Youth Survey notes is not lost on the region’s youth.
The 2016 UN Arab Human Development Report called for bringing youth back into the center – politically, economically, and socially – and giving them a real stake in their societies. In that space, the UAE stands out again. The country has placed youth at the centre of development, and went as far as appointing a Minister of State focusing only on youth affairs (she is under 25). In addition to the impact this actually has on national policies and youth inclusion, these signs are visible and amplified by social media across the region. The UAE keeps raising the bar, every day, and offering a new hope.
This is not to say that the UAE does not have its own challenges. The road ahead is long, and, in quoting His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid6, in the race for excellence, there is no finish line. The UAE has a very ambitious agenda (UAE 2021) that aims to build on its current strengths, and address the gaps in areas such as education and healthcare, and drive further economic diversification.
There are many lessons from the UAE story that can help move the region forward. Naturally, countries are different and not every country can replicate the UAE model, nor should they. However, there are more similarities in the region than differences. The whole region shares five critical issues: a large youthful population, an exponential penetration of information technology and social media, a weak private sector, a bloated and ineffective public sector, and a widening income gap.
The Arab world needs a new development model, and the UAE holds a lot of lessons, experience, and potential to help this transformation. Not every Arab youth can go to live and work in the UAE, but they can (and will) push their governments to adopt a development model that delivers similar results.
- Nasser Al Saidi, former Chief Economist at Dubai International Financial Center
- City of Gold: The Story of the World’s Fastest City, 2009, Jim Krane
- A critical measure when it comes to the effectiveness and sustainability of economic development and growth
- Published by MasterCard Centre for Inclusive Growth (USA)
- UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai
THE EXPERT COMMENTARY
Leading commentators offer their perspectives on the key findings of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2017.
Watch our panel of experts discuss the key findings of the ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller Arab Youth Survey 2017. The wide-ranging conversation takes on hot-button issues facing youth today, including lack for job opportunities and the threats posed by extremism.