Arab Strategy Forum: Saudi reforms positive for 1.8 billion Muslims

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Arab Strategy Forum session in Dubai on Monday chaired by Faisal J. Abbas and featuring Ed Husain, center, and Omar Saif Ghobash, right. (AN)
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Mohammad Al-Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, gives his opening remarks. (WAM)
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Above, Sean Cleary of FutureWorld Foundation. (WAM)
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Nick Allan of Contol Risks, above, said the US and China are competing in the next decade in both technology, economy and hopefully not military. (AN)
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From left: Faisal Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News, Ed Husain, co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, and Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. (AN)
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Ed Husain, a co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, stresses a point during a panel at Arab Strategy Forum. (WAM)
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Omar Ghobash, Assistant Minister for Culture and Public Diplomacy. (WAM)
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Above, Dr. Vikram Mansharamani, Harvard lecturer and author of “Boombustology: Spotting Financial Bubbles Before They Burst” at Arab Strategy Forum. (AN)
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From left: Zeina Soufan of Dubai TV, Alain Bejjani of the International Advisory Board of the Atlantic Council, Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Hamidy of the Arab Monetary Fund, Dr. Abdulmonem Said of The Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, and international oil economist Dr. Mamdouh Salameh. (AN)
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From left: Becky Anderson of CNN, Karim Sadjadpour, Chief Iran Expert and Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Dr. Elena Suponina, Advisor at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Sager, Founder and Chairman of the Gulf Research Center, and Huseyin Bagci, Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara. (WAM)
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From left: Emad El Din Adeeb, Dr. Marwan Muasher, Former Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Jordan, and Fouad Siniora, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. (AN)
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From left: Former US vice president Dick Cheney, Sean Cleary, and former foreign minister of China Li Zhaoxing. (AN)
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From left: Former US vice president Dick Cheney, former foreign minister of China Li Zhaoxing, and the Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. (WAM)
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From left: Mohammad Al-Gergawi, President of the Arab Strategy Forum, and the Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum. (WAM)
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Huseyin Bagci, Professor and Chair of International Relations Department at M.E.T.U and Deputy Director of Foreign Policy Institute in Ankara (WAM)
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Above, attendees at the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai. (WAM)
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Updated 10 December 2019

Arab Strategy Forum: Saudi reforms positive for 1.8 billion Muslims

  • Author Ed Husain says Kingdom's reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia but the whole Islamic world
  • UAE Minister Omar Saif Ghobash says Arab states would be better off if they separated economic problems from religious ones

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia came in for high praise at the Arab Strategy Forum, an annual event in Dubai attended by prominent scholars, diplomats, strategists and media professionals with the aim to forecast the events and trends for the next 10 years.

Taking part in a panel discussion on Monday with the theme “Future of Islamism in the Next Decade,” Ed Husain, a co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, drew attention to the ongoing reforms in the Kingdom.

Describing the changes as positive yet “unanticipated,” he praised the Kingdom’s efforts.

“These reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia, they affect the whole region: 1.8 billion Muslims look in that direction several times a day,” he said.

“We are looking to the future of Saudi Arabia as it affects all Muslims around the world,” he said, adding that with these changes, “Muslims and the rest of the world are better for it.”

Since the announcement of the Vision 2030 reform plans in 2016, Saudi Arabia has witnessed steady progress in women’s empowerment.

The most prominent examples are the lifting of the driving ban on women and the removal of a guardianship system that now enables Saudi women to travel or obtain a passport without male consent.

Other advances include the enactment of an anti-harassment law and changes to laws regarding custody and alimony. Women have been allowed to enter new fields such as aviation, state security, economy, entrepreneurship, tourism and entertainment.

Besides praising Saudi Arabia, Husain described the UAE as a country with “an almost ideal model,” where people are “privately pious and realise it is the state and not the mosque that is responsible for solving your social and economic issues.”




Ed Husain, center, co-founder of UK’s counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, discusses a point during the panel ‘Future of Islamism in the Next Decade.’ (AN)

In his comments on “mosque and state,” Omar Saif Ghobash, assistant minister for cultural affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said there is a need to redefine what it means to be a Muslim Arab today.

Ghobash, who served as UAE’s ambassador to France and Russia and is the author of “Letters to a Young Muslim,” said the definition is needed because it is no longer exceptional in the region to be creative, progressive and economically driven.

If one looks at history, the religious class carried a great deal of authority in how cities operated, he  said. But with advances in knowledge and the creation of various specializations, “the clerical class” can no longer claim to have the ability to answer all questions that may fall under topics such as transport policies, logistics and demographic challenges.

According to Ghobash, “the new generation fortunately does not have a deep understanding of their own history, and maybe that’s a way for them to be more positive of the future — unburdened by their forefather’s baggage.”

The findings of a poll developed by Arab News as part of an ongoing collaboration with the ASF, “Mosque and state: How Arabs see the next 10 years,” were revealed during the panel discussion.

Moderating the session, Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Arab News, cited YouGov poll data suggesting that the Arab world remains religious despite reforms and changes in different fields.

The survey suggests that 51 percent of Arabs are in favor of places of worship for other religions but fear a secular state model.

Husain ascribed the stigma connected with secularism in the region to the absence of a native, authentic and relevant definition that Arabs could identity with.

Under the circumstance, “the failure to articulate a strong Arab identity will create a vacuum for extreme Islamism,” said Husain, whose 2007 book “The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left” has been described as “as much a memoir of personal struggle and inner growth as it is a report on a new type of extremism.”

Criticizing political parties and organizations with an extremist agenda, he asked: “What has Hamas done for Gaza? What has Hezbollah done for Lebanon? What has the Muslim Brotherhood done for the Egyptians? The uprisings led to instability.”

He suggested “progress” as the best model for Arab states to adopt, pointing out that a desire to overthrow the government — as seen in the Arab Spring revolts since 2011— does not result in a “utopian” system.

“We are still suffering from the revolutions since 2011 but what we have seen is a strong response to them ... and that the overthrowing of a governments didn’t work, doesn’t work and will not work.”

Echoing Husain’s views, Ghobash said the sheer scale of social and economic problems across the Arab world is a result of power being used to drive an extremist agenda.

In his view, Arab states would be better off it they correctly identified and separated economic problems from religious ones.


Kingdom’s envoy to UK opens Saudi pavilion at education technologies expo

Updated 1 min 24 sec ago

Kingdom’s envoy to UK opens Saudi pavilion at education technologies expo

LONDON: The Saudi ambassador to the UK opened a government ministry pavilion during a ceremony at a leading international expo for educational technologies in London.

Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan then toured the Saudi Ministry of Education stand at the BETT 2020 event being staged at the ExCeL exhibition center in the British capital until Jan. 25.

BETT is the first industry show of the year that focuses on technology in education, bringing together more than 800 leading companies, 103 startups and around 34,000 attendees from 146 countries.

The prince was joined on his tour of the Kingdom’s pavilion by Dr. Saad bin Saud Al-Fuhaid, assistant minister of education, who briefed the envoy on modern technologies provided by the ministry and its numerous initiatives.

Through international exhibitions such as BETT, the Saudi ministry aims to attract global investment in public and higher education in the Kingdom, supported by the participation of Tatweer Education Holding companies including Tatweer Co. for Educational Services, the Educational Transport Services Development Co., and Building Development Co., along with Tatweer Educational Technologies Co.

BETT is regarded as one of the largest international exhibitions in educational technologies and includes seminars, meetings, workshops and panel discussions in fields related to investment in education.

The Saudi Ministry of Education’s delegation at the London expo was headed by Al-Fuhaid, and included the deputy minister for general education, Dr. Muhammad Al-Muqbel, the general supervisor of the Vision Realization Office, Dr. Atef Al-Amri, and a number of other ministry officials and Tatweer employees.