Monday, December 13, 2004

Future speak

What would the Arab world look like in the year 2020?

That's the main riddle of the Arab Strategy Forum, which kicked off today.

The answer, according to Shaikh Mo, Dubai's Sandhurst College-educated Crown Prince, lies within.

In Shaikh Mo's book, a prosperity, freedom and development is within the grasp of Arabs. But they first have to deal with their own problems in a new way. Old notions must be discarded. The victim culture must be thrown away.

In short: work hard, kick bad habits — especially dependence on oil which makes them fat, lazy and happy (oil accounts for only 7% of Dubai's GDP nowadays).

Time and CNN recently voted Shaikh Mo, who is also the UAE's defense minister, No. 8 among 25 top business figures in the world.

That distinction came not as a result of remote-control operation, but hands-on management. He also prescribes throwing away cynicism that there's a Western conspiracy at every turn designed to keep Arabs ignorant, divided and easy to control.

Tackling the challenges posed by a fast-shrinking world also calls for a merit-based system. He fell short of saying that tribalism must also be done away with.

Incidentally, Bill Clinton was also in the same forum.

As expected, he dished out the same platitudes during his 30-minute speech (for which he reportedly earned $200,000 or a cool $6,666 per minute). His ethos, I was told, are based on what in his own parlance is called ‘triangulation’.

It's an art he pioneered -- and used to the hilt -- during his eight years at the White House. Triangulation means taking two opposing sides at the negotiating table (say, by making the Palestinians and Israelis feel as if he stood by their side) while also presenting a "third dimension."

I don't know how Bishop Aringarosa would make sense of all that... Clinton seems to have mastered the art of being both here and there while also being elsewhere.

But the prospect of meeting Tom Friedman, the celebrated NYT columnist, might offer interesting insights into how to make money from dishing out dung (most of the time anyway).

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