At the 4th World Islamic Economic Forum
29 April 2008
Prayers and peace be upon the purest of messengers, our Master Mohammad, the honest Arab Prophet,
I would like to start by thanking His Highness the Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah for his brotherly invitation to me to participate in this distinguished conference.
Greetings and my appreciation to all the presidents and business and economic leaders who enrich this forum with their gracious presence and valuable contributions.
My thanks are also due to all those in charge of the World Islamic Economic Forum that constitutes a valuable platform to share views and explore solutions to crucial economic issues that affect the lives of our Islamic societies.
Thank you, all. Your Highness, my friend, I know you will allow me to express the deepest appreciation to you and to the people of Kuwait, for your great hospitality and welcome.
This notable gathering is the first World Islamic Economic Forum to be held in the Middle East. It is an honour to be part of this event, and to join all of you today.
This is no ordinary international meeting. What you achieve here, and the effort you carry forward, will have an impact on our countries' most profound goals:
- Whether and when our countries will achieve their economic targets - for development, growth, and opportunity, especially for our youth;
- Whether our countries, together, can create the economic community we need, to sustain our people against global financial and energy shocks and other challenges;
- Whether Muslims, not only in Islamic countries, but everywhere in the world, will have access to the economic promise of the 21st century;
And whether our community can achieve its rightful place in the global economy ... not just sharing in prosperity, but in helping to write the economic rules ... giving voice to Islam's values of co-existence, justice, and a better life for all.
This Forum brings together leaders from across the spectrum of Muslim society, to answer these questions and more. Such a gathering recognises the huge role of economic alliances in our era. Across the world, regional and trans-national communities and partnerships are providing platforms for economic success. By working together, member states boost prosperity within their group, and compete more effectively worldwide.
We can be grateful for the many efforts of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to spearhead economic cooperation and development. Our countries have made significant advances. Trade among our economies has risen. Most of our economies have seen their GDP rise at rates well above the global average.
Yet we all know it: our countries' unmet potential is still far too large. The 57 member-states of the OIC have a combined GDP that is only one-fourth that of Europe – below, even, the GDP of France. Our share of world trade remains in the single digits – completely unacceptable. Development remains incomplete, and our challenges multiply.
We have all the assets needed to change this reality.
Our combined resources and geo-economic position make the Islamic world key to every major economic issue of our time - from creating a green global economy, to energy sustainability, and more.The world Muslim population is almost one-fifth of humanity, and predominantly young, giving us a significant force for productivity and market growth.
With one-quarter of the world's landmass, the Islamic countries are channels to every corner of the global marketplace.
We stand on a long Islamic history of enterprise and learning - and we are empowered by the unity, values, and purpose of Islam.
Now is the time, working together, to marshal these assets. None is more important than our people. Among our countries, we have one of the largest youth cohorts in the world.
They are full of ideas, energy and vitality. Yet there is a perennial shortage of skilled manpower. In the Arab world alone, 70,000 university graduates leave each year - that's nearly one-quarter of our graduates. Of those studying abroad, half do not come home. Not only are we losing their expertise – which is key to the future of business, science, education and other priorities. But we are also losing their local knowledge – a mine of cultural and national understanding, needed to shape development to the needs of our people and ensure success.
We need to break this cycle. Many of our countries have taken bold steps to advance private-sector, trade-led growth, and the jobs and development it creates. But to meet our goals – to truly help our people realise their aspirations – we must also do more to unleash the potential of our creative class. Above all, this means restoring the tradition of innovation in the Muslim world. Our governments, companies, and development leaders must support innovation, with the same deliberate approach that we apply to building infrastructure or attracting investment.
All must engage. We need strong, comprehensive alliances that can draw on the resources and expertise of government, business, education, the media and other key sectors. In Jordan, prominent players, both local and international, have come together to advance a major initiative on innovation in education. Within four years, the return on investment has been phenomenal. New technologies have accelerated, teaching skills have expanded, students have gained knowledge at a world-competitive level. Obviously, the growing pool of talent has near- and long-term benefits for Jordan's business community. But there are immediate benefits to participating companies, as well – from their local reputation for leadership to knowledge transfer with their global counterparts.
As this experience is replicated in other nations, the world Muslim community will see an even greater return on investment. This is a lesson in the value of partnership, both among our countries and among our companies. There are many other areas where our partnership can multiply our impact – in sustainable energy, water resource management, biotechnology. I am sure this forum's participants can identify even more.
In these and other areas, our success will create opportunity for our growing populations and demonstrate to young people what can be achieved through knowledge, initiative, and co-existence. Nothing is more important to our future. We can and must begin – not simply to catch up, but to set the pace for all nations.
Centuries ago, Muslim enterprise created worldwide trade. Muslim thinkers pioneered the science of economics. We know how to succeed. The heritage and promise is right here in this room, in our entrepreneurs and experts, forward-looking officials and leaders of civil society.
It is you, and your colleagues across the Muslim world, who will create alternatives for our youth – power not powerlessness; opportunity, not frustration; hope not anger.
It is you who will restore the great Islamic tradition of science, research and innovation, creating an environment that supports and encourages young minds.
And it is you who will create a future of true global progress; one that engages all countries and cultures in mutual respect; one that opens opportunity to all.
I know that over the next few days, this Forum will actively discuss many such issues affecting Islamic countries. I hope each and every one of you will share your knowledge and ideas. Then, I urge you, in days ahead, to carry the dialogue and partnership forward. The action starts with one person, making one phone call, one keyboard click, one meeting, one handshake - one by one, Muslims across the world, making the partnership and potential real. Let that one be you.
Thank you very much.