Majid Al Futtaim's Alain Bejjani: Private sector can boost Mena region's GDP

Better integration between public and private areas will drive sustainable growth, the expert says

Alain Bejjani, chief executive of Majid Al Futtaim, said private sector companies in the Middle East and North Africa can contribute “much more” to gross domestic product, a move that will “unlock the real potential of the region”.

Mr Bejjani, who heads up the Middle East's biggest mall operator, which is privately owned, told an online session at the World Economic Forum that the downside of the pandemic was the tendency of regional governments to want to “deal with their own issues”.

“We have a bigger role to play as the private sector to actually push towards better and more integration and finding global solutions to global problems,” Mr Bejjani told delegates on Thursday.

“Through better economic integration, through enlarging the size of our market and through working seamlessly on and driving the principles of stakeholder capitalism, we will also be able to drive much more FDI [foreign direct investment] into our markets.”

Mr Bejjani, who oversees a network of malls, retail outlets and the company’s Carrefour supermarkets, said regional governments are now much more aware of the importance of public-private partnerships.

“There is more narrative about how to actually engage with the private sector, which I think is important," he said. "We have a much better framework across the region when it gets to engaging with the private sector."

The reality, however, “especially in the economies that matter the most”, is that the "inherent desire" of the government or public sector to actually engage with the private sector “somehow comes across as competing with the private sector,” Mr Bejjani said.

"I would say a more engaging posture with the private sector will go a long way in driving sustainable growth,” he said. “I don't think we're there yet, although I believe that we are much more aware of the importance of it.”

Majid Al Futtaim is pushing ahead with the regional expansion of its Carrefour franchise, particularly in East Africa. The company already operates in Kenya and Uganda and is considering new markets as well, Mr Bejjani told The National last month.

The lawyer turned retail executive is bullish on Saudi Arabia and Egypt – two markets where Majid Al Futtaim is planning to expand. In the kingdom, the company is continuing to invest in its cinema business despite the pandemic.

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