Arab Spring nations 'must move ahead', says UAE Minister

Dr Anwar Gargash tells Harvard Arab Alumni that stability must be quickly restored to reassure investors.

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ABU DHABI // The Middle East cannot afford to wait years for Arab Spring countries to move forward from their disorder, says the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

"I say with some concern that a structural change in many foreign policies is happening because structural changes are happening in many Arab governments," Dr Anwar Gargash said yesterday at the Harvard Arab Alumni Association's annual conference at the St Regis hotel.

"This year is a continuation of 2011 and there is continuing uncertainty: the crisis in Syria, the Iranian threat to the region, the instability in Yemen and the presidential elections in Egypt."

Dr Gargash described the current events as an "evolution within the spring".

"The Arab Spring has now shifted into second gear," he said. "Protests turning into violent confrontations has become the hallmark.

"Youthful, idealistic activists who thought they could lead this complex web of events and take charge of it is not what we are seeing."

Dr Gargash said forecasting a result was impossible: "We see a situation that is complex and uncertain for everyone."

Politically, the UAE is aiming to carefully navigate these troubled waters and interference in countries affected by uprisings should be avoided, he said.

"We and others need to understand that many of the values and fundamentals that are important to foreign policy - such as sovereignty, non-interference and above all stability - have to matter to move forward," Dr Gargash said.

The key to increasing the chances of a positive outcome is for like-minded countries to work together, he said.

"The UAE has been playing its part in forming international and regional effective partnerships," Dr Gargash said.

Taufiq Rahim, a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, said at the event: "I think you have to contribute to positive change where you can within countries that.

"We cannot wait for tomorrow as we cannot know what will happen, and every government has to give the opportunity for people to go forward."

Since the start of the Arab Spring the economic situation in the region has greatly changed.

"The events around us, from Tunisia to Yemen, have shaken the foundation around us and we were all unprepared," said Dr Gargash.

"Economically, these events have made a clear reshape of the region and no one can forecast what's going to happen. It will take years to understand."

Funds and capital have been shifting from the troubled countries to other countries in the region, he said. "There is an argument that money will shift regionally from place to place," Dr Gargash said.

"There is some truth to this argument but money is so fluid today that large chunks of it may also shift to other regions and areas outside the Arab world.

"Investments into some Arab countries will be temporarily affected due to the instability.

Stability has to be restored and a progressive approach to business must be implemented in these countries.

"The future will be determined by how quickly stability is restored and what sort of business and investment climate emerges."

Kamal Shehadi, the conference co-chairman and a former student at Harvard, described Dr Gargash's policies as pragmatic.

"It represents the way forward," Mr Shehadi said. "Definitely some of the political reforms may result in instability in the short run, which can negatively impact investment.

"But in the long run, investors are looking for governments that are vested in more stability. I am optimistic for countries like Egypt and Tunisia in the long run."