Dubai headed for top of Islamic economy, chief says

Abdulla Al Awar, chief executive Dubai Islamic Economy Development Centre. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

By October 2016, Dubai should be the hub of a global economy worth nearly US$7 trillion, the fourth largest economic bloc in the world, after the United States, China and the European Union. It is a dazzling prize, but a daunting ambition.

The task has been entrusted to Dubai’s best, the people who helped to see the emirate through the worst economic time in its history – the financial crisis of 2009-10. The nine-member board selected by Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince, chose Abdullah Mohammed Al Awar as their chief executive, in effect the project manager for the “capital of Islamic economy”.

“We have strong infrastructure as a foundation, and I’m confident that Dubai will do it in the time frame, said Abdulla Mohammed Al Awar, the chief executive of the Dubai Islamic Economy Centre.

“We’ve met such targets in the past and made Dubai what it is today.”

Mr Al Awar, a former chief executive of the Dubai International Financial Centre, said that several initiatives had already been launched in support of the plan to put Dubai at the centre of a global economy potentially worth nearly US$7 trillion in three years’ time.

The strategy, announced last year by Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, aims to put in place seven pillars of Islamic financial and economic measures in the next two-and-a-half years.

The pillars are finance, halal industry, tourism, digital infrastructure, arts, knowledge and standards. More than 40 individual initiatives have been identified as essential to complete the project.

“We have made progress in finance and banking, in sukuk, in some of the knowledge initiatives and in the halal clusters introduced in free zones. We may introduce extra new initiatives as we go along because there are lots of new ideas being progressed,” Mr Al Awar said.

He said there was a need for global Islamic indicators to quantify Dubai’s progress, and that new moves could coincide with global events taking place in the emirate. Dubai stages the World Islamic Economic Forum for the first time this autumn.

On standardisation, one of the key aspects of the aim to be a global hub, Mr Al Awar said that Dubai was talking to standards authorities in the 57 countries of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation to achieve mutual recognition agreements on “bare minimum standards” in halal and other parts of the Islamic economy.

He added that a team from Dubai had been to Malaysia, which is one of the other centres of the global Islamic economy. “Malaysia and the rest of South East Asia have got their own big Islamic populations, so Dubai is well-placed to serve the rest of the global economy.”

He said he did not see Dubai in a “conflict situation” with London, a third hub for Islamic financial services.

There have been advances on the knowledge front, too, with the Dubai Centre for Islamic Banking among the initiatives of recent months. More are planned for later this year, when Dubai plays host to the World Islamic Economic Forum, one of the biggest events of the global Islamic calendar. This should help to advance Dubai’s position in Islamic economic “thought leadership”.

In halal food, there has been the opening of halal clusters in the emirate, at Jebal Ali and other free zones.

Dubai already probably has a head start in tourism, art and design in the GCC region, but more needs to be done to enhance and exploit the Islamic aspects of these and to roll this out around the world.

But there is still an enormous work to be done in the field of standardisation. The halal food industry reflects the diversity of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, concentrated in the great arc from South East Asia to west Africa.

How to persuade all these different countries and governments to recognise Dubai as the natural global standard will not be easy, and Dubai may have to settle for being the sponsor of some kind of “lowest common denominator” in food standards to satisfy all parties.

Pharmaceutical and cosmetics standardisation appears to have hardly begun.

Mr Al Awar is aware of the need to pursue a joint government-private sector approach to the challenge: trade missions to Malaysia, on the one hand, to talk about standardisation; banking roadshows to London to discuss ways to cooperate on sukuk trading on the other.

He is confident the goal will be met within the deadline. After all, this is Dubai, where the difficult is done immediately, and the impossible takes only a little longer.

Source: The National

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