Manama, Bahrain: Being an American business person in the Middle East today, one realizes a striking dichotomy. While foreign diplomats shuttle between Middle East capitals trying fervently to prevent further war and bloodshed, thousands more refugees are forced to leave their homelands due to senseless fighting, and CNN continues to debate the possibility of a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians — the root cause of most of the struggles in the Middle East and North Africa since World War I — the solution seems plain and obvious.
For millennia the Arab people have been traders and mercantilists. They are savvy and shrewd in their negotiations, yet fair and willing to compromise. Despite repeated overtures by the Russian government for decades, none of the Middle East countries have turned to communism (although several gladly accept Russian-made weapons and cash). Most Middle East countries are equally as capitalist as Western countries (and more so than some!). Most Middle East governments have done a spectacular job transitioning their countries from Bedouin backwaters to modern economies.
As an American, I am warmly received. U.S. food and beverages are in high demand, as consumers here aspire to enjoy the same products as are consumed in the U.S. Without exception, people are friendly, hospitable and gracious. While not always agreeing with our policies, they talk openly about their thoughts and feelings toward America. It’s ironic that one can discover more about an Arab’s thoughts on a first dinner meeting than one’s neighbors in Seattle after years.
In order to truly flourish, Middle East countries — including Israel — would be well served fighting less and trading more. Markets here have much to offer and even more to gain by re-allocating resources – including human capital – sharing goods and services, and focusing on building competitive advantages. AMI is doing part in a small way, one bite at a time.