Stifling entrepreneurship

Rob Corder argues that if the UAE wants to boost its economic development, then the majilis needs to give Arab business leaders more of a free rein.

  • E-Mail
By  Rob Corder Published  April 17, 2005

Stifling entrepreneurship|~||~||~|MOHAMMED Alabbar has succumbed to pressure and withdrawn from his role as host of The Apprentice in the Middle East. The television show was due to emulate the US hit series fronted by Donald Trump, but Alabbar will no longer be the front man because he has been told to keep a low profile following a controversial business trip to Palestine. (see Arabian Business issue 12, March 27-April 2). Those who enjoy watching how the mighty are sometimes cut down to size will enjoy the theatre of this public dressing down for Alabbar. But the story reveals a far more sinister trait in UAE society: the power of the majilis, and how it stifles the very entrepreneurship it publicly claims to encourage. Alabbar was chosen as anchor for The Apprentice because he is a high-profile, successful, proven entrepreneur. Like all great entrepreneurs, he has taken some risks in his career. He was not chosen for being squeaky clean, conformist and safe. Donald Trump has never played it safe either. His ongoing land grab of some of Manhattan’s most exclusive buildings and building plots has brought him into conflict with everybody from the mayor of New York, to environmentalists, to civil rights campaigners, to the federal government. He brushed them all aside, and got on with the business of making money and building a business empire. His aggression, risk-taking and disdain for pen-pushing authorities make him a business icon who is revered in America. The same instincts in Alabbar have made him a pariah in the UAE. He is a victim of a decades-old phenomenon that the majilis gives with one hand, and takes away with the other; a phenomenon that exerts covert control of businesspeople in the Emirates and throughout the Arab world. External control is anathema to entrepreneurs. They cannot tolerate red tape, restrictions on their freedom to operate, or even corporate laws (unless they can be used to their own advantage). They are control freaks who bully others and do not allow themselves to be bullied. The very best are generally dislikeable characters, whose single-minded drive for personal success sees them trampling friends as well as enemies underfoot as they march inexorably towards their personal goals. Entrepreneurs love making money. However, having made their fortunes, many find themselves just as happy to give much of it away. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, whose aggressive expansion tactics left competitors mangled in his wake, is the world’s most generous philanthropist. Mohammed Alabbar’s visit to Palestine was partly altruistic and partly commercial. He has no intention of investing in the creation of Emaar Palestine if it cannot make him money, but at the same time he is attuned to the need to create jobs and prospects for Palestine’s young population as a way of lowering tensions and securing longer-term peace. The peace process and the success of Emaar Palestine are inexorably linked, so it would have been extraordinary for Alabbar not to have sought reassurances from Israel regarding his investment plans. If he met with Ariel Sharon, he certainly should not have lied about it, but meeting with Shimon Pirez was wholly appropriate. How else should an entrepreneur, whose instincts tell him to maximise personal control by eradicating doubt, behave? He was doing his job the best way he knew how, and with a typical entrepreneur’s disregard for pointless protocol that stood in his way. That Alabbar now finds himself out of favour within the majilis is ridiculous. If the UAE wants to build a thriving economy based on the entrepreneurial spirit of its citizens, it must allow those citizens a great deal more freedom within which to operate. If the chattering classes find Alabbar’s style a little brash and self-serving, they should not have given him so much power over the UAE’s property development in the first place. It is unreasonable to expect a man with the same entrepreneurial spirit as Donald Trump not to use that gift to his own advantage. Rob Corder is Editor-in-Chief of ITP. ||**||

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code