Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- President Obama is set to meet a number of entrepreneurs and investors from the Islamic World during the “Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship” which is set to take place on Monday and Tuesday. US officials have said that this summit which will bring together 250 delegates from more than 50 countries represents “a direct commitment” made by the US President during his Cairo speech last June for a “new beginning” with the Islamic World.
In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, US Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, Robert Hormats said that “The basic idea is how to support economic development and economic opportunities around the world, this is not something that the US can do alone, and in many parts of the world like Saudi Arabia and Egypt there are many entrepreneurs, and this is a growing phenomenon. What we can do is bring together more than 200 entrepreneurs from around the world with 70 US participants [in the Entrepreneurship Summit] to support the current process by establishing communication.”
Undersecretary Hormats revealed that the Entrepreneurship Summit will see the various parties “communicating and becoming acquainted.” He said “This is the first summit of its kind, but it will not be the last, and we hope that it will be the beginning of a long process that will see similar events being held in different countries and regions.” A similar summit is expected to be announced soon which will bring together entrepreneurs from the Islamic World and US entrepreneurs in a Muslim majority country.
Hormats also stressed the economic and social importance of developing entrepreneurship to Asharq Al-Awsat, saying “One of the problems in Islamic countries and communities around the world is that of creating job opportunities, and it is difficult to create job opportunities in a sustainable manner without sustainable innovation; supporting the process of entrepreneurship supports creativity and innovation which in turn helps to create job opportunities.”
Hormats also revealed that innovation already exists in the Islamic world, and that the US is trying to aid and join with this innovation in order to “build ties.” Hormats told Asharq Al-Awsat that “entrepreneurs deal with one another, and this will be possible between entrepreneurs from the Islamic World and the US during the summit.”
The US administration is concerned that the summit succeed, and they consider this summit to represent President Obama’s call to open a new page in the relationship between the US and the Islamic World. This concern can be seen in that the summit has been organized in conjunction between the US State Department, the US Department of Commerce, and the White House. Senior US officials will also be attending this summit, including US President Barack Obama himself, as well as US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Presidential Adviser Valerie Garret, and US Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith. The US officials will focus on the summit as an opportunity to exchange ideas, and the ultimate goal of this summit will be to expand relations with the Islamic World into different areas that are not connected with purely political or security issues.
US Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs, Robert Hormats, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the idea behind the summit is to say that there are numerous faucets behind relations with the Islamic World, and this is not just confined to hard power, but also economics and cultural exchange.” He added “we hope to see economic exchange that is built upon mutual benefit.”
Hormats also acknowledged that there are problems in the system by which the US grants entry visas, saying “we must work to make the visa process more efficient in addition to working to be more welcoming to people arriving from the Islamic World.” He told Asharq Al-Awsat “we want Muslims to feel that their presence here is welcome, and we are working on this and we have made some progress, but there is still a lot of work to do, therefore increasing communication with the Islamic world is in our interests.”
As for trade, Hormats stressed the importance of expanding the scope of US investment in the Islamic world saying “In the Gulf, for example, there are many US investors in the oil industry, but we want to see investment in broader areas…and this is what we expect the summit to encourage.”
For his part, Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said that Obama’s speech in Cairo addressed “a range of very important political and security issues that have really dominated the focus of the United States and many countries and particular regions around the world. In the speech he addressed, for instance, our efforts to defeat Al Qaeda, the war in Iraq, Iran and its pursuit of a nuclear program, as well as, of course, the Arab – Israeli conflict.”
Rhodes said that the President also made the point that “even as we continue to work very aggressively to address these issues and to resolve these conflicts, that the United States wanted to build and deepen a set of partnerships with Muslim communities around the world on issues that are really fundamental to our own lives related to education and economic opportunity, and science and technology, and health.” He added that “by building those partnerships we can serve our mutual interests and advance a more positive relationship between the United States and Muslim-majority countries around the world.”
Rhodes also said that participants from Israel were invited to attend this summit on the basis that Israel is a “very dynamic and entrepreneurial country and we believe it has a unique view of catalyzing entrepreneurship, given, again, the economic growth that they’ve demonstrated.” He added that “this is not a summit focused on political issues. It’s focused on entrepreneurial issues, so we believe that this is an area where people can work together to serve their mutual interests.”