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The Arab world and the knowledge economy

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The region faces a major obstacle in that its programmes and apps still rely on open source codes written by foreign parties

By Mohammad Hassan 
Al Harbi, Special to Gulf News
17:39 September 19, 2016

Despite the importance and popularity of a knowledge economy, it remains an ambiguous term for concerned Arabs. The UAE is considered one of the few countries to heavily rely on a Knowledge Economy and strive towards achieving it, placing it as a top priority in its strategy. Specialists in the field of economy are looking to Knowledge Economy as the most suitable alternative to other types of economies that will see a decline in revenues in the future.

What is the difference between knowledge and education? Back when we were young, we were told that knowledge comes naturally while education is attained in learning institutions.

Experiences and visuals are something that is stored in our memories, whether you live in a desert, forest or village, and knowledge helps you know what it is that will harm you in your current environment and how to protect yourself from said harm so you can survive. Hence, you achieve awareness.

Meanwhile, if you are in a school or university, you will learn about history, Maths, physics and other things, becoming educated and learning about different things. However, education progressed rapidly in many universities and research and studies centres, which introduces contradictions to the aforementioned definitions. Knowledge today is defined as achieving the highest levels of education, which also means attaining wisdom. Wisdom is a large asset known as a corpus that nations rely on to bring about a resurgence following a sudden decline or collapse, with China and Japan serving as prominent examples of this.

Any nation that does not have any knowledge assets when it collapses will find it hard to rise again.

Knowledge economy is based on a contemporary idea that is backed by modern technology. More accurately, knowledge economy is good content within modern technology, as in programmes, algorithms and software. Such content falls under the concept of knowledge economy. Companies that widely use programmes and smart apps for managing their products, promotions and distribution fall under the list of knowledge economy companies, because they use both an idea and modern programmes to assist them in distribution operations and succeed in the market.

Any process of exporting and selling knowledge using modern technology, whether it is information, an image, map, an idea that can serve humanity or can be developed further, would be considered an ‘input’ into the knowledge economy. In summary, the world is a huge market in which you can sell your ‘knowledge’.

For a knowledge economy to succeed, it requires teaching and developing capabilities related to modern technology, such as computers and apps. It also needs flexible laws and an open environment that encourages creativity. It is worth noting that 70 per cent of workers in advanced economies and knowledge economies across the world are information workers.

The issue with the Arab world is that most of the countries have been suffering from political unrest for the past 10 years, which has a direct impact on security and economic stability. It is common knowledge that the flow of investments is halted and development plans are disrupted in the absence of security and political stability.

It is true that the Arab world depends on the agricultural and industrial sectors, but a knowledge-based economy remains something that is progressively hard to achieve due to the lack of basic factors for producing and promoting knowledge economy products.

A limited number of Arab countries are qualified to enter the phase of knowledge economy. The most prominent of these countries is the UAE and other Gulf countries, and to some extent, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco. These nations have achieved various accomplishments in this field, but there still remains a major obstacle that is expected to last for quite some time. This obstacle is that programmes and apps produced in the Arab world still rely on open source codes. So the Arab world is not relying on a code written by Arabs. As such, the process of producing knowledge economy products in Arab countries is reliant on foreign parties.

And so the wait begins for an Arab with the intellectual capabilities of Mohammad Al Khwarizmi who might create this long awaited code.

— Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a renowned columnist and author whose writings cover various fields ranging from media studies to education. 

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