Foreign Policy

Engaging the Islamic world

It is a relief, then, that the president will be meeting many entrepreneurs and
investors from the Islamic world during the Presidential Summit on
Entrepreneurship, taking place today and tomorrow in Washington. Robert
Hormats, U.S. undersecretary of State for economic, business and agricultural
affairs, emphasized the importance of broadening the scope of U.S.-Islamic
relations, noting that “the idea behind the summit is to say that there are
numerous facets behind relations with the Islamic world, and this is not just
confined to hard power, but also economics and cultural exchange.”

Adopting that mindset is crucial because, as Vali Nasr notes in his compelling
new book, Forces of Fortune, the
emerging middle class in the Islamic world is far more interested in capitalism
than religion. Engaging that population segment offers us an opportunity to
reshape fundamentally our relations with nearly one-quarter of the world’s
population. It’s an opportunity we can’t miss, because the trends are against
us: Of the 48 countries with annual population growth of 2 percent or more, 28
are majority-Muslim or have Muslim minorities of 33 percent or more.
Perhaps the most basic way the U.S. can seize the opportunity to engage the
Islamic world is to provide opportunities in education and leadership, like the
Institute for Education (IFE) is doing. Our 2010 Leader of the Year Award will
be given to Christopher Caine, founder of Mercator XXI, which helps clients
navigate the global economy at a time when governments are playing a much more
decisive economic role. Mercator just opened an office in Cairo 11 months ago. Chris
will receive his award next month at a dinner hosted by the Ambassador of the
Arab Republic of Egypt, His Excellency Sameh Shoukry, at the embassy. IBM
Chairman and CEO Samuel Palmisano will present Chris with the award. Proceeds
from the dinner will go to LearnServe Egypt, a new collaboration between IFE
and Mercator, enabling students from the D.C. area to partner with their
counterparts in Egypt and help build that country’s next generation of social
and cultural entrepreneurs.
Events like Obama’s entrepreneurship summit and IFE’s dinner signal a hopeful
turn in U.S. outreach to the Islamic world, but the tough work lies ahead. Summits
and dinners are just a start.

Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.


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