Due to their strategic location, unique climate, and complex demographics, Gulf Arab countries face a wide range of risks that have the potential to disrupt social stability, economic activity, and the success of major economic transformations that are critical to their long-term prosperity.
While discussions around Gulf security have traditionally focused on political and military threats, emerging global phenomena, such as pandemics and climate-related events like prolonged droughts, can have similarly devastating effects on political and economic stability at the local, national, and regional levels. The coronavirus pandemic is just the latest challenge to the resilience of Gulf Arab states, disrupting daily lives, shuttering businesses, and devastating the tourism and hospitality industries.
Since its launch in 2016, the UAE Security Forum has played a vital role as a venue where U.S. and regional partners gather to find creative solutions to some of their most pressing common challenges. UAESF 2020 assessed responses to the continuing social and economic disruptions brought on by the pandemic and sought to identify measures needed to help build long-term resilience to a broad range of future shocks and stresses. To ensure a fruitful exchange of views, AGSIW brought together academics, policymakers, and practitioners to identify key risks, examine current mitigation efforts, and recommend policy solutions for governments and the private sector.
Ahmed Al-Mandhari was appointed as regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean by the World Health Organization’s executive board at its 143rd session and assumed office on June 1, 2018. A native of Oman, Al-Mandhari has made a substantial, positive contribution to the development and modernization of Oman’s health system. A specialist in family and community medicine, Al-Mandhari was head of Quality Management and Development at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital from 2005-06, followed by deputy director-general for Clinical Affairs until 2010. In 2013, he was appointed director-general of Sultan Qaboos University Hospital, later becoming director-general of the Quality Assurance Centre at the Ministry of Health. Al-Mandhari has also worked as a senior consultant in family medicine and public health in Oman since 2009. He obtained a BSc in health sciences (1990), followed by an MD in medicine and surgery (1993) from Sultan Qaboos University. In 1996, he gained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom and was awarded the Royal Fellowship for Family Doctors in 1998. In 2002, Al-Mandhari obtained a PhD in quality management in health care from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He oversaw the fellowship program in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Sultan Qaboos University from 2003-06.
Juan Acuna is the assistant dean for research and the chair for the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Khalifa University College of Medicine and Health Sciences. He received his Doctor of Medicine degree from Javeriana University in Colombia. He is an obstetrician-gynecologist with postgraduate fellowship training in clinical genetics, fetal medicine, clinical epidemiology, and field epidemiology. He has more than 35 years of experience in clinical practice as well as academic medicine teaching and research. Acuna was a senior service fellow for 11 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a professor at Universidad Nacional in Colombia for 21 years, a faculty member at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana for five years, and an associate professor at Florida International University from 2008-19. Acuna was assistant vice-president for research at FIU (2014-17) and the founding chair for the Department of Medical and Population Health Sciences Research. He has had funding from the National Institutes of Health for his research and programs. He has published and presented more than 100 peer-reviewed papers and book chapters and was principal editor on three books on research methods, obstetric delivery, and ultrasound in reproductive medicine. He has presented as a speaker or keynote speaker at more than 150 national, international, and global conferences. Acuna has an active Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates certificate in the United States and has extensive experience in clinical obstetrics and gynecology, clinical genetics, fetal medicine, and public health/epidemiology at the teaching and professor levels, as well as at the practice level. He has also been a leader on pre- and post-graduate teaching of research methods and reproductive medicine and genetics.
Kristin Smith Diwan is a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Her current projects concern generational change, nationalism, and the evolution of Islamism in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Her analysis of Gulf affairs has appeared in many publications, among them Foreign Affairs, Financial Times, and The Washington Post.
Diwan was previously an assistant professor at the American University School of International Service and has held visiting scholar positions at the George Washington University and Georgetown University. From 2013-14 she served as a visiting senior fellow at the Atlantic Council where she published on youth movements and participated in the Strategic Dialogue for a New US-Gulf Partnership.
Diwan received her PhD from Harvard University and holds an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She completed her undergraduate degree at Baylor University in Texas, her home state.
Lamya Al Haj is a member of the board of directors of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. She is an associate professor at Sultan Qaboos University and holds a PhD in structural and molecular biology from University College London with an MSc in environmental science and technology from the University of New South Wales. Al Haj is a researcher in biodiesel alternatives to oil, a TEDx motivational speaker, and the founder of the speaker platform “Jalasat Mulhimoon” to showcase role models to inspire younger generations.
Al Haj is one of the leading women in the science, technology, engineering, and math ecosystem in the region. She has delivered numerous addresses and speeches at conferences and associations, as well as annual corporate events including Harvard and IMD Middle East alumni conferences on leadership. Al Haj was selected as a judge for a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-based competition, “Innovators under 35,” organized by MIT Technology Review. She has also presented her research findings at conferences around the world. Al Haj is the founder of Coach4Change where she works with and supports senior government officials, executives, business leaders, and boards around Oman.
Al Haj has received numerous awards including the Boban Marcovic Prize in environmental science, the Gulf Intelligence and Occidental Oman Award, the National Research Award, the Oman Woman of the Year Award 2019, and the prestigious “L’Oréal UNESCO Award for Women in Science – Middle East Fellowship Award 2018.” She is also a fellow with the World Academy of Science and was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader in 2020.
Laila Al Jassmi is the CEO of Health Beyond Borders, a bespoke Dubai-based health-care advisory firm focused on health-care strategy and research, health investment facilitation, health-care business development in the United Arab Emirates, and medical tourism consulting and facilitation. Prior to this, Al Jassmi was the CEO of health policy and the strategy sector at Dubai Health Authority. She was responsible for the development of policy and legislation for the health system in the emirate of Dubai driven from the Dubai Strategic Plan. Al Jassmi has extensive knowledge of health-care systems, health reforms, strategic direction, and planning and delivery of health-care services. She also led the Dubai medical tourism initiative in 2012. Al Jassmi is a graduate of the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum executive leadership program. She has been awarded the Feigenbaum Excellence Leadership Award for women leaders and has also been named one of the top 50 “GCC Women Leaders” by World CSR Day and World Sustainability.
Raymond Karam is the chief program and development officer at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Prior to joining AGSIW, Karam served as the EastWest Institute’s Washington, DC representative. In this capacity, he directed the institute’s outreach to members of Congress, congressional staff, various federal departments, foreign embassies, and international organizations. A skilled dialogue practitioner, Karam also led the EastWest Institute’s Track II diplomatic initiatives with partners in the Middle East on issues of regional security, nonproliferation, economic development, and environmental governance. He facilitated U.S.-Iran policy dialogues, which served as one of the few bridges for sustained, face-to-face discussions between Americans and Iranians. Karam has also worked for the Synergos Institute’s Arab World Social Innovators Program, supporting social entrepreneurs serving poor and marginalized communities in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine. Karam holds a Bachelor of Science in political science and international affairs from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in international relations and transnational security from New York University, and a certificate in international law and European studies from the University of Amsterdam. A native of Lebanon, he speaks fluent Arabic and French and has a working knowledge of Farsi.
Robert Mogielnicki is a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. An expert in the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa, he previously served as a senior analyst with the Siwa Group and head of public relations and marketing for Oxford Strategic Consulting, a United Kingdom/Gulf Cooperation Council-focused research consultancy. Prior to his consulting career, he worked as a journalist covering political and economic developments in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia. His work and commentary on the region have appeared in Foreign Policy, Bloomberg, Axios, Forbes, Reuters, Financial Times, The Banker, The Washington Post, Vox, Los Angeles Times, S&P Global, and the Nikkei Asian Review, among other prominent outlets. Mogielnicki received his PhD from the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College, where he conducted research in conjunction with the Oriental Institute and Middle East Centre. Drawing on extensive fieldwork in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait, his dissertation examines the political economy of free zones in Gulf Arab countries. He earned his MA in modern Middle Eastern studies from St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and completed a master’s thesis on labor policy formulation and implementation in the emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. He received his BA from Georgetown University as a double major in Arabic and government, graduating magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Mogielnicki specializes in the intersection of politics and economics across Gulf Arab states. He is particularly interested in how these geostrategic states engage in processes of economic transformation through trade and investment policies, labor market interventions, economic diversification, and technological innovation. Mogielnicki speaks Modern Standard Arabic and the Egyptian dialect, and possesses a working knowledge of the Tunisian dialect. He is a former recipient of the Sultan Qaboos Arabic Language Scholarship (2007-11) and served as a Critical Language Scholar in Tunisia in 2011. Mogielnicki has lived in the UAE, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, and Jerusalem.
Jennifer Nuzzo is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. An epidemiologist by training, her work focuses on global health security, with a focus on pandemic preparedness, outbreak detection and response, health systems as they relate to global health security, bio surveillance, and infectious disease diagnostics. She directs the Outbreak Observatory, which conducts, in partnership with frontline public health practitioners, operational research to improve outbreak preparedness and response. Nuzzo is also the lead epidemiologist for the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative housed within the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. Together with colleagues from the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the Economist Intelligence Unit, she co-leads the development of the first-ever Global Health Security Index, which benchmarks 195 countries’ public health and health-care capacities and capabilities, their commitment to international norms and global health security financing, and their socioeconomic, political, and environmental risk environments. Previously, she conducted research related to the Affordable Care Act, tuberculosis control, foodborne outbreaks, and water security.
Nuzzo is an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Health Security. She advises national governments and for-profit and nonprofit organizations on pandemic preparedness and response, including COVID-19. She has also served as a member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council and its Water Security Working Group. Prior to joining the Center for Health Security, Nuzzo worked as a public health epidemiologist for the city of New York, where she was involved with disease and syndromic surveillance efforts related to the city’s Waterborne Disease Risk Assessment Program. She also previously worked for the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts on a local climate change initiative. Nuzzo received a DrPH in epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, an SM in environmental health from Harvard University, and a BS in environmental sciences from Rutgers University.
Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman is president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. He previously served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq from 2016-19 and U.S. ambassador to Kuwait from 2014-16. From 2013-14, he served as a senior advisor in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. Department of State, working on Iraq issues and the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. Silliman was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq from 2012-13, minister counselor for political affairs in Baghdad from 2011-12, and deputy chief of mission in Ankara, Turkey from 2008-11. He joined the Department of State in 1984. Silliman served as director and deputy director of the Department of State’s Office of Southern European Affairs, as political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Jordan, and as the regional officer for the Middle East in the Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. He worked as a political officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, in the Office of Soviet Union Affairs, as the desk officer for Lebanon, and as a staff assistant to the assistant secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Silliman began his career as a visa officer in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and a political officer in Tunis, Tunisia. In 2018, Silliman received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from President Donald J. Trump. He has received numerous awards from the Department of State, including the Secretary’s Award for Public Outreach in 2007 and senior performance awards. Silliman received the Sinclaire Language Award in 1993 and the W. Averell Harriman Award for outstanding junior officer in 1988 from the American Foreign Service Association. He retired from the Foreign Service in April 2019 after 35 years. Silliman received a Bachelor of Arts in political science, summa cum laude, from Baylor University in Texas, where he was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He earned a Master of Arts in international relations from the George Washington University. Silliman speaks Arabic and French. He is married and has two adult children. In addition to his position as president of AGSIW, Silliman also serves on the board of advisors of the Bilateral US-Arab Chamber of Commerce, which helps American businesses expand their international business and trade ties, especially in the Middle East and Gulf region. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Emma Soubrier is a visiting scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. Her research focuses on the security strategies and foreign policies of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, particularly the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and the political economy of arms trade in the Gulf. Soubrier has published numerous articles and book chapters in French and English on Gulf security issues. Her forthcoming book, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates: Diverging Paths to Regional and Global Power (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2021) is based on her PhD thesis, which received a Dissertation Award from the Institute for Higher National Defense Studies (France) in 2018. Soubrier is an expert with the Forum on Arms Trade. As part of a research team with the World Peace Foundation (Tufts University), she is working on a project on “Defense Industries, Foreign Policy and Armed Conflict” funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Soubrier was previously a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre Michel de l’Hospital, Université Clermont Auvergne (France) and a visiting scholar at the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. This opportunity was rendered possible by the “Ambassador” scholarship from the Directorate General for International Relations and Strategy (French Ministry of Defense). She worked for three and a half years at the French Ministry of Defense and for three years at Airbus Defence and Space. She received her PhD in political science from the Université Clermont Auvergne in 2017 and holds an MA in international relations from Sorbonne University (Paris, France).
Mark Tester is a professor of bioscience in the Center for Desert Agriculture and the Division of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Engineering at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. He was previously in Adelaide, Australia where he was a research professor in the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics and director of the Australian Plant Phenomics Facility. Tester led the establishment of this facility, a $55 million organization that develops and delivers state-of-the-art phenotyping facilities, including the Plant Accelerator, an innovative plant growth and analysis facility. In Australia, he led a research group in which forward and reverse genetic approaches were used to understand salinity tolerance and how to improve this in crops such as wheat and barley. He moved to KAUST in February 2013, where he continues this work, expanding also into work on the salinity tolerance of tomatoes. Tester obtained his bachelor’s degree in botany from the University of Adelaide and his PhD in biophysics from the University of Cambridge.
Mariët Westermann joined NYU Abu Dhabi as vice chancellor in August 2019. She was also appointed a professor of arts and humanities. Westermann oversees all academic, administrative, and operational affairs at NYU Abu Dhabi. Previously, she worked at the Mellon Foundation since 2010, serving as the executive vice president for programs and research since 2016. In that role, she launched initiatives that study and promote the value of the humanities and liberal arts, strengthen community colleges, encourage graduate education reform, renew preservation of cultural heritage around the world, and support scholars and artists at risk. Prior to the Mellon Foundation, she was on the faculty at NYU, first as director of the Institute of Fine Arts and then as the first provost of NYU Abu Dhabi. Before joining NYU in 2002, she was associate director of research at the Clark Art Institute. From 1995 to 2001, she was an assistant and associate professor of art history at Rutgers University.
Westermann’s principal interest is the art of the Netherlands, her native country. She is widely published in the field, including A Worldly Art: The Dutch Republic 1585–1718 (1996); The Amusements of Jan Steen: Comic Painting in the 17th Century (1997); Rembrandt – Art and Ideas (2000); and numerous articles. She has edited five books, including Anthropologies of Art (2005). Her extensive work with museums includes her Rijksmuseum Dossier: Johannes Vermeer (2004); the curatorship of Art and Home: Dutch Interiors in the Age of Rembrandt (Denver Art Museum and Newark Museum, 2001); and numerous exhibition catalog essays. She is currently preparing an exhibition and book on the resonance of the Garden of Eden in the history, theology, and art of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, with significant implications for garden practice in these cultures.
She has been the recipient of fellowships, honors, and grants from a wide range of organizations, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Philosophical Society, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Clark Art Institute, College Art Association, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Westermann received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Williams College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. She received her masters and PhD from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. She serves on the boards of the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Zones and the Scholar Rescue Fund.
Eckart Woertz is director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg, Germany, professor for contemporary Middle East history at the University of Hamburg, and a non-resident senior research associate at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. His research interests comprise the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa, energy issues, and food security. He is the author of Oil for Food (Oxford University Press 2013), co-editor of the Water-Energy Food Nexus in the Middle East and North Africa (Routledge 2016) and editor of GCC Financial Markets (Gerlach Press 2012). His articles have been published in the Middle East Journal, Food Policy, Food Security, International Development Policy, the International Journal of Water Resources Development, Third World Quarterly, Global Environment, Globalizations, The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Foreign Policy, Financial Times, several Oxford Handbooks, and other edited volumes. He has been a commentator for international media outlets and has contributed to various policy papers and reports. He has been involved in numerous third-party projects, among them a Marie Curie grant and FP7 and H2020 projects of the European Commission. His consultancy engagements have included the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Kuwait Investment Authority, the Saudi Ministry of Economy and Planning, and international and regional organizations such as the European Parliament, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Development Program, and the Union for the Mediterranean. He serves on the editorial boards of Food Security and the Journal of Arabian Studies and holds a PhD in economics from Friedrich-Alexander University, Erlangen-Nuremberg. Before moving to Hamburg, he held positions at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, Sciences Po in Paris, Princeton University, and the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. Prior to that he worked for banks in Germany and the United Arab Emirates in equity and fixed-income trading.
Tarifa Al Zaabi joined the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture as deputy director general in August 2019. She has 20 years of executive and leadership experience in higher education institutions, having developed student and academic services and strategies to motivate young people through innovation, research, and training. Prior to joining ICBA, she was the director of Dubai Women’s College, Higher Colleges of Technology. She is also an entrepreneur and a winner of the Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum SME Award as Businesswoman of the Year 2015 for training and mentoring startups. She is a graduate of the UAE Government Leaders Program (executive leadership) and is certified as a trainer by the UAE Government Leaders Program to represent the United Arab Emirates internationally and deliver training to local and foreign governments. Al Zaabi holds a PhD in education (management and educational leadership) from the British University of Dubai and an executive MBA with honors from the University of Sharjah and a Bachelor of Applied Science in business administration from Higher Colleges of Technology. She has represented the UAE in various local and international conferences and has co-authored several education-focused studies and academic papers.
9:30 – 10:30 am EST (6:30 – 7:30 pm Abu Dhabi)
Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, World Health Organization
Moderator: Ambassador Douglas A. Silliman, President, AGSIW
10:30 am – 12:00 pm EST (7:30 – 9:00 pm Abu Dhabi)
The coronavirus pandemic has transformed public health into a central factor in nearly all global decision making, with governments and businesses adding seats at the table for health experts and epidemiologists. Global cooperation on public health, along with technological and scientific innovations, will shape how the world recovers from the biggest health crisis in recent history. How can governments enhance international cooperation and science diplomacy to prevent epidemics and improve disease detection, surveillance, and response? As the protection of public health becomes a critical element in foreign policy, homeland security, development strategies, and trade agreements, how can governments develop the skills needed to effectively mobilize resources to confront future threats? Can the private sector lead the way in forming cross-border partnerships to produce effective strategies for preparedness and responses to potential global health threats?
Juan Acuna, Chair, Department of Epidemiology and Public Health,
Laila Al Jassmi, Founder and CEO, Health Beyond Borders
Jennifer Nuzzo, Senior Fellow for Global Health, Council on Foreign Relations; Associate Professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Moderator: Raymond Karam, Chief Program and Development Officer, AGSIW
9:30 – 11:00 am EST (6:30 – 8:00 pm Abu Dhabi)
Over the past decade, Gulf Arab countries have prioritized the education and innovation sectors to harness the potential of a growing population and drive an economic transition toward technology and a knowledge economy. The severe economic downturn prompted by the coronavirus pandemic has further reinforced the importance of diversifying traditional economies. The pandemic not only resulted in disruptions, as lockdowns and social distancing measures were imposed, but also a sharp drop in oil prices, triggered by a fall in global demand. Yet amid this global health and economic crisis, digital transformation has accelerated. With business leaders and entrepreneurs in the Gulf looking to build new business models and incorporate new technologies, is the region’s digital infrastructure robust enough to accommodate technologies such as the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and blockchain? How can startups and established businesses attract workers with digital skills that are simultaneously in high demand and short supply to implement advanced technologies and deliver on their innovation goals? What role can schools and universities play in preparing the next generation of skilled workers? With many businesses looking at regional expansion to support their long-term growth ambitions, what are the prospects for regional economic integration?
Lamya Al Haj, Associate Professor, Sultan Qaboos University; Member, Board of Directors, AGSIW
Robert Mogielnicki, Resident Scholar, AGSIW
Mariët Westermann, Vice Chancellor, NYU Abu Dhabi
Moderator: Kristin Smith Diwan, Senior Resident Scholar, AGSIW
9:30 – 11:00 am EST (6:30 – 8:00 pm Abu Dhabi)
As the Gulf Arab countries look to recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, climate-related challenges loom large over their economic revival plans. Similarly, a steep downturn in oil prices has exposed strategic risks, including securing long-term, sustainable access to water and food resources. The economic consequences of, and solutions to, all these problems further reinforce the importance of reducing oil dependence and making vulnerable sectors more resilient to economic shocks. Is this a window of opportunity for Gulf leaders to drive diversification policies further and faster? Will shifts in consumer and industrial behavior reorient economic policy toward sustainable development goals? What comprehensive steps can governments take to help reinforce supply chains and access to water and food resources?
Aisha Al-Sarihi, Research Associate, King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center; Non-Resident Fellow, AGSIW
Mark Tester, Co-Founder, Red Sea Farms; Associate Director, Center for Desert Agriculture, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
Eckart Woertz, Director, GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies
Tarifa Al Zaabi, Acting Director General/Deputy Director General, International Center for Biosaline Agriculture
Moderator: Emma Soubrier, Visiting Scholar, AGSIW
For background, read AGSIW’s paper on a renewed approach to human security by AGSIW Visiting Scholar Emma Soubrier.
Read the UAE Security Forum 2020 report, based on the forum’s presentations and discussions.