UAE Security Forum 2020:
Resilient Economies, Resilient Societies


DECEMBER 15-17, 2020


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.





Day 1: Tuesday December 15, 2020

  • Opening Remarks

    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

  • Session 1: Harnessing Momentum To Build Global Public Health Security

    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,
    Khalifa University
    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

Day 2: Wednesday December 16, 2020

  • Session 2: Education and Innovation in the Gulf

    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

Day 3: Thursday December 17, 2020

  • Session 3: The Way Forward Toward a Green Recovery and Sustainable Future

    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

Redefining Gulf Security Begins by Including the Human Dimension

For background, read AGSIW’s paper on a renewed approach to human security by AGSIW Visiting Scholar Emma Soubrier.

Read more


Read the UAE Security Forum 2020 report, based on the forum’s presentations and discussions.

Read report