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Fulfilling Another Cairo Commitment: Next Week's Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

On Monday April 26 and Tuesday April 27 over 250 Muslim world delegates from over 50 nations will join their American counterparts and President Obama in Washington to attend the first Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.

The Summit represents another crucial milestone in President Obama's commendable agenda to help bridge the divide between the U.S. and Muslim-majority nations in order to repair America's relationship with Islam and Muslim-majority nations.

Since Obama's June 2009 Cairo address to the Muslim world his administration has been methodically transforming the spirit of his speech into actual programs.

In addition to next week's Summit, the President has already:

* Appointed a senior-level envoy Muslim-American envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
* Designated and dispatched science and technology envoys to Muslim nations to help launch new science and technology training and education programs.
* Authorized the creation by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) of a U.S. -sponsored private investment fund to facilitate entrepreneurship in Muslim-majority nations.
* Established an interfaith partnership program unveiled recently in Jakarta that is actively promoting inter-faith dialogue.
* Authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to partner with the OIC to launch a new anti-polio eradication program that has already yielded important results.
* Begun easing restrictions on the transfer of charitable donations from the U.S. to responsible and verifiable Muslim nation grantees in desperate need of social and entrepreneurial funding.

At the Summit, President Obama plans to unveil more proposals to add to this growing list of achievements.

The Summit's agenda is innovatively goal-oriented, aimed at opening America's arsenal of entrepreneurial skills and innovation to help inspire and train a new generation of Arab and broader Muslim-majority country entrepreneurs to promote education, social progress, science and economic development. Expanding entrepreneurial networks and develop inter and intra-Muslim world partnerships is one of the Summit's aspirations.

Summit delegates are not your usual hand-picked elite. Delegates were carefully screened and selected by an unusually open and impartial semi-competitive process in order to achieve the broadest cross section of attendees. Delegates include entrepreneurs, investors, academics, non-profits, foundations and businesses that are invested in promoting business and social entrepreneurship in Muslim nations around the world.

Of the 56 member states of the OIC, almost three-quarters lack adequate access to capital, mentor support and a culture of entrepreneurship to develop small businesses -- the real backbone of job creation. The Summit is one important step forward in tackling this challenge.

By any measure taken to date the gaping unemployment in Muslim nations significantly contributes to the disaffection that directs young Muslims to Salafist ideology and terrorism. Sadly, Arab states collectively have the lowest employment rate in the world!

When compared to other regions of the world, most Muslim nations, particularly Arab states, confront a bleak legacy of underperformance in investment, productivity, trade, education, and science.

Indeed, the total manufacturing exports of the entire Arab world are below that of the Philippines (with less than one-third of the Arab world's population). According to the Economist, from 1980 to 2000 Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Syria and Jordan between them registered just 367 patents in the U.S. Over the same period South Korea alone registered 16,328 and Israel 7,652. At the same time, however, there have been marked improvements in literacy, poverty and education.

No one conference, much less no one nation, can overcome the economic and social dislocation caused by the sorrowful record of political stagnation, war, extremism, and a host of other factors too many to enumerate here that have afflicted the Muslim world. But the Summit is an important effort which could inspire oil-producing Arab states and others to step forward to pool more resources to leverage the President's initiative in order to combat these ailments.

After a recent three week trip throughout the Arab world I can report that the initial euphoria President Obama generated by his Cairo address has been taken down a few notches because of his failure so far to promote tangible progress in the cause of Middle East peace, or to reduce the threat that an emboldened nuclear Iran poses to the region.

But the President's personal popularity remains high because he and his team deeply appreciate the importance of committing the U.S. to an engagement agenda that matters to Muslims who themselves want to make a positive difference in their communities and nations. In the battle for Muslim hearts and minds promoting job skills to help reduce unemployment is a battle worth joining -- no matter how insurmountable the challenge may be.

As President of Layalina Productions -- a producer of Arab-language programming for Middle East media outlets -- I will be reporting each day from the Summit to share with you my assessment on its potential impact and to introduce to you some of the inspirational personalities that can make a difference.

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