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What the Middle East Needs Now: "Don't Leave"

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I am looking at a picture snapped this week in Tahrir Square, the now-famous stretch of land in central Cairo where so many hopes and dreams of a new Egypt have been voiced over the last 12 days. In the picture, a young man, maybe 20-years-old, is holding a simple handwritten sign that reads: "Dear Tourists, Don't Leave. We'll Protect You."

It's an arresting image that is already ricocheting around the Internet. And not only because the sign-holder is so young, but because of what it captures: a plea from the next generation to the international community not to abandon their economy. This sign is also a proclamation: we are not going to let our country fail, if you will only trust us.
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The simple request begs a question. What moves are the leaders of the Arab nations and their private sector partners making to ensure that these brave citizens will get the support they need? In a world where the global business community is the new consensus-builder and FDI is the modern credibility index, it's time to act.

It is an understatement to say that the Arab World is amidst radical change -- political, economic, and social. We still don't know where the unprecedented popular uprisings started in Tunisia, followed by Egypt, and now posing a risk of the 'domino effect' in Yemen, Sudan, Jordan and possibly even Gulf states, will ultimately lead.

But what I do know, having organized dozens of high-level gatherings in the MENA region including the Middle East Peace Summit in Jordan and multiple summits in Sharm El Sheikh, is that there is an equally unprecedented opportunity right now for the region to come together in an inclusive way to make changes that will have an impact on many generations to follow.

As the demonstrators across the region have shown, the world is impatient for change. There is no more time to think and talk; it is time to act. And the most important question being faced across the Middle East today is not who will lead, or which party will rule -- but how will we survive?

Tourism revenues have bottomed out, with some estimates stating that Egypt has already lost $1 billion in tourism dollars since January 25th, and this represents but one strategic sector. Investors are fearful and hesitant to inject any more money into the market until it demonstrates political and economic stability.

The time is now to bring together all parties that will contribute to the future of the Arab World, including political and business leaders, academics, social scientists, constitutional law specialists, youth leaders and women's groups, as well as the foreign investment community. While it is clear that the Arab World must carve its own path, in this globalized world, it is essential to now involve friends that can help provide support them as they navigate to a new era.

And unlike previous summits, this is not an occasion for speeches and platitudes. It's time for to roll up sleeves, bring in the very best strategic advisors, and create a special fund to back an immediate action plan that supports political reform with the help of great institutions, promotes economic reform based on informed analysis and expertise, and initiates social reforms with the supports of worldwide experts and strategic firms.

The global marketplace needs confidence in the region, and there is still much to believe in. In their DNA, we see a deep reservoir of talent, education, natural resources, and open borders to FDI. But even more -- as the young man in the picture demonstrates -- the people are the greatest asset. There is a global culture present in the Arab world populated by citizens that are worldly, informed, speak perfect English and know what's happening around the world, from Brazil to China.

We have a responsibility to these people. Don't Leave. Come together.

Richard Attias, Chairman of the Columbia University Center on Capitalism and Society and creator of the New York Forum, has spent his career developing some of the most influential gatherings of global leaders in the last 20 years.