The US is promoting entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa as a way to create jobs and counter extremism in the region, senior American officials said today at a conference in Morocco.
The environment needed to encourage these new businesses is difficult to find, however, in the highly regulated economies of the region.
“We don’t have a culture of innovation,” said Anis Aouni, a Tunisian inventor from Saphon Energy whose new model of a wind turbine was being showcased by Microsoft.
But US Vice President Joe Biden and other American officials attending the 5th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Morocco were hopeful of change.
Biden called for education systems that questioned orthodoxy, well-defined legal systems that fight corruption and freedom of expression, elements that local activists have said are in short supply in the Middle East and North Africa.
“You cannot think different where you cannot breathe free,” said Biden, using the famous slogan of Apple founder Steve Jobs. “You cannot think different when you cannot challenge orthodoxy. You cannot think different where you cannot speak your mind.”
He added that the countries in the Middle East and Africa are racing to create tens of millions of jobs as their overwhelmingly young populations enter the work force.
US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told The Associated Press that governments in the region were coming around to the importance of entrepreneurship as a way of employing the masses of young people not finding work in the current economies.
“We have heads of countries who have gone from no understanding of entrepreneurship to how do we do it the way you do it in the United States,” she said.
“What they see is job creation, greater economic growth potential, security and stability, not allowing idle minds to find trouble.”
The speech by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, read out by Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, gave strong support for supporting young businesses and many attending the conference expressed hope the business environment in Morocco would improve.