Unrest means opportunity
Many Arab businessmen are convinced the regional turmoil has unlocked new opportunities for private companies and opened the field for new entrants
The Middle East economy may still bear the scars of the unrest which began shaking several Arab countries a year ago - but experts say the changes wrought by protests could spark a new economic dawn.
Twelve months after the ousting of Tunisian ruler Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali triggered pro-democracy protests across the Arab world, trading links remain damaged, billions of dollars in investments are frozen, and tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs.
But the gloom is far from universal, and many Arab businessmen are convinced the turmoil has unlocked new opportunities for private companies, overturning entrenched interests and opening the field for new entrants. "The Arab Spring accelerated a trend which was already happening: the levelling of the landscape in a very dramatic way," said Mustafa Abdel-Wadood, chief executive of Dubai-based Abraaj Capital, the Middle East's largest private equity firm, with more than $6 billion under management.
Thomas Mirow, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, has compared the uprisings to the fall of communism in the former Soviet bloc two decades ago, saying it could help bring North African economies into the global supply chain - setting the Arab world up for major growth.
Adnan Ahmed Yousif agrees. The chief executive of Bahrain-based Al Baraka Banking Group, an Islamic banking conglomerate with operations across North Africa, says the unrest had only a "marginal" impact on his firm's earnings last year. He detects a new dynamism in many economies in the Arab world, where about 60 per cent of the 350 million people are under 25.
"I see it and feel the breeze of change when I talk to fellow bankers and businessmen," said Yousif. In Egypt and elsewhere, bankers have become freer to lend without political interference, he said. "I expect the role of a private sector which was once stifled by governments to grow in the years to come, as change brings more competition and openness," Yousif said.