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The digital economy is an important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth worldwide. ICTs have tremendous potential to improve development outcomes in both emerging and developed markets and provide access to a whole new range of digitally-enabled products and services.

In order to stimulate and sustain the growth of local economies and communities, there’s a need for stronger collaboration. In the Middle East, countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia are among the leading nations for digital advancements. They invest in and rapidly scale digital solutions and interoperable platforms that could empower continuous collaboration.

Updated policies focused on digital and other industry incentives have attracted investments in the network infrastructure and technologies that serve as the backbone of the Arab digital economy.

As an example, in 2020, the Digital Cooperation Organization (DCO) was launched to accelerate digital transformation in the region. Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are its founding member nations. The organization aims to grow the digital economies of its members and seeks to strengthen social stability, contributing to the global digital economy.

At many levels, the state plays the most important role of all by investing in digital infrastructure that brings the digital economy to individuals, enterprises and startups. The state’s capabilities must fit with the demands of the digital age and keep up with technological advancements.

The digital environment is global in nature, and governments will thrive in an increasingly digital world by harmonizing national laws and policies on a regional or international basis.

Establishing workable international standards and frameworks can promote regulatory harmonization, enabling industry players to leverage economies of scale and foster collaboration at the global level.

Leading by example is a powerful force, which is why the adoption of digital collaboration needs to come from the top. In this digital age, collaboration is a significant enabler of openness, leading to engagement and, in the decades to come, achieving the best in welfare and tech development, particularly in Arab states.

GCC countries are becoming digital disruptors with their well-developed infrastructure and increased digital investment, particularly in telecommunications. Consequently, affordability, coverage, quality and service have all improved, reaching a level close to that of the average performance of advanced economies.

Having said that, in today’s connected world, the more diverse we are, the more chances we have to innovate. Understanding the challenges and needs of all the different stakeholders involved in building smart societies is essential in order to move forward in unison and to develop holistic cross-sectoral measures.

There is no doubt that innovation is more necessary than ever in the current highly competitive global environment. In this setting, Arab nations have an unparalleled opportunity to sow the seeds of innovation by laying down the right elements that promote better digital collaboration.

Listed here are some of the bilateral cooperation for the digital economy that involves Middle Eastern countries:

  • Saudi Arabia and Singapore: The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) in digital economy, emerging technologies and digital government with Singapore’s Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI). This includes cooperation in practices, policies and regulations related to digital transformation, digital industry development, interoperability standards, and emerging technologies. They will also join hands in promoting and supporting the growth of the digital economy and related standards, including digital platforms, digital signatures and authentication, transferable digital records and digital billing frameworks.
  • Saudi Arabia and Greece: With the Kingdom’s strategic geographical position, the two countries are set to build a data cable project linking the East and the West in a way that would ensure the smooth digital supply of data worldwide. Once complete, this will contribute to accelerating the growth of the global digital economy.
  • Saudi Arabia and Oman: Oman’s Ministry of Transport, Communications and Information Technology (MTCIT) and MCIT signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to work on enhancing bilateral communication and exchanging information in the ICT field and its application to develop the digital economy. They also launched the Saudi-Omani Digital Skills Initiative to meet the needs of the labor market in the ICT sector and keep pace with the accelerating digital revolution.
  • UAE and China: Driven by the ever-growing digital economy, China-Arab cooperation will continue to expand and enrich the two countries as both are highly complementary in their implementation of innovative policies. Huawei and other Chinese tech firms have been relentless in extending their digital footprint across the Emirates.
  • UAE and Ethiopia: In a recent delegation visit, the Dubai Chamber for Digital Economy said it is prepared to provide the necessary facilities and support to encourage African digital companies in general to choose Dubai as their operations base and expansion gateway. Ethiopia is a leading digital startup market in Africa and is included among Dubai’s important economic partners.
  • Bahrain, Bangladesh and Rwanda: These members of EDISON Alliance’s Lighthouse Countries Network will work with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to realize further the “1 billion lives vision” of providing affordable digital solutions by 2025. Inclusive digital transformation is a huge mission for any country that cannot be achieved by governments alone, requiring active participation from the local ecosystem.
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