In May, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has advocated for limiting immigration from the Arab and Muslim world, found himself having to choose between two leading Arab-American scientists to lead the U.S. efforts to develop a vaccine for Covid-19.
It is time that we accept that reversing the brain drain to the West is a lost cause, at least for the next 10 to 20 years. This, by no means, suggests that we should abandon the cause of engaging the Arab diaspora and leveraging their expertise, resources, and networks for the benefit of their countries and the region. This no longer demands that they move physically back to the region. The Internet and rapid development of new media for communications today make it possible to effectively engage, collaborate, and share knowledge and expertise without the need to travel.
A few months ago, U.S. President Donald Trump, who has advocated for limiting immigration from the Arab and Muslim world, found himself having to choose between two leading Arab-American scientists and executives to lead the U.S. efforts to develop a vaccine for Covid-19. He appointed Moncef Slaoui, a Moroccan-born Belgian-American, as his vaccine czar. Like Slaoui, thousands of scientists, engineers, doctors, business leaders, and professionals from the Arab diaspora occupy influential positions in the West. They are recognized for their leadership in their fields and their contributions to the advancement of their new home countries. The fact that we are not prepared or able to bring them back should not stop us from engaging them and benefiting from their wealth of knowledge, experience and expertise.
It is also time to recognize the tremendous benefits and missed opportunities in the Arab and other expatriate communities present in the region, particularly in the rich GCC countries. Helping them maintain connection with their home countries and institutions would provide a unique opportunity to access talent and new markets, which could bring economic benefits to GCC countries. If they are given the opportunity to both succeed and contribute to the development of their home country, they would be more likely to stay in the region.
We must also accept the fact that there isn’t a single country in the MENA region that has the human capital, natural resources, and financial means to build sustainable and competitive ecosystems for research, innovation, and development. The only chance for us to see a vibrant MENA region is to collaborate, coordinate and work together to ensure that we continue to support the development of talent and skilled workforces throughout the region.
Hilal A. Lashuel is a Yemeni-born professor of neuroscience at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.