Knowledge drives economic growth

15 August 2013

The Middle East is gaining impetus in building knowledge-based economies to aid long-term growth

As GCC countries and the wider Middle East embark on a path towards innovation to ensure long-term sustainable economic growth, references to the Islamic golden age – a period that brought tremendous scientific progress to The World – are hard to avoid.

It was during this period – AD750-AD1050 – that the Middle East’s geographic location between Africa, Asia and Europe put it at the heart of the world’s most important trade route.

Arab merchants truly became global players, trading with regions as far away as China, India and parts of Europe. The period brought wealth and knowledge to the Arab world, and led to the rise of Muslim scholars and scientists who would shape the world for centuries to come.

The ‘innovation hubs’ of the Islamic golden age were cities such as Alexandria and Baghdad. The scientific advances these centres and the wider Arab world produced ranged from astronomy to chemistry and alchemy, to mathematics, medicine and technology.

Faced with the region’s harsh environmental conditions, Arab engineers during the time built water wheels and irrigation systems, helping the advancement of agriculture.

Islamic scientists established algebra – from the Arabic ‘al-jabr’, which translates as ‘restoring balance’ – as a maths field in its own right, while also making significant progress in geometry and trigonometry. Medicine too benefited during Islam’s golden age. Centres for the treatment and study of diseases were set up, providing the basis for today’s hospitals.

But the global centre of innovation subsequently shifted north, where the European renaissance in the 16th century and the industrial revolution in the 19th century brought about a new era of progress in science, technology and innovation. In the 20th century, it was North America that largely shaped the world.

It is too early to say whether the Middle East will return to the forefront of innovation, but recent initiatives give rise to hopes that it is once more moving in the right direction.

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