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Mohammed Soliman: Welcome to IBB!
Mohammed Soliman is joining our growing Board of Advisors to help IBB navigate the changing geopolitical world of the Middle East.
We are excited to announce that Mr. Mohammed Soliman has joined the Ideas Beyond Borders board of advisors. With an exceptional career that spans the realms of geopolitics, business, and technology, Mr. Soliman brings a depth of experience that will be invaluable to our organization.
He has distinguished himself as an acclaimed member of the McLarty Associates team and an indispensable part of the firm’s Middle East and North Africa practice. His efforts have seen the expansion of new service lines, market entry strategies, and the identification of investment opportunities. Further, his profound understanding of the political, policy, and regulatory landscapes of the region, derived from his origins in Cairo and his early engineering and consultancy ventures, allows him to offer a unique perspective to his clients.
Mr. Soliman also currently leads a global team of scholars as the director of the Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program at the Middle East Institute. Their focus is on exploring the intricate policy challenges at the convergence of technology, geopolitics, and business, especially in emerging markets. Furthermore, as a visiting fellow with the National Security Program at Third Way, Mr. Soliman’s insights on technology policy and geopolitics have been featured in leading publications such as The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and Foreign Affairs, among others.
Adding to his impressive credentials, Mr. Soliman has served as a country analyst for the Peace Tech Lab at the US Institute of Peace, a Huffington Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and a Junior Centennial Fellow at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. His academic background includes a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Egyptian Aviation Academy and a Master of Science in Foreign Service with distinction from Georgetown University.
Mr. Soliman’s accolades, including being a David Rockefeller Fellow of the Trilateral Commission and his inclusion on the 2021 CSIS National Security & Foreign Affairs Top 50 Leadership List and his recognition as a Middle East Policy Council 40 Under 40 awardee, underscore the breadth of his contributions to the field.
Fluent in Arabic and knowledgeable in German, Turkish, and Persian, Mr. Soliman’s multidisciplinary approach and multicultural perspective will be extremely valuable to our growing board of advisors. We look forward to a future where his expertise will guide our endeavors.
Below is an interview we did with Mohammed about his experience, drive, and goals for our work together at IBB.
IBB: Can you briefly describe your journey from starting as an engineer in Cairo to becoming a director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Middle East Institute?
Soliman: Studying engineering in Cairo during the Arab Spring was a transformative experience that shaped who I am today. The fervor of the Tahrir Revolution and the broader Arab Spring inspired me to bridge engineering with policy. While working in Big Tech in Cairo, I saw how technology intersects with society. Consulting broadened my view, emphasizing the fusion of engineering, business, and policy.
Engineering underpins solutions; business shapes strategies; and policy guides ethical deployment. This synergy drives my passion, guiding my career towards effecting positive change, and the Middle East Institute offers me the space to explore the interdisciplinary nature of technologies and their impact on the region.
IBB: How has your engineering background influenced your understanding of geopolitics and technology policy?
Soliman: I employ engineering principles to evaluate the influence of innovations on economies, defense and security, and international relations, enabling me to anticipate challenges and formulate effective strategies. This approach also provides insight into the reasoning behind policy decisions made by China and the United States in areas like semiconductors, 5G, electric vehicles, low-orbit satellites, and emerging technologies. Overall, my engineering background equips me with a comprehensive outlook essential for navigating the intersection of technology, geopolitics, and policy.
IBB: In your view, how has the great power competition evolved in the Middle East and North Africa region over the last decade?
Soliman: Historically, the United States has held the dominant position in the region, but China has identified fissures in US power stemming from factors such as the Arab Spring and conflicts in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Libya. As American dominance wavers, China seeks to exploit this vacuum by deepening its connections with countries across the Middle East. The region is fast approaching a dual hierarchical structure, with Washington as the main security guarantor and Beijing as the main economic and technology partner. Since the 2010s, China has been strategically enhancing its influence in the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Gulf states, by leveraging technology as a potent tool. This approach involves the deployment of Chinese software and hardware, coupled with joint technology and cyber initiatives. By utilizing technology statecraft, Beijing aims to establish China’s geopolitical footprint in the region without resorting to conventional military expansion.
IBB: How do you think emerging markets should navigate the complexities of great power competition, especially with the increasing tensions between major powers?
Soliman: Amid great power competition, emerging markets must prioritize their interests, sovereignty, and stability. They can navigate such complex dynamics by adopting a range of strategies to withstand pressures from major power rivalries and position themselves for growth. This involves cultivating diverse partnerships to avoid dependency, maintaining neutrality to prevent conflict involvement, and engaging in diplomatic efforts and multilateral collaboration through international organizations, diversifying industries and markets for reduced vulnerability. Emerging markets can and should evaluate technology partnerships while safeguarding national interests, invest in soft power initiatives for a positive global image, and remain adaptable through ongoing strategy adjustments in response to changing dynamics.
IBB: What are your thoughts on the “rise of the rest” and its implications for the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape?
Soliman: The Middle East, especially the Gulf, embodies the idea of the “rise of the rest.” With energy prices soaring, the Gulf states foresee their combined wealth increasing from $2.7 trillion to $3.5 trillion by 2026. This surge is propelling them to engage in domestic mega projects and expand global investments. Regional powers are actively diversifying partnerships beyond conventional alliances with the US and Russia, extending to Korea, Japan, India, China, France, and Greece. Amid substantial economic transformation in preparation for post-oil economies, the Gulf is collaborating with emerging economies worldwide to facilitate technological exchange and knowledge sharing, thereby strengthening its technological capabilities. Engaging multiple influential actors contributes to a more balanced diplomatic strategy.
IBB: How do you see the role of emerging markets shaping the global order in a multipolar world?
Soliman: In the midst of a changing global landscape, marked by the ascent of a multipolar order, “pivotal states” like Brazil, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Turkey exert a degree of strategic autonomy without fixed allegiances. Their influence is underpinned by economic power, demographics, geopolitical positioning, and contributions to global and regional security. The significance of this pivotal group resonates even more with additional key states like Vietnam and Mexico in the global supply chain, as well as Egypt’s role as a maritime bottleneck.
IBB: How do you envision the future of technology policy in the Middle East, especially with the rapid advancements in AI?
Soliman: The Middle East and North Africa are actively engaging in a competitive AI race, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE leading the charge across sectors. Saudi Arabia has procured Nvidia’s H100 chips for generative AI, while the UAE has developed its own large language model, Falcon, to establish computational independence. The Middle East is actively working to avoid being solely on the receiving end of AI developments. Instead, it aims to lead in AI development as part of a broader strategy to diversify economies beyond oil dependency.
IBB: How should governments in the region approach the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, especially concerning job displacement and economic transformation?
Soliman: To address AI challenges and opportunities, governments should initiate training programs for AI-related skills in the current workforce. They should establish innovation hubs and technology parks to nurture AI startups and research. Simultaneously, robust regulations for ethical AI deployment must be developed, along with data governance frameworks that balance privacy and accessibility. Close collaboration with industry through consortiums and alliances can drive AI adoption across sectors. Additionally, encouraging investment in non-oil areas like healthcare, agriculture, and tourism is vital. Collaborating with international partners for knowledge-sharing is essential, while establishing safety nets for displaced workers ensures a comprehensive strategy.
IBB: Given your experience with the Peace Tech Lab at the US Institute of Peace, how can AI be used as a tool for peacebuilding?
Soliman: Based on my experience at the Peace Tech Lab within the US Institute of Peace, AI can effectively function as a business tool. Our work centered on employing statistical models and publicly accessible data to forecast disruptions in supply chains within emerging markets. This approach underscores AI’s capacity to aid the business sector proactively and contribute to broader successful peacebuilding endeavors.
IBB: With the growing influence of technology in geopolitics, how do you perceive the interplay between national security and cyber security in the MENA region?
Soliman: As technology’s influence grows in geopolitics, the interplay between national security and cybersecurity in the Middle East has become of paramount importance. This involves vulnerabilities stemming from digital transformation, state-sponsored cyber operations, and continuous cyber warfare in regional conflicts. Effective cybersecurity measures are essential for ensuring stability, protecting critical assets, and addressing evolving security challenges arising from the digital landscape.
IBB: How do you think emerging markets should prepare for the technological challenges posed by major powers?
Soliman: Emerging markets should proactively enhance STEM education and research, build digital infrastructure, and encourage innovation via policies and partnerships. They must prioritize cybersecurity, adaptive regulations, and diverse tech collaborations. Investing in emerging technologies and shaping industry standards boosts visibility and competitiveness. By collaborating with the private sector, emphasizing STEM education, and maintaining policy flexibility, these markets can effectively navigate challenges, leverage technology, and solidify a robust global presence.
IBB: Given your extensive advisory experience with both local and international businesses, what common challenges do you see companies facing when trying to navigate the MENA market?
Soliman: In my experience, these common challenges include adapting to cultural nuances, understanding complex regulations, forming reliable local partnerships, navigating bureaucracy, comprehending diverse consumer behaviors, overcoming logistical challenges, and addressing political uncertainties. Successfully addressing these hurdles requires strategic planning, adaptability, and collaboration with experts. By investing in understanding the region’s dynamics, companies can position themselves for growth and success in this diverse and dynamic market.
IBB: How do you see the future of the Middle East evolving in the context of a multipolar world, great power competition, and rapid technological advancements?
Soliman: In a multipolar world of great power competition and rapid technological progress, the Middle East is becoming a focal point in the rivalry between the United States and China. As this competition unfolds, the region is likely to continue actively embracing technology’s potential by investing in innovation and digital infrastructure to diversify economies. However, amidst this trajectory, the Middle East must adeptly manage the challenges posed by the dynamics of great power competition. Its capacity to balance proactive technological advancement with strategic considerations will define its evolving role on the global stage.
IBB: What prompted you to join the Ideas Beyond Borders board of advisors, and what unique perspective do you hope to bring to the board?
Soliman: I was driven to join the Ideas Beyond Borders board of advisors by the organization’s impactful efforts. Their programs effectively combat extremism while promoting education and human rights, all of which resonates deeply with me. My perspective, cultivated from my experience working at the intersection of technology, business, and policy within emerging markets, holds potential to enrich the board’s discussions and strategies. The emphasis on providing Middle Eastern youth with accessible knowledge aligns with my belief in the transformative power of education. I aim to contribute insights into strategic partnerships, effective communication, and organizational growth that can further amplify the organization’s mission.
IBB: What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to bridge the gap between technology, business, and geopolitics in today’s ever-evolving global landscape?
Soliman: Here’s my advice: Cultivate a holistic skill set across these domains, stay updated on trends and geopolitics, network widely, prioritize continuous learning, seek hands-on experiences, and foster critical thinking. It’s also very important to adapt to change, grasp cultural nuances, factor in ethics, communicate effectively, and maintain a global outlook. By embracing these principles, you can navigate complexity, contribute effectively, and make an impact at the nexus of technology, business, and geopolitics.
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