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Insights on Evolving Arab Gulf Economies


May 14
12:00 pm - 2:00 pm


GIF Headquarters
1275 K St NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20005

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Gulf states have taken several steps to bolster their economic attractiveness by conducting reforms and implementing economic practices including bond issuances, increased access to initial public offerings and an increased emphasis on infrastructure projects. Although there remains room for improvement, the fact that all six GCC states ranked among the top 55 of the Global Competitiveness Index further emphasizes the commitment of these governments to attracting investors. Now in recent years, the rapid emergence of projects such as those related to technology, entertainment, and tourism has brought new opportunities for foreign direct investment. This panel has been assembled to look at the benefits and risks of these various opportunities. How can investors navigate these investment opportunities in a complex geopolitical environment? What risks inhibit this investment and how can they be overcome? What are some emerging opportunities for investors in the Gulf’s still-developing non-oil sector? While none of these questions have easy answers, GIF is pleased to have you join us for a discussion that will certainly provide insight for those interested in the evolving Gulf economic environment.


Featured Speakers:

Dania Thafer (Moderator), Rachel Ziemba, Dr. Karen Young, Ashraf Abu Issa, and Dr. Ebrahim Merza.



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  • Seating Capacity is Limited
  • Invitation is non-transferrable
  • You MUST receive RSVP confirmation in order to attend the event
  • Lunch will be served at 12 PM with an expected 12:30 panel start time


Speakers Bio

Dania Thafer (Moderator) 

GIF Executive Director



Ms. Thafer is a political economist focused on the Gulf region. She has been widely published on matters concerning the Gulf including several articles, a monograph, and a co-edited book entitled “The Arms Trade, Military Services and the Security Market in the Gulf States: Trends and Implications”. Previously, she worked at the National Defense University and worked in economic research at Haver Analytics. Ms. Thafer has a master’s degree in Political Economy from New York University. She is a Political Science Doctoral Candidate at American University in Washington, DC and her dissertation is entitled “Obstacles for Innovation in Rentier Economies: States, Elites, and the Squandering of the Youth Dividend.”


Rachel Ziemba

GIF Non-Resident Fellow



Ms. Ziemba is the founder of Ziemba Insights, a macroeconomics and policy due-diligence advisory firm. Additionally, Ms. Ziemba is an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and an Adjunct Lecturer at NYU, Center for Global Affairs. Ms. Ziemba is also a Strategist at Alpha Z Advisors and Advisor at Globalwonks. Her research focuses on the interlinkages between economics, finance and security issues. Her research topics include coercive economic policies such as sanctions, economic resilience and the role of state-owned investors including sovereign wealth funds.


Dr. Karen Young

Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI)



Karen Young is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she focuses on the political economy of the Middle East, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (best known as the GCC), and the Arabian Peninsula. She concurrently teaches courses on the international relations and economy of the Middle East at George Washington University and at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.



Ashraf Abu Issa

Chairman and CEO of Abu Issa Holding


Ashraf is the Chairman and CEO of Abu Issa Holding, overseeing over 100 sister companies operating around the world under the group umbrella. AIH is known across the GCC region for its corporate management climate and portfolio of businesses across industries, recognized as an experienced and well-positioned partner. Ashraf received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2011, spearheading retail concepts and brands. Over 10 business concepts have been developed in-house including Mosafer, Al Bahie Auction House and e-Pro. Ashraf leads business growth and supports the overall economic development in Qatar, through continued investment in public sector related business and affiliations including INJAZ “Achievement” Qatar, and the Young President’s Organization (YPO) Qatar, with a focus on philanthropic endeavors. Ashraf completed the Harvard Management Program (OPM) and is a graduate of the American University of London – Atlanta, USA.


Dr. Ebrahim Merza

Professor at Kuwait University


Dr. Merza is a Professor of Economics at Kuwait University, he received his Ph.D. from Kansas State University in 2007. Currently, he is teaching economic courses in both graduate and undergraduate levels at Kuwait University. Dr. Merza specialized in Economic Development and Economic of Financial Markets and Banking. Dr. Merza has participated in several international forums and conferences and he has many publications in international refereed journals in Economics and Finance. Previously, Dr. Merza worked in different areas including the Director of International Academic Accreditation Unit, the Economic Consultant in Minister Board at the Ministry of Municipality, Economic Consultant in Minister Board at the Ministry of Telecommunications. In addition, Dr. Merza has participated in several governmental projects such as Developing the Process of Activation and Atomization Process of the Ministry of Municipality at Sectoral Level, Automation of the Ministry of Telecommunication at Sectoral Level, Privatising Kuwait Post in the Ministry of Telecommunication.