Davos and the Arabs
Over the last few days, there is perhaps no greater contrast from the burning streets of Cairo, Sana’a and Amman than the cool snowy hill tops of Davos. Those looking from the outside at the World Economic Forum's Annual meeting this year would not be wrong to feel that the exclusive gathering may be detached, especially in looking at the public program of the meeting as sessions on the Middle East do not include the key Arab decision-makers who prefer to meet behind the scenes and in off-the-record settings, or civil society advocates who are absent. Yet, detached these meetings are not. This year’s gathering has witnessed greater informal interest in the Arab world and its politics than previous years; it’s no longer simply about the usual subjects of Iran’s nuclear file or the Arab-Israeli conflict that end up in abstract deliberations or at best strong statements carried in the press. Rather, today’s Davos conversations are about the people of the region – especially its youth, who have imposed their voices in the demonstrations witnessed over the last few weeks.
The headlines coming out of Davos this year and covered by international media outlets don’t refer to the Middle East and especially the dynamism on Arab streets (And for all those who dismissed the idea of the "Arab street," they are being proven wrong as the "Arab street" is speaking out loud). However, the dramatic events from Tunis to Suez are being discussed – and tweeted about – from Davos. In every formal session, dinner, side conversation being had that in any way references the Middle East here in Davos people are asking what the "Tunisia effect" will be, in reference to the ouster of the former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Interestingly, more questions than answers are being posed about the developments with each new wave of protests. And perhaps the reason for that is those attending Davos, myself included, are not the ones who will determine the outcomes of the events on the ground. However, whatever these outcomes are will affect us all.
And while the "Tunisia effect" was not on the official program at the start of the meetings, it has since forced itself on the agenda. Saturday will now have a session on Tunisia here in Davos under the title: "Tunisia: Tipping Point or Tsunami?"
As is always the case with the WEF, thinking of the next meeting before the current one even finishes, there are discussions on the WEF’s next regional meeting for the Middle East that will be held in the Dead Sea, Jordan in May. To stay relevant, that meeting will have to address head on the issues moving "the Arab street" and not shy away from responding to the "new realities" there.
Mina Al-Oraibi is the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Asharq Alawsat, an Arabic language newspaper.
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