Davos points to year of uncertainty for Middle East
The World Economic Forum came to an end with much emphasis on Tunisia, as a Tunisian delegation landed in to Davos on Friday night to hold a series of meetings with officials from the G-20 and key corporate leaders. There was a clear message from the Tunisians to the international community: "Do no harm." They did not come to the international forum to ask for aid (which Tunisia's healthy economy does not need) or special treatment. Rather the "do no harm" call was primarily a call for giving the Tunisian people and their path to a democratic system of government a chance -- not to exclude them or sabotage it. The one main point of concern that was raised by the delegation, that included the new governor of the Central Bank, Moustapha Nabli, and the minister of transportation and infrastructure, Yassine Ibrahim, was Moody's decision to lower the rating of Tunisia after the ouster of Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Although there was a heavy Tunisian presence in the final days of the Davos gathering, there was a near lack of presence of other officials from the Middle East and North Africa -- most were in their capitals awaiting the outcome of the unprecedented protests in the streets of Egypt, the region's most populated country. Delegates to Davos from the region or those who have interests in it were oftentimes on their smartphones following Egypt's developments through Twitter feeds or live television. Conversation at one closed high-level dinner on the Middle East was interrupted as one of the delegates announced that Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak was about to make a statement. Chatter was halted as he turned his cellphone into a radio and put Mubarak's speech on speakerphone. As in the region, technology was bringing the realities of the Middle East directly to Davos.
As the future of Egypt remains unclear, so too was the future of internal politics of the Middle East at the conclusion of Davos. Although there was a debate on Iran's nuclear file and Tunisia's "Jasmine revolution," key issues such as the Middle East peace process (or lack of it) and Iraq's new government were hardly even brought up. The main consensus was that the Arab world was headed for major changes, whether in reform, revolt or repression. And the determining factors were both how the region's leaders reacted to people's demands, but also how the people of the region would make those demands in their respective countries.
One of the key conclusions I have come away with from this year's Davos meeting is that the solution to the issues that we face in the region are not related solely to leadership, rather than to constituents. Governance is a key challenge for many Arab states, at different levels, yet one aspect that is rarely tackled is citizenship. The rights of citizens are all too often abused, while their obligations are all too often seen as burdens rather than guarantors of a nation's success. As one session on "a new social contract" in Davos concluded, to truly be able to establish democratic principles, and steer a clear road ahead, citizenship and a viable social contract are vital.
As the Middle East becomes the focal point of the World Economic Forum in May's regional meeting in Jordan, these issues will be at the forefront of discussions. However as the Davos meeting showed this year, many leaders from the region may still be unwilling to publicly confront them -- a policy that will only add to the uncertainty facing the Middle East.
Return to the Insiders' Guide to Davos 2011 page.
| January 31, 2011; 10:27 AM ET
Categories: Mina Al-Oraibi
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