Mursi calls for Arab economic integration during Riyadh summit

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Citing the Arab World’s rich resources, common language and beliefs, Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi called for Arab economic integration and urged for an Arab initiative on sustainable development, during the opening of the third Arab Economic and Social Development Summit in Riyadh on Monday.

“Egypt is looking forward to work with Arab brethren to fulfill economic ambitions between the Arab nations,” Mursi said while addressing the opening session of the summit.

Mursi, who said that the summit was held in the most important era for the Arab nations - in reference to the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled dictators in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen - said it is necessary to reinvigorate the Arab Monetary Fund.

The president, who became Egypt’s first president post the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, said that Egypt wants “to see an Arab world free from sickness and illiteracy.”

He said that the Arab nations spent only 1 percent from its GDPs on scientific research.

Meanwhile, Saudi Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz Al-Saud urged for more Arab economic integration and said trade between the Arab World is not up to the level Arab nations strive for. He said money to fund Arab institutions should be increased by 50 percent.

Mursi opposes Mali intervention

Mursi also said that he opposes France’s military intervention in Mali, saying its actions there would create a “new conflict hotspot” that separates the Arab north from its African neighbors to the south.

Mursi, who hails from Egypt’s oldest Islamist group - the Muslim Brotherhood - said he would have preferred to see a “peaceful and developmental” intervention in Mali. There was no immediate reaction from France on the comments Mursi made in Riyadh. Mursi is expected to visit Paris on Feb. 1.

The president also declared his support for Algeria against threats to its security - a reference to the takeover by Islamic militants of a gas complex last week in that nation’s remote southeast. Thirty-eight hostages and 29 militants died in the attack.

While the summit was meant to discuss economic challenges facing the Arab World, Syria as a political dilemma, was highlighted.

Mursi condemned what is happening in Syria, Arab League’s Secretary-General, Nabil al-Arabi, said that all efforts on Syria were “futile”

Kuwaiti Emir Sabah al-Sabah said “what is happening in Syria is a disaster that has to be stopped,” and urged for more humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people.

The summit kicked off in Riyadh aiming to boost economic integration and tackle people’s aspirations amid the Arab world’s turbulent political changes.

“Our meeting should not be mired in routine,” Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a meeting Saturday to prepare for the summit.

“The Arab world has faced these past two years upheavals of a political dimension... but we cannot ignore their economic dimension,” he added.

The minister stressed that the two-day summit must tackle “the problems and issues that concern the lives of our people. We must meet the aspirations of the people.”

A number of Arab presidents and ministers arrived to Riyadh on Sunday and Monday to attend the summit.

Poverty, unemployment and social inequalities were among the causes that triggered a Tunisian uprising in late 2010 that later spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria.

Experts have warned the Arab world risks losing the fragile gains made by the uprisings, which brought to an end decades of iron-fisted rule by leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.

A recent economic report noted that unemployment in 2011 stood at 16 percent in Arab countries where 17 million people out of 300 million are jobless.

At the same time inter-Arab investments stood at a mere 25 billion dollars across the region.