Tension in Middle East is top concern for 2014, says WEF

War in Syria, political instability and unemployment in North Africa will all rank high on the global political agenda

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News
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Tension in the Middle East and North Africa will be the top concern for world leaders in 2014, according to a survey of 1,500 experts conducted by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

War in Syria, political instability and unemployment in North Africa will all rank high on the global political agenda next year, above other pressing issues such as the widening income gap and unemployment, the survey found.

Martina Gmür, the WEF’s senior director and head of the network of global agenda councils, said societal tension in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is increasingly on people’s minds.

“Social tensions as well as economic concerns have topped this year’s rankings,” she told Al Arabiya News.

Political tension is by far the biggest challenge facing the Middle East in 2014, the survey found. Unemployment and education ranked as the next most important issues.

The WEF’s Outlook on the Global Agenda also presented data from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.

The Pew data showed that respondents in the MENA region think the economic system in their respective countries favors the rich.

“70 percent of [respondents] in the Middle East and North Africa think that the current economic system in their country favors the wealthy,” Gmür said.

The “urgent need to address long-simmering economic problems such as widening income gaps and structural unemployment” was also among the issues raised in the WEF survey.

“Five years after the crisis, still we see a lot of economic issues dominate the agenda,” Gmür said.

The ‘shale’ energy revolution is another trend to watch, Gmür said, adding that there could be repercussions in the Middle East.

“It could spell energy independence for some countries, potentially the U.S.,” she said. “It could see a shift of regional influence within the energy framework.”

The survey was published just days before the WEF Summit on the Global Agenda 2013, which is held in Abu Dhabi from Nov. 18 to 20.

Gmür said that 900 of the “brightest minds” are due to attend the Abu Dhabi summit.

“Our theme this year is driving change through collaboration,” she said.

The co-chairs of the event are Sultan Saeed Nasser al-Mansouri, Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates, and Nasser Ahmed al-Sowaidi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED).

The Top 10 trends in the WEF’s Outlook on the Global Agenda:

1. Societal tension in the Middle East and North Africa: war in Syria, political instability and unemployment in North Africa

2. Widening income gap: ramifications for health, education and social mobility across all regions of the world

3. Structural unemployment: a global issue demanding a global solution

4. Intensifying cyber threats: electronic armies and government agencies are threatening the fabric of the Internet

5. Inaction on climate change: extreme weather events may be occurring more frequently, but there has been no breakthrough on action to tackle the problem

6. Diminishing confidence in economic policies: the scale of the global downturn and the pace of recovery have left deep scars, particularly among the young

7. Lack of values in leadership: this has led to a crisis of legitimacy in governments and other institutions

8. Asia’s expanding middle class: greater hope for increased prosperity – but also environmental and resource challenges

9. Growing importance of megacities: these original social networks are home to more and more people, yet we still understand surprising little about how they grow and evolve

10. Rapid spread of misinformation online: the speed of social media – and the scale of big data – is making it harder for people to know that information received is real

SOURCE: The World Economic Forum

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