Mubarak snubs Bush at World Economic Forum

Egyptian leader walks out after Bush misses his keynote


The presidents of Egypt and the United States appeared to snub each other at the opening of the World Economic Forum in the Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh yesterday, press reports said, aggravating tensions between Washington and Cairo.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak inaugurated the meeting with a keynote speech, attended by some 14 heads of state and government, but not U.S. President George W. Bush, Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm reported on Monday.

As Mubarak spoke, the seats of the American delegation remained empty. Laura Bush's seat, next to that of Mubarak's wife, also remained unoccupied, the daily said.

Laura Bush arrived with her husband one hour into the proceedings.

Addressing the forum, Bush repeated parts of the speech he gave to the Knesset on the occasion of Israel's 60th anniversary.

According to Al-Masry al-Youm, Mubarak deliberately left the Forum's main hall after delivering his speech and did not wait to hear Bush's address.

Sources told the paper that Mubarak was planning to attend the opening session, but when he found out that Bush had missed his speech, he decided to leave.

In his speech, Mubarak lashed out at countries that promote using organic fuels while the world is suffering from a food crisis. Bush defended the need of these countries, among them the United States, to look for alternative energy sources when the demand on oil is becoming more than its supply.

The WEF Mideast conference, dubbed the Davos of the Middle East, brought together over 1,500 high-ranking officials, leading business figures, leaders of civil society and the media from some 60 countries and regions.

With the theme of "Learning from the Future," the three-day event focuses on scenarios that explore the impact of long-term global trends on the Middle East.

Incorporated as a foundation in 1971 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the WEF is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).