Dateline Davos: This year, the faces representing the Arab world are different

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For those who flock to Davos regularly to attend the World Economic Forum conferences, it must be easy to spot the renovations in the Congress center, where the sessions are convened, and the phenomenal amount of snow on the ground this year. But the most visible change of all has nothing to do with
architecture or weather, but with faces. While few can argue with the fact that the financial crisis has changed the dynamics of a typical Davos clientele, no one can question the changing face of Arabia in this year’s meetings.

There is no better example to put this into context than Egypt, the country that celebrates its revolution on the same day that the World Economic Forum rings the bell of its opening ceremony. It is a coincidence, of course, but one that echoes a frightening correlation of global events. At this time last year, Egyptian government figures were rushed from Davos to Cairo, where millions were expressing expressed their demands to topple Hosni Mubarak and start a new Egypt.

The change has been dramatic, and it is mirrored almost perfectly in Davos. For years, the Egyptian government spared no effort or money to impress the Davos crowd. Minsters of trade, investment and finance were always on the chase for the next panel or interview that could help their messages on the investment climate in Egypt. Gamal Mubarak, son of the ex-president, and the one with the most fortunes back then to succeed his father, had been the face of the more modern and energized Egypt. Scores of businessmen flocked to the little Swiss town to hunt for opportunities on the back of a strong government presence. Actors and pop stars were also available as the trendy part of the entourage. That was the Egyptian delegation before January 25, 2011.

On the same date this year, only 12 people represent Egypt in Davos, including a presidential hopeful, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who for years had been the active face of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in addition to two young Muslim preachers.

Other Arab Spring countries are not so different. Tunisia is mainly represented by the men behind the Nahda Islamic movement, who won the majority of seats in the latest elections. I can understand that Syria has zero presence at Davos, but I find it odd that there is no one here from Libya at a time when no effort should be spared to attract foreign investments in that country.

While many in the Arab Spring countries seem to have shied away from Davos this year, given the escalating challenges that face them back home, it might not be the most rewarding of solutions when it comes to pushing on with economic recovery, a process that needs every bit of public relations, since a mere Facebook status can change history.

(Mohammad El-Huseini, editor of Business News at Al Arabiya, can be reached at [email protected])