The World Economic Forum, let me be disagreed with, is losing its glamor and long-held prestige as a high-profile gathering of world leaders. Not to mention the modest outcomes of the recently-concluded 2013 edition of the forum which focused on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and was held in Jordan.
To sound less pessimistic, the long-awaited forum has failed to bring about the sought after outcomes – the least of which is a serious re-launch of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The forum, which was first launched in Europe in 1971, has been so far unable to yield considerable political or economic outcomes – at least during the institutionalized MENA edition – that can meet its main mission which is, as first put by its founder, Klaus Schwab, “to improve the state of the world.”
To fulfill that mission, the forum, or the WEF, brings together business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. This is what the foundation’s website says.
That was exactly what happened in the Dead Sea. Around 1000 leading political and economic figures, along with high-ranking officials, were engaged in brainstorming sessions on various issues – majorly political as it is the norm, or actually the need, in the MENA region.
But to the disappointment of the region’s people, plagued by insecurity and high unemployment rates maximized after the Arab Spring uprisings, no tangible results have been brought about. Not even a considerable economic agreement was signed or a job-generating project was launched as it happened in previous forums.
For Jordan, the main message behind hosting the forum – probably to investors – was to show how the kingdom, surrounded by unrest and turbulence, has successfully managed to remain secure and stable.
This is important anyway. But it would have been better if the two-day event witnessed the signing of economic agreements that could help in reducing the unemployment rates in the kingdom which, according to official figures, have reached 13 percent, or alleviate its energy woes.
It is actually the case of Syria that is now preoccupying the region’s influential politicians and their international counterparts, thus no urgency status was given to any other issue – even the Arab-Israeli conflict – seemingly to the point in which a discussion of any other topic would be considered a “luxury.”
Reality not gloominess
In addition to its economic value, when many investors – mainly from the Gulf region, such as Emaar from the the UAE – used to lay down the basis for future joint ventures, WEF in the MENA region used to offer a platform for the Palestinians and Israelis to discuss ways to resolve their decades-long struggle as “friendly neighbors.”
The forum failed to produce a tangible progress in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process that has been stalemated for yearsRaed Omari
The big investors who used to attend the conference in the past to sign economic agreements were present during the 2013 Forum this time as “sponsors.”
Although they did meet again in the Dead Sea, this time the Palestinian delegation was headed by a “desperate” president (Mahmoud Abbas), who knows that the priority now is Syria, and his Israeli counterpart (Shimon Peres), who has no executive powers in his country and who has nothing new to offer anyway as all important decisions are decided by the Israeli strongman Benjamin Netanyahu.
Jordan, which is now somehow at ease being able to restore its dynamic diplomacy, sought to give a strong push to the deadlocked peace process – this was probably its main objective. But even such an objective is still far reaching maybe, as put by a Jordanian senior official, due to Netanyahu’s “stubbornness.”
According to a well-informed Jordanian source, “relentless” efforts have been exerted to convince Netanyahu - even by the Americans – to issue a positive say on peace negotiations, to be announced at the closing of the form, but “he just refused.”
Before joining the forum, the U.S Secretary of State, John Kerry, was in Israel for talks with Netanyahu.
The forum, after many instances of bringing Palestinian and Israelis together, whether politicians, economists, businessmen or thinkers, failed to produce a tangible progress in the peace process that has been stalemated for years and this has no doubt had a negative impact on the image and perception of the periodical meeting.
Syria, first and foremost
This year’s WEF in Jordan, and also that of 2011’s, were held during a time when the ongoing violence in Syria is still dominating the Middle East’s political scene.
For many politicians and even journalists, the 2013 Forum was a “valuable” chance to discuss Syria more than any other matter.
But even on Syria, nothing special was raised during the forum as all had been discussed before in the recent “Friends of Syria” meeting in Amman, or will be discussed during the projected Geneva 2 conference.
Plus, no one from the pro-Bashar al-Assad camp attended the forum, mainly the Russians and the Iranians and even the anti-Assad Syrian opposition, a thing that added to the indecisiveness and invalidity of any talk about Syria.
Except for the same rhetoric about the importance of finding a political solution to the Syrian unrest, nothing new was said during the conference.
WEF’s fading allure, especially in the MENA region, has nothing to do primarily with the inability or weakness of its organizers and participants but more to do with the global economic slowdown and the entire world returning back to a polarized struggle between super powers.
Raed Omari is a Jordanian journalist, political analyst, parliamentary affairs expert, and commentator on local and regional political affairs. His writing focuses on the Arab Spring, press freedoms, Islamist groups, emerging economies, climate change, natural disasters, agriculture, the environment and social media. He is a writer for The Jordan Times, and contributes to Al Arabiya English. He can be reached via email@example.com, or on Twitter @RaedAlOmari2