5 Haziran 2012 Salı

Turkey rides WEF bandwagon into the Middle East


The World Economic Forum for the Middle East is usually held in an Arab capital and the usual controversy is over how many Israelis show up. This year, there are so many different Arab worlds, one in political transition away from autocracy, the other still solidly autocratic, and the third profoundly troubled by the old conflicts.

That is part of the reason we are in Istanbul, where 1,000 business and political leaders are gathered for a WEF that is now “on the Middle East, north Africa and Eurasia.” The other might be that the WEF has come where Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, will no longer tread – he vowed never to return to Davos after storming off stage in 2009 in a heated debate on Gaza.

The three faces of the Arab world are all well represented here – the new is Tunisia, whose Islamist prime minister, Hammadi Jebali, this morning delivered a speech urging regional states and companies to put their money, and faith, in the nascent democracy. Opening remarks were also made by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister, who lamented the moribund peace process and the continuing Israeli occupation but also took the opportunity to tell fellow Arabs and Turks that Palestine is open for business. Investment, he said, consolidates the “steadfastedness” of the Palestinian people and promotes peace.

To the many Arabs who stay clear of Palestinian lands because the gates are controlled by Israel, Mr Abbas had a message:  ”To visit a prisoner does not mean you are visiting his jailor.”

Later on, the prime minister of Jordan, a country which takes one step forward and two steps back on political reform despite the urgency instilled by the Arab Awakening, will be speaking too.

The Davos of the Middle East, however, is above all another chance for Turkey to showcase itself and promote itself as the model for a changing Arab world, in which Islamists are the rising power. In the opening session Mr Erdogan listed the achievements of his socially conservative government over the past decade, including average yearly growth of 5.3 per cent, the tripling of per capita income in dollar terms, and foreign direct investment which reached $16bn in 2011.

Turkey, he said, was an important example not only for the region but for the whole world. Many Arabs indeed now look at Turkey and the performance of the AK party of Mr Erdogan and its management as a model of the potential evolution of Islamist-dominated governments. Curiously though Egyptians, who might learn most from Turkey, appear to have a small presence at the WEF. Maybe Egypt thinks too much of itself to learn from others, or is too busy with its internal turmoil to think sufficiently about the future.


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