Davos ’17 summarized? The world is upside down!
Didn’t get a chance to follow or attend the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) this year? Here is a summary, but please don’t think I am pulling your leg; everything mentioned below is true.
Basically, Chinese President Xi Jinping went against his Communist manifesto and spoke of promoting free trade, investment and open markets. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May came to tell everyone — with a straight face — that despite last summer’s vote to leave the EU (the world’s biggest economy and largest trading bloc), and the fact that the vote was achieved via a xenophobic and factually misleading campaign, “Brexit” means “a more global Britain.”
For his part, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif seemed to have completely ignored statements made by his fellow countrymen — who bragged recently about the fact that Tehran now occupies four Arab capitals — and went on to claim that Iran wants to work with its neighbors to bring peace and prosperity to the region.
Of course, the cherry on top of this truly astonishing week was that the US — the world’s champion of capitalism and globalization — witnessed the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. In his first-ever speech as POTUS, Mr. Trump made it clear that he is sticking with the protectionist stance he exhibited during his candidacy.
Now, thanks to the various WEF off-the-record and on-the-record sessions with world leaders, economists, intellectuals and chief executives, I usually leave Davos with a better understanding of what the status of the world is and where is it heading in the year to come.
This year, however, I bid this famous Swiss mountain resort farewell with much less certainty and with one conclusion for 2017: The world is moving upside down.
Now, what should matter to us in all of this is the Arab interest. Basically, with such changes in the world order — as we once knew it — one can’t help but fear that we will be the biggest losers.
Two or three decades ago, we along with the many Eastern and South Asian countries, as well many countries in Latin America shared the same misery: Lack of economic prospects, wars and lack of effective and fair governments.
Today, if we take a look at prosperity in India, South Korea, Malaysia and the stability in Latin America; particularly recently with the miraculous Colombian peace deal brokered by President Juan Manuel Santos; we will quickly realize that the majority of Arab countries didn’t fully benefit from globalization and the world order as it then existed.
This leads us to the obvious question of: Are we — as Arab nations — ready to face these changes and turn them to our benefit? Or will we — as we always tend to do — miss another opportunity to improve the status quo?
One has to confess, it is difficult to think strategy and long-term when so many nations are failed states, and the rest are busy fire-fighting the effects of growing extremism, corruption, poverty, illiteracy and all the other Third World symptoms which we have failed to deal with over the past decades.
So, if President Trump wants to somehow make the US “great again,” PM May thinks she can make post-Brexit Britain “more global,” then the very least we can aspire for this year is to try and make the MENA region more stable.
It starts with accepting that change is the only constant in life. Yet when there are those extremists among us who insist on taking us back to their own perverted version of how they thought we lived in the past, one can’t be very optimistic.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. He can be reached on