Shapers of the future gather in Dubai for World Economic Forum summit

Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, right, and Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum. (Dubai Media Office)
Updated 11 November 2017
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Shapers of the future gather in Dubai for World Economic Forum summit

DUBAI: More than 700 international business leaders, policymakers and young intellectuals from 75 countries will gather in the UAE today to take part in a two-day summit to debate the impact of technological and communication change on the societies of the future.
Under the theme of “the globalization of knowledge in a fracturing world,” the Dubai meeting of the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Future Councils will help to set the agenda for the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, next year, and “develop concrete, actionable recommendations for global decision makers,” the WEF said.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, said that forecasting the future has proved pivotal for successful government work and empowering citizens, according to an official statement.
The UAE has become a global hub for the future industry and an established platform to forecast upcoming challenges in a world where the Fourth Industrial Revolution — the WEF term for rapid technology change — is opening new horizons, he added.
The WEF said: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to exacerbate the challenges of a fragmenting world, but also to deliver new transformative solutions. The objective this year is to develop a shared vision for progress, building on the individual council discussions.”
The two-day WEF event will be opened by Mohammad Al-Gergawi, UAE minister of cabinet affairs and the future, and Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF. It is the second time Dubai has hosted the event.
One subject that looks certain to be discussed at the meeting is Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion plan for a new mega-city, Neom, which will be dominated by robotics and new techniques in artificial intelligence.
“Neom will be an example of the new knowledge society and the Fourth Industrial Revolution in action, and is certain to be on everybody’s mind. It talks to all the themes we will be discussing here,” said a WEF official.
Other subjects to be discussed include “Reality check: The world in 2017” and “Toward a shared narrative about the future.”
Aside from the big set-piece plenary sessions, members of the Future Councils will hold 35 separate sessions to “explore ways of facilitating systemic change in critical areas such as health, energy and infrastructure through breakthrough technologies related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” the WEF said.
Dubai has led the way in the Arabian Gulf region to achieve “smart city” status, and is included in a list of 20 “data-driven cities” — which also include Boston, Copenhagen and Yinchuan — highlighted in a WEF report on cities and urbanization.
“The WEF seeks to empower cities as they prepare for the social, economic and technological transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is now more important than ever to understand the consequences of data and how it affects people’s lives,” the report said.
Examples of “data driven” initiatives in the cities are sewage-powered cars, smart cycle paths and safer high-tech public transport, it added.
In Dubai, the government is driving an initiative to implement blockchain technology in as many government services as possible by 2020, while the UAE is exploring plans for driverless air taxis and ultra-fast “hyperloop” transport systems.
The event will be attended by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai, and by Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, chairman and chief executive of the Emirates Group.
Also present will be Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, minister for foreign affairs of the UAE, and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, deputy prime minister of the UAE.
The world of business is represented by Fahad Al-Dhubaib, director of new business development for Saudi Aramco, Alain Bejjani, chief executive officer of Majid Al-Futtaim Holding, and Teresa O’Flynn, managing director of BlackRock, among many others.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a concept that has been promoted by WEF founder Schwab. It is “characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. The breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance,” he said.
The WEF has also unveiled a series of “transformation maps” that show the key factors shaping countries, economies and societies, like environmental sustainability, human capital, innovation, geopolitical position, economic diversification and infrastructure.


At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

Updated 21 October 2018
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At Jordan border, Damascus seeks to revive trade

  • The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July
  • By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region

BEIRUT: By reopening a key land crossing with Jordan this month, the Syrian regime is inching toward a return to trade with the wider region as it looks to boost its war-ravaged economy.
The government of President Bashar Assad took back control of the Nassib border post in July from rebels as part of a military offensive that reclaimed swathes of the south of the country.
Syria’s international trade has plummeted during the seven-year civil war, and its foreign reserves have been almost depleted.
The reopening of Nassib after a three-year hiatus, on Oct. 15, is a political victory for the Damascus regime, said Sam Heller of the International Crisis Group.
It is “a step toward reintegrating with Syria’s surroundings economically and recapturing the country’s traditional role as a conduit for regional trade,” he said.
The Nassib crossing reopens a direct land route between Syria and Jordan, but also a passage via its southern neighbor to Iraq to the east, and the Gulf to the south.
“For the Syrian government, reopening Nassib is a step toward normalization with Jordan and the broader region, and a blow to US-led attempts to isolate Damascus,” Heller said.
International pressure and numerous rounds of peace talks have failed to stem the fighting in Syria, and seven years in the regime has gained the military upper hand in the conflict.
Assad’s forces now control nearly two-thirds of the country, after a series of Russia-backed offensives against rebels.

 

Syria faces a mammoth task to revive its battered economy.
The country’s exports plummeted by more than 90 percent in the first four years of the conflict alone, from $7.9 billion to $631 million, according to a World Bank report last year.
The Syria Report, an economic weekly, said Nassib’s reopening would reconnect Syria with an “important market” in the Gulf.
But, it warned, “it is unlikely Syrian exports will recover anywhere close to the 2011 levels in the short and medium terms because the country’s production capacity has been largely destroyed.”
For now, at least, Nassib’s reopening is good news for Syrian tradesmen forced into costlier, lengthier maritime shipping since 2015.
Among them, Syrian businessman Farouk Joud was looking forward to being able to finally import goods from Jordan and the UAE via land.
Before 2015, “it would take a maximum of three days for us to receive goods, but via the sea it takes a whole month,” he told AFP.
Importing goods until recently has involved a circuitous maritime route from the Jordanian port of Aqaba via the Suez Canal, and up to a regime-held port in the northwest of the country.
“It costs twice as much as land transport via Nassib,” Joud said.
Syrian parliament member Hadi Sharaf was equally enthusiastic about fresh opportunities for Syrian exports.
“Exporting (fruit and) vegetables will have a positive economic impact, especially for much-demanded citrus fruit to Iraq,” he told AFP.
Before Syria’s war broke out in 2011, neighboring Iraq was the first destination of Syria’s non-oil exports.
The parliamentarian also hoped the revived trade route on Syria’s southern border would swell state coffers with much-needed dollars.
Before the conflict, the Nassib crossing raked in $2 million in customs fees, Sharaf said.
Last month, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said fees at Nassib for a four-ton truck had been increased from $10 to $62.
Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted due to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, the World Bank said.
And the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war.
Lebanese businessmen are also delighted, as they can now reach other countries in the region by sending lorries through Syria and its southern border crossing.
Lebanon’s farmers “used to export more than 70 percent of their produce to Arab countries via this strategic crossing,” said Bechara Al-Asmar, head of Lebanon’s labor union.
Despite recent victories, Damascus still controls only half of the 19 crossings along Syria’s lengthy borders with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
Damascus and Baghdad have said the Albukamal crossing with Iraq in eastern Syria will open soon, but did not give a specific date.
Beyond trade, there is even hope that the Nassib crossing reopening might bring some tourists back to Syria.
A Jordanian travel agency recently posted on Facebook that it was organizing daily trips to the Syrian capital by “safe and air-conditioned” bus from Monday.
“Who among us doesn’t miss the good old days in Syria?” it said.

FACTOID

BACKGROUND

Syria’s foreign reserves have been almost depleted owing to the drop in oil exports, loss of tourism revenues and sanctions, while the local currency has lost around 90 percent of its value since the start of the war in 2011.