WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’

Updated 06 April 2019
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WEF meeting in Jordan to address ‘new platforms of cooperation’

  • The World Economic Forum in Jordan aims to be more than just a talking shop by providing tangible solutions
  • The stated aim of the two-day World Economic Forum in Jordan is ambitious

DEAD SEA, Jordan: What has the World Economic Forum ever done for us?

It is the perennial question asked of the forum’s headline event in Davos, Switzerland, held at the beginning of each year.

But it is, perhaps, an even more pertinent one ahead of the annual Middle East-focused gathering in Jordan, which starts today.

To some, World Economic Forum (WEF) events are love-ins for the global elite of Davos men, and occasional woman, who fly in — many on private jets — to talk a lot, but achieve very little.

To others — including, doubtlessly, most of the attendees — the forums are more than mere talking shops. They are a genuine attempt to make true the WEF’s mantra of “improving the state of the world.”

So as the WEF’s regional event kicks off at the Dead Sea resort, will solutions to the Arab world’s myriad problems come rising to the surface, or will they sink in the water amid the chitchat of the chattering classes?

The stated aim of the two-day World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa — which will gather some 1,000 leaders from government, business and civil society — is nothing if not ambitious.   

Organizers say it will address “new platforms of cooperation” for the Arab world, and focus on “shaping a new economic and social model for the region,” along with offering “initiatives to help resolve long-standing conflicts.”

But can such an event provide any tangible solutions in a region plagued by widespread conflict and intractable social, political and economic problems?

Mirek Dusek, a member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum, said that the Jordan meeting will have a real impact on the ground, rather than being purely theoretical.

“We are very outcome-orientated here, so there’s going to be a number of concrete initiatives coming out of the summit,” he said.

One such initiative set to be launched at the forum is a “University of the People” in Arabic. The US-accredited online university will be run primarily by refugees, and is also directed at refugees from Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Iraq, as well as other qualifying students.

There will also be a focus on the Israel-Palestine conflict, following a WEF initiative formed several years ago by both Arab and Israeli business people to support the peace process. 

The WEF’s Global Shapers Community is expected to announce on Saturday the launch of two hubs in East and West Jerusalem, in which young people will work toward building more peaceful societies.

The forum will also address some of the most pressing issues the region faces: The Syria conflict, radicalization, environmental dangers and the need for greater gender equality.

The overriding objective, however, is how to push what Dusek described as the “forward-looking” societal model in the Arab world, rather than legacy systems led by the often bureaucratic and inefficient public sector.

“The region really is a region of two systems. One is a very forward-looking, agile system. You could characterize it by a dynamic private sector, a technology-native young population … like in the UAE, for example,” he said.

“The other one is a legacy system, which could be characterized by a bloated public sector … by fragility and conflict.”

The WEF meeting will look at building a collaborative platform to help the former system “really take off,” Dusek said.

“We have all these amazing individual pockets of excellence that are representing the forward-looking system. So (it’s about) how we enable those to grow,” he said.

“The economic model of the future here (is) going from a more public-sector dominated employment-generating model … to a more private-sector led, entrepreneurship-led growth system.”

The Middle East’s thriving startup scene will be well-represented at the Jordan meeting.

One hundred Arab startups were selected to attend the event, including 10 from Saudi Arabia, with entrepreneurs getting a chance to discuss and promote their companies to government and business leaders. Executives from Careem, the Middle East ride-hailing service that Uber recently agreed to buy for $3.1 billion, will also attend.

Fadi Ghandour, the founder of courier service Aramex and executive chairman of venture capital firm Wamda Capital, sees the region’s startups as a positive force in building a better Middle East.

“The region is complex, full of so many challenges. It always moves on many tracks. Some are way above my pay grade, but what I see on my level is plenty of young people building the businesses of the future, changing the face of how business is done and moving governments along the way to keep up with them,” said Ghandour.

“Whether in fintech, mobility, commerce, health care, entertainment or logistics, every sector is being challenged; these are the platforms of change that we should look out for.”

 

The Forum will feature appearances by Klaus Schwab, Emine Erdogan, King Abdullah of Jordan, Fadi Ghandour and Thani Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi. (Reuters)


India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

Updated 19 April 2019
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India suspends Kashmir border trade with Pakistan

  • Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries
  • India said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency”

NEW DELHI: India has suspended trade across its disputed Kashmir border with Pakistan, alleging that weapons and drugs are being smuggled across the route, as tensions simmer between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
Kashmir has been on edge since a February suicide attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitaries and brought the two countries to the brink of war with cross-border air strikes.
On Thursday, India’s government, which is in the middle of a tough national election, said it had reports that trade on the border was being “misused by Pakistan-based elements for funnelling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency.”
It also said many of those trading across the Line of Control, which divides Kashmir into zones under Indian and Pakistani control, had links to militant organizations.
The home ministry said trade would be suspended until a stricter inspection mechanism is in place.
The cross-border trade is based on a barter system, with traders exchanging goods including chillies, cumin, mango and dried fruit.
It began in 2008 as a way to improve strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad, who have fought two of their three wars over the disputed region.
The Indian Express newspaper said Friday that 35 trucks carrying fruit traveling from the Indian side of the border had been stopped after the government order.
Trade on the border has been suspended before, including in 2015, when India accused a Pakistani driver of drug trafficking.
The latest move comes after India withdrew “Most Favoured Nation Status” — covering trade links — from Pakistan after the February attack, which was claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group.
Islamabad has denied any involvement in the attack.
India’s Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made national security a key plank of his re-election campaign, pointing to the recent flare-up of violence as he battles the center-left opposition Congress party.
He is seeking a second term from the country’s 900 million voters in the mammoth election which kicked off on April 11 and runs till May 19. The results will be out on May 23.