Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 May 2008
Issue No. 896
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Counting down to WEF

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President Hosni Mubarak is scheduled on Sunday to inaugurate the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the Middle East in Sharm El-Sheikh. The three-day meeting is co- organised by the WEF and the Egyptian government under the theme "Learning from the future" with special emphasis on the next two decades and their impact on regional development and stability.

"Obviously with the ongoing world economic crises, especially the food crisis, the debates are expected to be very intense, especially with relation to the issue of bio-fuels and its impact on the world food crisis on the one hand and growing climate concerns on the other," said Minister of Trade and Industry Rachid Mohamed Rachid during a curtain raiser press conference held in Cairo on Monday jointly with Sherif Al-Diwani, the WEF Middle East programme director, and Andre Schneider, WEF CEO.

Scheduled to be present at the inauguration is a host of world leaders, politicians, business tycoons and representatives of civil society. President George W Bush, in the region for his possibly last Middle East tour, is expected at the opening among other heads of state including the kings of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Bahrain, the emir of Qatar and the Palestinian president. Also participating is Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Robert Zolleick, the World Bank chair, Pascal Lame, the European Union trade commissioner, and Mrs Suzanne Mubarak.

Also present will be official and business representatives from Iran, Turkey and Israel. Tehran is sending members of parliament and businessmen, Turkey is delegating an impressive business corps and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, and Israel is to be represented by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and a group of businessmen.

According to Al-Diwani, the international body extended invitations to the leaders of these three countries but the level of participation was ultimately decided in the concerned capitals.

The overall participation at this international event is expected to top 1,500.

According to the programme distributed by the WEF and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, participants are expected to examine political as well as economic issues. Middle East peace and regional stability are as high on the agenda as resources of energy and alternative energy. Also on the agenda are social issues, especially in relation to education and its impact on regional development, economic inclusion, challenges facing youth and women and human trafficking.

The convocation of the WEF on the Middle East in Egypt is viewed "as a great opportunity to promote Egypt as a business, investment and tourist attracting country," Rachid told the press conference. The prominent cabinet minister argued that recent "regulatory measures" applied by the state in relation to the sales and operation of mobile phones in the wake of recent IT-dependent political opposition, will not affect the image of Egypt as an attractive direct foreign investment spot. "These are normal regulatory procedures applied by many countries," Rachid defended. The minister of trade and industry indirectly acknowledged the possible impact of any restrictive IT measures on Egypt's image. He alluded, but did not promise, that the state, now influenced by serious concern over the use of Facebook to mobilise political dissent, would not shut down the Internet service. "I use Facebook myself. No problem with that," Rachid laughed.

According to Rachid, Egypt is opening up and is committed to continuing as such. He said there was no going back on the political and economic reforms that will make Egypt a success story worthy of world attention.

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