Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

WEF meeting cancelled

What is the significance of the cancellation of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, scheduled to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh, asks Nesma Nowar

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Organisers of the World Economic Forum (WEF) recently announced the postponement of its meeting on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which had been scheduled to take place in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in May.

The meeting was cancelled over security concerns following the Russian plane downing over Sinai that killed all 224 people on board on 31 October last year. WEF spokesman Adrian Monck said the 2016 meeting of the MENA forum planned for May in Sharm El-Sheikh has been put off but has not been cancelled.

The WEF, which holds an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, holds a similar meeting on the MENA region that generally alternates, year to year, between Jordan and Egypt. It brings together dignitaries and high-ranking business leaders to discuss political and economic matters in a way similar to the Davos meeting.

Despite the cancellation, the Red Sea city is getting ready to host another prominent conference, the Africa 2016 Forum, which will kick off on Saturday and last for two days. The gathering is possibly Africa’s first Africa-Africa investment forum and will be attended by the continent’s most influential CEOs, international investors and ministerial-level policy-makers.

It will bring together a wide range of political and business leaders in Africa to discuss ways of enhancing pan-African trade and investment and promote a business climate with a strong focus on the role of the private sector.

The forum is organised by the ministries of investment, foreign affairs, industry and foreign trade, and international cooperation, in partnership with the Egyptian Agency of Partnerships for Development, the COMESA Regional Investment Agency, and under the umbrella of the African Union Commission.

It is perfectly timed in the light of the cancellation of the WEF MENA meeting, enhancing Egypt’s image abroad and affirming its capacity to host high-profile conferences.

The WEF decision was not welcomed in Egypt and the Egyptian delegation pulled out of the Davos Forum in protest. In a recent interview with the US magazine Foreign Policy, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry described the WEF decision as “flimsy” and criticised assumptions that Egypt is incapable of maintaining internal security.

“The forum is not in a position to make that sort of assessment,” Shoukry said.

Egypt has been trying to show the world that the country is open for business and has been working to re-establish normality in the face of recent terrorist attacks. The cancellation of the MENA meeting is seen as a setback to these efforts.

However, Sherine Al-Shawarbi, professor of economics at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, said the decision would likely not affect investors’ decisions to do business in Egypt.

“Investors who want to invest in Egypt will not be stopped by such a decision,” Al-Shawarbi told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that they were more likely to be hampered by problems connected to the investment climate.

Whether or not the cancellation of the meeting affects Egypt’s place on the global investment map, Al-Shawarbi said it is time that the country stopped “sending mixed messages”. Sometimes Egypt signals to the world that it is open for business, while at other times it says that it is busy fighting terrorism, she said.

This could drive investors away, she said, adding that Egypt should have a clear message that shows that terrorism in the country is limited to certain areas.

According to Al-Shawarbi, the WEF decision was mainly related to the halting of flights by some countries to Sharm El-Sheikh in the wake of the Russian plane crash. Whether or not the cancellation of the meeting was exaggerated or driven by political issues, “we cannot refute security concerns”, she said.

She said the cancellation was “one more price the country is paying” because of the negligence that led to the crash of the Russian plane. “Because of this mistake, we are all paying the price,” Al-Shawarbi said.

Besides Egyptian sensibilities and investment issues, the WEF decision to cancel the meeting could be perceived as the organisation “turning its back” on the region, another reason why the decision is “significant and regrettable,” commented columnist Frank Kane in the Emirati National newspaper.

He said that the WEF MENA gathering is one of the only arenas where the region as a whole comes together and where regional rivals have the opportunity to discuss the issues that divide them. To abandon it because of an isolated act of terrorism sends out the wrong signals to the region, Kane said.

No alternative venue for the meeting has yet been proposed. Founded in 1971 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum is an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

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