Snow is falling heavily around the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, but all communication channels will be open to discuss some of the most pressing issues that the Middle East region is facing, especially Saudi’s critical position as a regional powerhouse, and its much talked about Vision2030 agenda. And people here are nervous.
A WEF annual global risks survey had Middle East respondents putting fiscal crisis on top of their worries, closely followed by climate change, low energy prices and the impact of mass-underemployment. To address these issues there will be 222 attendees from the Middle East in 2018, a 16% increase from 2017, and a third more than 2016. Which country will steal the limelight?
Saudi takes center stage
According to ArabNews, Mirek Dusek, the head of Middle East and North Africa affairs for the World Economic Forum, a member of WEF’s executive committee, is anticipating a “historic” Davos. For one, Trump is among 70 heads of state or government attending the meeting, adding another 340 political delegates and 2,500 or so business leaders, economists, academics, intellectuals and media that attend the event.
“We are really seeing engagement deepen from the economies and countries of the Middle East. There is an even stronger delegation this year from Saudi Arabia,” said Dusek. “The WEF is here to support the reform program in Saudi Arabia. We believe we can help improve the Kingdom’s global economy competitiveness, especially in view of the changes underway in the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (4IR).”
He added: “We also support the strategy of closing the gender gap, which is an issue we’ve been involved with at WEF for many years. It’s a core issue for the Kingdom, which will require a lot of thought in implementation,” he added. A recent report showed Saudi could be on the receiving end of a massive $124bn in settlement money from an anti-corruption campaign aimed at driving out graft and fraud that costs the economy billions of dollars.
According to Dusek, this will also feature at the Davos meeting to encourage transparency in business and the public sector, especially in emerging markets, as the WEF has been tracking other corruption cases around the world. But Saudi business remains very much in mind.
“We cannot ignore NEOM. the Kingdom’s new project to create a fully automated mega-city, and we are looking into the possibility of a satellite office for the 4IR hub among other global centers being considered as offshoot offices,” he said.
According to Asharq al Awsat daily, the Saudi delegation will be led by Minister of State and cabinet member Dr. Ibrahim bin Abdulaziz Al-Assaf, a former detainee of the corruption probe. The delegation will include also Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the Saudi Ambassador to the US, Princess Rima bint Bandar Al Saud, the Undersecretary of the General Sports Authority, Minister of Commerce and Investment Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi, Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources Eng. Khalid Al-Faleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Minister of Finance Mohammed Al-Jada’an.
Also there will be Minister of Communications and IT Eng. Abdullah Al-Suwaha, Minister of Transport Dr. Nabil Al-Amoudi, Minister of Economy and Planning Mohammed Al-Tuwaijri, Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Fund (SAMA) Dr. Ahmed Al-Khilaifi, and Governor of the General Investment Authority Eng. Ibrahim Al-Omar.
UAE’s focus agenda
The UAE is sending a big delegation including Mohammad Al-Gergawi, minister for Cabinet Affairs and the Future, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash. The UAE will co-launch with the WEF a center for the 4IR in the UAE, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Sunday. Al-Gergawi will sign the deal with Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF during the forum. The new center will aim at providing technical support to government authorities in the field of “transforming the industrial revolution principles into real applications,” according to WAM.