A record number of leaders, executives and philanthropists from the Middle East will be attending the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this year as countries in the region look to use the gathering of the global elite to further their national interests on the international stage.
US president Donald Trump and King Abdullah of Jordan are among 28 heads of state that will be at the event, held in the Swiss town of Davos since 1971 – the same year that the UAE was created. There will be 8 heads of state or government from the Arab world at the four-day meeting, which starts on Tuesday.
"We have most of the leaders of the Middle East joining us," declared Klaus Schwab, the founder of the forum, who will be among 232 Swiss-based attendees this year.
Overall, forty heads of government are also attending this year’s forum, including India’s Narendra Modi and Theresa May, the British Prime Minister.
“We have indeed a record number of heads of state or government registered for the annual meeting,” said Georg Schmitt, the Wef’s head of corporate affairs. It’s not a result of the “Trump effect” however, said Mr Schmitt, as more than 60 had confirmed before the surprise announcement on January 10 that the American president would be attending this year.
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There will be 222 attendees from the Middle East in 2018, 16 per cent more than last year and a 30 per cent rise when compared to 2016. The increased interest from the Middle East and North Africa is partly the result of efforts within the Wef to build strong relationships in the region over recent years. The forum has held regular events in the region including in the UAE, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt.
Notable participants from the Middle East also include Jordan’s Queen Rania, a Davos regular, Iraqi prime minister Haider Al Abadi and Lebanon’s Saad Hariri. The UAE will be sending a sizeable delegation, including the minister of state for foreign affairs Dr Anwar Gargash and the recently appointed minister for Artificial Intelligence, Omar Al Olama. Tunisia’s president, the 91 year-old Beji Caid Essebsi will also be the oldest person attending this year.
The organisers hope that the Middle East delegates will help demonstrate that there is no choice between national interests and international concerns, said Richard Samans, a member of the WEF governing board.
“There is nothing inherently contradictory between the national interest and international cooperation. We are helping through dialogue to get widening understanding so that national interests find a community of interest,” he said.
The imperative of using the platform provided by Davos to assert their countries perspective is keenly felt by Middle East states and other regional actors, said Adrian Monck, the WEF director. “That’s why our panels are filling up and lists are growing for every session,” he said. “There is no fear of not being heard.”
The Middle East respondents in the Wef’s annual global risks survey ranked fiscal crisis as their biggest concern, followed by environmental changes. This was followed in second place by an energy price shock and the impact of mass-underemployment. That compares with the overall finding that globally, respondents were most worried about weapons of mass destruction followed by the environment.
Of the 2,926 people attending the Davos meeting this year, 21 per cent are female, including all the co-chairs such as the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway.
The forum said it “works throughout the year to highlight the gender gap and develop strategies to help women achieve positions of senior leadership”.