The World Economic Forum’s regional meetings used to have names such as The Middle East Economic Summit. The one in Sharm El Sheikh last month, which I half-attended, used a formula which they first adopted a few years ago. It was “The World Economic Forum on the Middle East”.
Illogical name. The WEF isn’t an event, it’s a foundation. One wasn’t even supposed to call Davos “Davos” in the old days. It was the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. The institution was all. The WEF isn’t pronouncing on anything either, in case anyone took the “on” that way.
There are now three middle easts.
A) Iran, Syria, their non-state allies, Hamas and Hezbollah, and their ideological allies on the street.
B) Israel and the two countries that have made peace with it, Jordan and Egypt: non-oil economies.
C) The Sunni oil economies of the Gulf.
Iraq is poised between all three. Lebanon, a half-colony of A), is torn several ways. The WEF has always pitched its regional tent in B), though all sides are welcome at Davos. I wish it would move away from the second-class resort of Sharm El Sheikh (an Israeli creation, between 1967 and ’82) to a place where large numbers of people struggle and work, but the Egyptian government built a congress centre there for them and it looks set to alternate between there and the Jordanian Dead Sea. But it could go to one of the boom towns. Or into the eye of the storm. It’s in the wrong place. Or perhaps that middle ground is where it has to be.
The Sharm meeting was sometimes impressive. The programme was focussed, but one could wish for the return of some of the Forum’s homelier touches. Bush’s speech made no impression. The Iraqi cabinet did make an impression. Many of the participants reminded one why the Forum is still the non-pareil organiser of such meetings. One or two had one thinking viscerally, with EM Forster’s Maurice, “how unfit they were to set standards or control the future”.