In his opening address, Egyptian President Hosni
Mubarak only vaguely touched on the political upheavals that have rocked
his country over the last few weeks, portraying Egypt as a nation on the
road to economic and political reform. He defended the slow pace of
He says his vision of reform is based on a gradual, prudent approach
that ensures its sustainability rather than, in his words, unduly
hastening its course, thus leading to chaos and the death of the process
Egypt's hosting of the World Economic Forum has been partly
overshadowed by a major crackdown on dissent that preceded it. Over the
last month, police have repeatedly attacked and beaten peaceful
demonstrators, who took to the streets to support two pro-reform judges.
Hundreds of activists remain in prison.
The group Human Rights Watch has urged business leaders at the World
Economic Forum to make it clear to Mr. Mubarak that suppression of dissent
will alienate investors as well as activists.
In one of the working sessions, the president's son, Gamal Mubarak,
denied that the arrests and the recent renewal of a controversial
emergency law represent a backslide on political reforms.
"The notion that the political reform process in Egypt is either
slowing down or backtracking, I think, is dead wrong.... I think, what is
going on in Egypt today, the vibrancy of the political scene, the
disagreements on certain important issues, is a very clear sign of things
moving forward, and not things moving backwards."
Gamal Mubarak is widely seen as a likely successor
to his aging father. He has repeatedly denied that he has aspirations for
the presidency, but he has been assuming an increasingly prominent
leadership role within the ruling party.
One aspect of the discussion at the meeting hinges on whether political
reforms in the Middle East are keeping pace with economic ones - and how
much economic development can happen in the absence of meaningful
Former Jordanian planning minister Bassem Awadallah is now a senior
advisor to King Abdullah of Jordan, and his assessment was blunt. "I
think, we need to be very honest with ourselves, and say that there is a
loss of confidence in the relationship between the governed and the
governments across the Arab world. This is a serious issue. Governments
are not credible."
But the bulk of the talk will be of economic growth and diversification
of the regional economies.
Iraqi-born investment banker Nemir Kirdar, chief executive of
Investcorp, is one of the meeting's co-chairs. "We have young people that
need jobs, that we have got to expand our economies [for]. And, if we look
at our economies in the last 50 years, it was government-driven. In the
future, if we want to build greater economies to be able to absorb all
these young people, we have got to have private sector, to step up and do
Diplomacy is happening on the
sidelines . On Sunday morning, Palestinian
Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas will meet for the first time with the new
Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, and with Deputy Prime Minister
Shimon Peres. It will be the highest-level meeting between the two sides
since the election victory by Hamas earlier this year.
Mr. Abbas says, "I will reiterate to them that the only term of
reference for both of us is the (international) Roadmap (for peace). I will
reiterate again that our hands are extended for peace."
Security is tight for the World Economic Forum special meeting, with
traffic around the conference center restricted and a three-day ban on
watersports in force off the coast of the resort town, which was the site
of one of a series of terrorist attacks along Egypt's coast over the past
couple of years.