Published on Arab Voices

Davos and the new Arab discourse

World Economic Forum l Jolanda FlubacherLast week  Al-Arabiya News had an article on the new (and old) Arab faces at Davos - "For years, the Egyptian government spared no effort or money to impress the Davos crowd. Ministers of trade, investment and finance were always on the chase for the next panel or interview, with Jamal Mubarak (as) the face of the more modern and energized Egypt. Scores of businessmen flocked to hunt for opportunities on the back of a strong government presence.  Actors and pop stars were…the trendy part of the entourage. That was the Egyptian delegation before January 25, 2011."

This year Egypt was represented by a 12 man delegation including Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a presidential hopeful and Muslim Brotherhood member. Tunisia's delegation included Ennahda members, among them the Party's co-founder, Rached Ghannoushi. New faces indeed…but more important was the new Arab discourse emerging in international fora like Davos.

In their authenticity and legitimacy, these new Arab voices are writing a narrative that will eventually be much more effective in sending a message of stability and openness to business than the glitz and “modernity” of the past.

In the short-term economic and social challenges look daunting but one would think that those listening, including potential investors, donors and the media must have also felt reassured that the Arab World's so-called "exceptionalism" was clearly a thing of the past and that the Arab World was now an active participant in the process of globalization.

There were some 6 events at Davos looking at the Arab World. All are available by simply typing “Arab” or “Arab Spring” in the search button at Davos 2012. One insightful example was the Associated Press Debate on Democracy with panelists David T. Dreier, Congressman from California (Republican); Rached Ghannoushi, Co-Founder, Ennahdha Party, Tunisia;  Hina Rabbani Khar, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Pakistan; Young Global Leader: Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, Minister of External Relations of Brazil; and Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch.

A summary of Mr. Ghannoushi’s (paraphrased) views on some of the topics covered in the AP debate are below:

Democracy, Islam and Modernity and the Arab Spring: It is now evident that these are compatible concepts and beliefs, the Arab World is now very much part of the global democratization trend, blunted in the past by colonialism and autocratic regimes enjoying strong external support. The comparison with Christian Democrats in the West is appropriate (made at another Davos venue by George Soros). Like them we hope to bring a sense of morality to the political arena. Clearly, elections are necessary but not sufficient; we need to strengthen our civil society.  I am optimistic about the Arab spring, we will succeed and this will be good not only for the Arab countries but for the world as a whole. On Syria, I can say that the people and the revolution will succeed.

Economic Development: We have had our elections and now we need to focus on development and open up to investors - internal and external. We also need to open up our economies to prevent the emergence of (crony capitalist) Mafia type elements. Social justice has to be part of the development equation since it is a clear demand of the people. 

The West, Islam, and Pluralism:  Islam is a religion with no established church – no one can claim to speak in the name of god which means that many can claim to represent Islam - from PM Erdogan of Turkey on one end of the spectrum to Bin Laden on the other. The West will remember the extremist terrorists of the right and the left in Europe in the Seventies and not define us by a tiny minority of extremists who themselves misunderstand islam.

Social Media and Al-Jazeera:    Facebook and Twitter were critical for the Arab revolutions, more so than Al-Jazeera, though the latter was important. I would like to thank those that gave the world Facebook and Twitter. 

While Mr. Ghannoushi may not be fully representative of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (in its various hues), Morocco's PJD and other similar political parties in the Arab World, it seems to me that his views are broadly representative of the emerging discourse by newly elected officials in the Arab world and - what do you think?


Omer Karasapan

Regional Knowledge & Learning Coordinator

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