It has been a somewhat dry spell in the global conference season. Most world leaders didn’t really get along at the G20 meeting in Argentina, and Davos was nearly deserted this year: A US government shutdown meant President Trump had to pull out; Brexit kept Theresa May at home; President Macron had to deal with the Yellow Vests in Paris; President Putin stayed in Russia, President Erdogan in Turkey; Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan cancelled, as did most Arab leaders who were invited.
Of course, such forums are usually a reflection of the state of the world, and that state could hardly be any sadder. Apart from war, poverty, unemployment and disease, there is a dearth of leadership and a surge in petty-minded politics — of which there was no better example than US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sarcastic handclap in response to Trump’s State of the Union address. Such juvenile conduct may appeal to the masses, win votes and supply instant gratification ... but the satisfaction is short lived.
Take Brexit. Some of those who voted “Leave” in the 2016 referendum celebrated their win like football hooligans, but the UK is now facing uncertainty on an unprecedented level. The economy is nearly at a standstill, major companies and financial institutions are considering relocation (taking their deposits, tax money and jobs with them), and one of the few indicators on the rise, according to The Independent, is the number of prescriptions for anti-depressants.
This is why one of the most important sessions on Sunday at the World Government Summit in Dubai was “Well-being: GDP and beyond.” The lesson; that practical steps must be taken to embed well-being into policy making.
“Hariri, indeed, leads by example: In heading a Cabinet that contains Hezbollah ministers he is not only working with, but placing his trust in, the party that stands accused of assassinating his father Rafiq in 2005”.
Faisal J. Abbas
The contribution by Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was also insightful, with her warnings of what may befall us without what she described as “political determination for the common good” by global decision makers.
Putting aside our own regional geopolitical tensions, Lagarde spoke of four clouds darkening the global economy: Trade tensions, financial tightening, Brexit uncertainty and China’s unexpected slowdown. “With so many clouds, it takes one lightning strike to start a storm,” she warned.
After Lagarde, it was Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s turn on stage. Hariri has been wrestling with internal challenges — chiefly in the form of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, who prevented him from forming a government for nine months as they sought to secure their own interests (which are not necessarily consistent with those of Lebanon as a whole).
Nevertheless, Hariri conveyed considerable reassurance. He believes all Lebanon’s political parties now realize this is the last chance to save the economy. In a way, he hinted that they had made a “political determination for the common good,” that was Lagarde’s theme.
Hariri, indeed, leads by example: In heading a Cabinet that contains Hezbollah ministers he is not only working with, but placing his trust in, the party that stands accused of assassinating his father Rafiq in 2005.
Hariri also pledged a raft of reforms and major projects to reignite Lebanese sectors such as agricultural and tourism. This, of course, is excellent news, but the questions remain: Will Hezbollah eventually listen to Hariri, and do they understand the language of Lagarde?