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It’s time to host WEF in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh is now a global city — and therefore a natural home for global events, writes Faisal J. Abbas. (Shutterstock)
Riyadh is now a global city — and therefore a natural home for global events, writes Faisal J. Abbas. (Shutterstock)
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20 Jan 2023 04:01:30 GMT9
20 Jan 2023 04:01:30 GMT9

Something feels different at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, and not just the unseasonably mild weather in the Alpine ski resort of Davos. There was a distinct sense of something missing, many of the delegates agreed.

Perhaps the event has come too soon after the last one; exceptionally, that took place only last May because of the pandemic, and the hot topic — the Russia-Ukraine war — was exhaustively discussed. Perhaps it is that the world’s other pressing issue, climate change, was extensively addressed at COP 27 in Egypt only four months ago.

But no, it’s not that. It seems to me that what this “summit of world leaders” is missing is today’s relevant world leaders — specifically, from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, India and China.

Now, you may well be thinking: “He’s the editor of a Saudi newspaper — he would say that, wouldn’t he?” But bear with me…

The global economy is cyclical, and as the WEF’s own Maroun Kairouz told Arab News in Davos this week: “Now is the Arab world’s time to shine.” Of course, Kairouz is WEF’s head of the Middle East and North Africa region, and I am not sure how widely shared his views are when everyone is accustomed to countries such as the US, UK, Germany and Russia dominating the economic headlines.

Nevertheless, economists predict that Saudi Arabia will surpass India as the fastest-expanding G20 economy in 2023, with GDP growth of 7.6 percent.

Was it a missed opportunity to have no Gulf state leaders at Davos this year? Perhaps — I’m sure they have their reasons, or other commitments, and despite their absence I cannot but applaud the quality of both the Saudi and UAE delegations, not to mention the Qatari presence spearheaded by Sheikh Tamim last May in the build-up to the World Cup.

We would be doing the world a disservice if there were only one investment forum in Saudi Arabia

Faisal J. Abbas

However, it would be appropriate here to adapt the old saying: If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed.

Indeed, we have it on the record from both WEF president Borge Brende and Saudi Economy Minister Faisal Al-Ibrahim that plans are well advanced for a WEF regional forum in Saudi Arabia. “It’s about time … that we go to the Kingdom,” Brende told the Frankly Speaking TV show on Arab News. And Al-Ibrahim told us: “We have a clear agenda of our partnership opportunities (with WEF) and one of them is actually exploring a very focused forum in the Kingdom.” In light of the strength of the Saudi economy, its pivotal role in the global energy sector, and the Kingdom’s regional leadership, such plans make perfect sense.

It would be appropriate here to adapt the old saying: If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, then the mountain must come to Mohammed

Faisal J. Abbas

Now, some may say that Saudi Arabia already has its own highly successful investment forum — the Future Investment Initiative, heading for its seventh year. That is true, but given the size of the opportunity, the enormous scope of the Kingdom’s vision and the sheer number of economic sectors being developed, I would argue that we would be doing the world a disservice if there were only one investment forum in Saudi Arabia.

Every major event of this nature should consider having a presence in the Kingdom, and the pie is big enough for everyone to have a share. The details should be discussed, but the final product should not be a regional summit such as the one WEF used to hold in Sharm El-Sheikh or the Dead Sea, but a tailor-made event — or series of them — tackling particular topics or themes in Saudi Arabia or the GCC as a whole.

The bottom line is, Riyadh is now a global city — and therefore a natural home for global events.

  • Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas.

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