Friday, February 06, 2009

The Global Economy on a Wheelchair

Jihad El-Khazen, 04/02/09

At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, I discovered that we, poor Arabs, do not have to do anything to keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses of the world are coming down to us, courtesy of the financial crisis express.
In Davos, I attended a few sessions on the global economy. I saw people dealing with politics or with the global economy for 30 years put forward suggestions and solutions to the crisis. It is true that I am a humble and naïve Arab, but not to the extent of believing that those responsible for the present havoc are the ones who will rescue the global economy.
I attended a press gathering with Lionel Barber next to me. He is the editor of the Financial Times with which I had a printing contract in the late 1970s. However, I only started reading it last September when the financial crisis was sparked off. Since then, I have never thrown the economic pages in every London daily before I took the dailies home.
I wrote Barber a note so as not to bother Vladimir Putin while he was lecturing us on the roots and subdivisions of the economy. In my note, I said that after I gained interest in the world of money and business, I discovered that economic news is more depressing than political news. When an Arab reader utters such words, this means the economic news is very bad.
At any rate, I do not need to go to Davos to learn about the market's ups and downs, or that the dollar recovered, or its state has aggravated. All I do is to look at the front page of this daily. If I do not come across a news item written by a colleague in the economy department, this means the global economy is on a wheelchair. But if I come across a news item, this means the global economy is in a very critical condition, carried on a stretcher to the emergency ward. Private sittings held between official ones are sometimes as important as or more important than those in the official program. I seek the opinion of participating fellow Arabs, some of whom I only see in Davos, while others are old friends.
There is a refined Arab group I consider a pillar of the annual congress. The list of their names is endless, as they come from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf. This year's Moroccan night was nice, of the type one would willingly attend, contrary to the economic sessions.
I was particularly delighted at seeing Sheikha May Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's Minister of Culture and Information. She is an old friend renowned for her cultural, intellectual and heritage activities. I also participated in an evening political and economic discussion with fellows Amro Moussa, Mohamed El Baradei, Hamza Al-Khawli, Taha Mikati, Yasser Al-Milwani, Sa'eb Nahas, Nabil Kizbari, and Samir Lahoud. Some were accompanied by their housewives; also present were some single women, such as colleague Raghida Dergham and Nabila Freiji from Morocco.
Outside the sessions I saw fellow Amro Moussa discussing and refuting Israel's arguments and lies in short TV interviews and in replies to the participants' questions. As for Dr. El Baradei, when the BBC approached him for an interview, he refused to talk to the team following the channel's negative stance on Gaza and its population.
I attended an evening on the world's most powerful women; among the 100 names circulating, I found three Arab names: Queen Rania, Maha Al Ghoneim, and Zaha Hadid. Attendance does not mean approval, as every married man will say that his wife is the most powerful woman in the world.
Finally, in Davos the snow covering the ground is more than a meter high and the temperature is always below zero, dropping further at night. Yet, I saw men and women smoke in the street in front of restaurants and bars, since smoking is forbidden inside. Most of these people must have caught severe bronchitis. Personally, I am unwilling to smoke a cigarette when the temperature is -10 ºC, even if I am offered the entire Marlboro Company.


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