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The Seat at Davos is Better than the Seat at Hmeimim

The Seat at Davos is Better than the Seat at Hmeimim

Monday, 29 January, 2018 - 08:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Had the Indians surrendered to the recommendations, myths and wars of their ancestors, their country would now be a massive bomb threatening humanity. It is fortunate for them that they bade farewell to their ancestors and turned to the future. It is also lucky for them that their leader Mahatma Gandhi had originally called for opening the windows for “the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible.”

This is what I felt as I sat at the grand hall where Indianan Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the opening address at the 48th World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos.

Incidentally, the image of a leader is not made in Davos. It is also certainly not made on the television screens of our regions or at its podium. Here, we cannot hide behind stoking national or nationalist sentiments. The Davos audience is a tough crowd and you must address them with terms from its own dictionary. Dreams here should be backed by the numbers, not the illusions.

The numbers… the numbers… the numbers

Modi’s reputation preceded him at Davos. He is the prime minister of the largest democracy in the world. A democracy that has succeeded in achieving coexistence among all of its cultures and affiliations. It is today trying to “create a shared future in a fractured world,” which was the slogan of this year’s gathering at Davos. The image that preceded Modi to the podium is that of a country that succeeded in the past few years, despite a heavy legacy, in helping millions of people leave the hell of poverty. The feat went beyond defeating hunger and it led India on to the train that is headed towards the future. This train is characterized by the spirit of Davos where experts speak louder than orators.

The numbers allowed Modi to speak of the future as a person who belongs to it and who fights for determining its characteristics. The numbers allowed him to raise the torch of globalization, warning against protectionism and its repercussions, and noting that it had lost its luster.

Modi set three priorities for globalization to regain its shine: A fair global economy that includes all social segments should be established, the policy makers should commit to a world that is based on recognized rules, and international organizations should be reformed in a manner that makes them more in line with the policies of states and their economies and security. It was noticeable that he narrowed global challenges down to terrorism, child recruitment, climate change and isolationist policies.

I recalled that a year ago, we heard in the same hall a speech by India’s traditional foe. Chinese President Xi Jinping had arrived at Davos while raising the banner of globalization, while the world watched as the White House fell in the hands of a businessman called Donald Trump, who raised the slogan “America First.”

Mao’s inheritors did not revolt against his legacy and they preserved his mausoleum, but they did not allow the “Great Captain” the honor of ruling the country from the grave. They kept the party as a means to govern and maintain stability, but they ruined the Red Book when they inserted phrases on profit, investment and proper environment to attract capital.

The Chinese leader came to Davos with the halo of a country that succeeded in taking millions of people out of poverty. As expected, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China cemented Xi’s leadership and included his thought in the constitution, making him second to Mao. Who knows, may be history will later remember the second man as the first’s savior when he poured globalization all over his recommendations.

Trump’s shadow loomed large over the 48th World Economic Forum before he even arrived at Davos, America is after all America and Trump is Trump. His absence is palpable. His presence stormy. The smart French president Emmanuel Macron was keen on criticizing the master of the White House without naming him before his arrival at Davos. Addressing WEF founder Klaus Schwab, he said: “We speak of globalization in a place that has become cut off from the world due to the snow.” He joked about the heavy snowfall, saying it might lead some people to question climate change. “Fortunately you didn’t invite anybody skeptical of global warming this year,” he added in an obvious reference to Trump.

The numbers… the numbers… the numbers

The war that was predicted between globalization and “America First” did not break out. Trump made his closing speech using reconciliatory terms. He used words from the dictionary that he is accustomed to using. He reminded the gatherers that this was the first time that the White House is being ruled by a businessman and that his predecessors were always politicians or generals. He said that “America First” does not mean America alone and that its prosperity is important for the prosperity of the world. He addressed what he considered a positive assessment of his first year in office and called on the world to invest in his country and take advantage of the opportunities it provides.

In the past, we used to long to see an Arab country reserve a seat at Davos. This year, the Saudi seat was noticeable and its seemed to have taken up a natural place for itself there. The Saudi delegation’s arrival at the Swiss town was preceded by the image of a “new Saudi Arabia” that is connected to Vision 2030, structural reforms, empowering women and the youth, combating corruption and providing a safe environment for investment. Officials appeared assured because the dream of a “strong and moderate Saudi Arabia” is a dream that is backed by the numbers and it includes a plan to focus on education, technology and innovation. The United Arab Emirates’ participation at Davos also fell in line with its visions.

Since I am a political journalist from the Middle East, I was bound to notice the absence of the Russian shadow over the snow-covered Swiss town. I asked a European, who is well-informed on the Middle East, about the absence. He replied that Trump came from the world of businessmen, while Vladimir Putin came from the world of the KGB. He noticed that Putin saved Russia from fragmentation and restored the international clout that it had lost.

He did not however succeed in achieving an economic shift that stays abreast the massive technological and industrial revolution that the world is witnessing. He concluded by saying that the years to come will reveal that booking a good seat in the world of Davos is better than reserving one at the Hmeimim military base in Syria. It is time for the dictionary of hackneyed phrases to admit defeat.

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