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The Riyadh Summit and The Post-Coronavirus Phase

The Riyadh Summit and The Post-Coronavirus Phase

Monday, 23 November, 2020 - 11:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The pandemic has devastated a world that used to think that killer viruses were part of the past. The mankind is exhausted amid a terrifying number of deaths and an alarming rate of infections. Countries are also drained. The virus shook and paralyzed economies, dismantled their chains, disrupted their factories, and silenced airports and trains. It struck the tourism sector and left hotels, restaurants and markets lifeless.


It drove tens of millions into unemployment and an enormous number of companies into bankruptcy. The pandemic impoverished people and forced them to hide behind their masks, with fear and anxiety, looking daily into the numbers recorded by the serial killer.


The virus overwhelmed hospitals and infected medical teams. It hit the crops and caused great harm to education.


It is not the first time that the world has been hit by a pandemic. But the previous major attacks happened before man was armed with scientific progress that fortified him and improved his living conditions, and before the successive technological revolutions that doubled human capabilities in the face of the enemies.


Perhaps that is why the world is in panic. The past months poured out waves of depression in the veins of the people. The world seemed stuck in the Covid-19 trap, with no hope in sight.


The world desperately needed a glimmer of hope. Hope that the vaccine will be developed and that it will be accessible to everyone, and hope that the wounds of the global economy will be healed thanks to solidarity in the face of the disaster.


The Riyadh G20 Summit has finally sent this message. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, emphasized Saudi Arabia’s insistence on “a fair distribution and accessibility of vaccines”, while underlining the joint efforts of the member-states to address the economic problems that resulted from the pandemic.


In fact, the success of the Riyadh Summit is the culmination of the Saudi efforts that practically began the day after the Osaka G20 meetings. Despite the constraints imposed by the pandemic, including distance and travel restrictions, Saudi Arabia, over the past months and following the extraordinary summit that it hosted in March, worked hard to develop a formula that rises to the level of the unprecedented challenge facing the world.


The mobilization of energies was facilitated by Saudi Arabia’s deep involvement in recent years in the battle of progress, reform, modernization, women empowerment, ownership of technology and partnerships building, in line with the ambitious program of Vision 2030, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman strives to implement. It succeeded in attracting young energies and toppling the hegemony of ideas that inhibit progression and interaction.


The success of the summit was further facilitated by the international responsibility expressed by Saudi Arabia in its dealings with the region and the world.


The G20 Summit has an aura of its own. It is a major gathering for those who hold the keys to the present and future. This certainly means economy, development, health, education and the environment, as well as politics and security. It is not a simple matter to meet those who represent two-thirds of the world’s population and its trade, and more than 90 percent of the global gross product.


It’s the gathering of the promising, powerful and influential powers. The countries that participate in these summits possess some of the most important assets in this world: The strongest economies and the biggest wealth, the best laboratories and universities, the most prominent technological breakthroughs and the giant companies, the largest armies and the most dangerous arsenals.


This practically means that the participants do indeed hold the keys to stability and prosperity, and it is their duty to confront the challenges facing the “global village”, whether it is related to its economy, its security, or the anticipated environmental and climate dangers.


However, the fact that the G20 participants possess enormous capabilities does not mean that magic solutions are available. It must always be noted that the group includes countries from different continents, and from different schools in politics and economics. They have diverse approaches in reading crises and exploring solutions.


They are countries that engage in races for supremacy, positions and fierce defense of their interests. But despite the differences and rivalries, the past few years have seen a growing conviction about the unity of destiny, given the increasing links between the economies in a world where the rate of flow of goods, people and ideas has multiplied many times.


If the G20 Summit was already an extremely important event, the circumstances of its holding over the past two days have also increased this importance. We do not exaggerate when saying that it was held in a different world from the one in which the G20 Summit was held last year in Osaka, Japan. The journalists who participated in covering the summit, including me, remember a city bustling with action. They also remember famous handshakes and backstage meetings, as well as seeing leaders around the same table, as if they were a doctors’ committee dedicated to providing a cure that reduces the pain of the global economy.


The summit was not without problems, but it was facing normal problems in a normal world. The winds of the mysterious and frightening pandemic had not yet been blown on the world.


The previous summits were not free of crises, but those revolved around banks, financial markets, and terms of trade, the transition of the economy from one era to another and the need to actively engage in preventing expected environmental disasters.


After the Osaka Summit, Saudi Arabia, the only Arab member of the G20, assumed the presidency of the group and was responsible for preparing for the current summit. Fortunately, the G20 Riyadh Summit seemed to be the beginning of the world’s rehabilitation in a post-pandemic phase, especially since the arrival of vaccines is now counted in weeks. The summit sent a message of hope and solidarity that the world needed to begin exiting the tunnel.


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