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Mid-Eastern Davos – questions for East and West
22.05.07
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) –

“Putting Diversity to Work” was the motto of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East held in Jordan from May 18 to May 20. The issue is topical for the region and the rest of the world.
This forum is a unique phenomenon for the Middle East against the background of regional crises (conflicts in Iraq and Lebanon, and the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation). Traditionally, it gathers more than a thousand participants. Many of them have opposing views on the developments in the region – Iranians and Israelis, Sunnis and Shiites, radical religious figures and advocates of secular government, political ÊmigrÊs and representative of regional political elites. Discussions at this forum are unusually open. Although they do not produce shared conclusions and the ideas voiced often remain only on paper, no other event reflects so vividly all regional problems and life in the Middle East.
The forum embraces a wide range of problems – from destinies of young people and prospects of economic development to the environment and resolution of regional problems. This year, regardless of the agenda, all debates boiled down to the conclusion that stability and prosperity are only possible in the Middle East if all elements of regional diversity are in harmony rather than in conflict.
Organizers of the Mid-Eastern Davos have concentrated on cooperation – between developing and industrialized countries, Muslims and Christians and East and West.
During one of the forum’s numerous discussions, Iranian analyst and representative of the International Crisis Group Karim Sadjadpour pointed out that changes in the region’s socio-economic and political life should be a concern for both the Middle East and the West. After all, about 20 million Muslims live in Western countries.
The educated part of the Muslim Diaspora in the West has enough opportunities to exert considerable influence on Western public opinion and politics. It is no secret that the Muslims living in the West are the most enthusiastic supporters of political and economic reforms in their former home countries.
It is not even necessary to belong to the intellectual elite in order to influence policy in the West. The growth of the Muslim Diaspora leads to tangible changes in the foreign and home policies of many states. It transpires that challenges in the East are relevant for the West in many respects. One of the recent debates was entitled “Islam, Identity and Integration: The Search for Harmony.” Endeavoring to reconcile the Western and Muslim ways of life shapes the reality of societies in the Middle East, as well as Muslim communities in Europe and the United States. This title sums up the gist of the discussion.
Participants in the forum also discussed Western representatives in the East. For example, Queen of Jordan Rania offered Western multinationals to act as ambassadors of multiculturalism. In her opinion, businessmen working in the Middle East are much better versed in regional realities than many Western politicians. If business can take the lead in pushing for multicultural understanding they will not only do a moral thing, observed Her Majesty, but they are better positioned to increase their profits in a world where multiculturalism is an essential part of doing business and caters to a globalized customer base.
Indeed, regional conflicts do not promote stable operation of multinationals. It would be more effective if Israel were openly cooperating with the Gulf countries, American companies functioned normally in Iran, and if Iraq were a safe place to work. This boils down to the concept of a new Middle East that was broadly discussed in mid-1990s, when the peaceful process in the region was the most successful. But it has remained on paper. It is no accident that one of the discussions at the Jordan forum was entitled “A new Middle East – Is It Possible?”
This idea implies not only peaceful coexistence in the region but also its modernization.
This is exactly what King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke about in his opening speech at the forum. He urged the participants to think about the region’s future and its preparation for the day that would come after peace was established. When this happens, the Middle East will face other major issues – how to manage limited water resources, improve infrastructure and find jobs for the 200 million people under the age of 24 in Arab countries.
As it follows from the forum’s debates, the region’s countries and outside forces are equally responsible for the resolution of these problems. Stability and economic development in the Middle East cannot be reached without concerted effort, especially considering that regional events have repercussions all over the world – in the West, Russia, Africa and South East Asia.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti. -0-