What You Need to Know About the 2015 World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa

Ari Zoldan |

The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa marked its 16th meeting on Thursday, bringing together high-profile business and government leaders, international nonprofits, and media organizations in Jordan under the auspices of “Creating a Regional Framework for Prosperity and Peace through Public-Private Cooperation.”

While the World Economic Forum (WEF) is best known for its annual winter meeting in the Swiss Alps of Davos, the Forum on the Middle East and North Africa is expected to have more than 1,000 participants from around the world working towards peace and stability in the region. Taking place on the eastern shores of the Dead Sea, the Forum aligns tightly with the mission of the WEF, a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to improving the world by “engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas.”

King Abdullah II gave the opening remarks of the Forum, which is expected to continue through Saturday evening. Speaking to an audience that included Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, former Israeli President Shimon Peres, as well as representatives of approximately 50 other countries, Abdullah’s message focused on broadcasting Jordan’s importance to the Middle East region and sent a positive message to investors and tourists about the growing economic impact and stability of the region.

Specifically, King Abdullah told delegates that Jordan’s “10-year economic blueprint...will enable us to move fast to diversify resources, to develop infrastructure, and capitalize on strengths.” He continued by noting the importance of strategic partnerships: “This plan will be delivered through public and private partnerships, and to a large extent through projects of over $18 billion to be announced today.” Some of the projects Jordan announced as part of that multi-billion dollar plan include infrastructure, power generation, and urban city development, with financial support from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait.

Naturally, part of the Forum will be focused on discussing the global oil market, and how a prolonged period of relatively depressed prices will affect the Middle East and North African economies. At the Forum, Crescent Petroleum CEO Majid Jafar was quoted by CNBC as saying that, “despite being in the oil business, the somewhat lower oil prices...have actually been good for the region.” He elaborated by explaining that “it’s been good for producers. It has refocused attention on economic diversification; better efficiency...and that will actually be better for the long term.”

Another issue on the agenda for the Forum is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Iraq’s Vice President Ayad Allawi criticized the failed air campaigns of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State for lacking a compelling strategy, as evidenced by the fall of the key Iraqi city Ramadi just days ago. Allawi lobbied for a more comprehensive socioeconomic approach to fighting ISIS, echoed by WEF Managing Director Espen Barth Eide, who agreed that “people are looking for solutions and for some young people, the only solution presented is the false allure of Daesh or ISIS, which is not only a product of frustration, but also a quest for identity and meaning and purpose in a world that seems chaotic for a lot of people.”

Overall, Forum participants are optimistic about making progress on those issues, as well as continuing discussions on furthering human rights, empowering women in the region, and enhancing regional security. 

****Ari Zoldan is on assignment in Amman, Jordan. Alex Hantman contributed to this article.

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