The days before the Arab Economic Summit

Salma El-Wardani in Sharm El Sheikh, Sunday 16 Jan 2011

The expected summit of "business as usual" will be diverted by Tunisia's 'Jasmine Revolution' as Arab leaders and businessmen convene in Sharm El-Sheikh for the second Arab Economic Summit on January 19

Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, in a press conference about the unrest in Tunisia(Photo: AP)

This week's Arab Economic Summit in Sharm El-Sheikh follows up the progress made in implementing the resolutions issued at the first summit, in Kuwait in January 2009. The challenges facing Arab countries will also feature prominently. As well as Tunisia, whose government was toppled after country wide riots at the lack of job opportunities, high unemployment has sparked demonstrations in Algeria, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Also of concern is prevalent poverty and declining inter-Arab trade.

“Achieving the old dream of a united Arab Market is the main target of this year’s summit,” Minister of Investment Rashid Mohamed Rashid said in an interview with Lamis El-Haddidi last week. “I believe the liberal environment of investment prevailing now in most of the Arab countries means that the dream is coming true.”

The summit is being attended by more than 13 leaders and monarchs. Other attendees are drawn from foreign political and economic bodies including the secretary general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the African Union Commission's chairman, Jean Ping, and regional director for UNDP, Helen Clark.

The World Bank's new managing director and former Egyptian minister of investment, Mahmoud Mohey Eddin, who was involved in the summit's preparation, will also take part.

According to a statement by the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, on the summit's web site, there will be a focus on the introduction of funds to support small and medium projects, developments in the electricity linkage project, proposed in the former summit.

The agenda also includes a follow-up to the Arab programs for development and education for 2009-2015 and improving health care services as well as a draft outline of railway connectivity, that were introduced in the Kuwait summit.

Two weeks ago, leading Arab Businessmen including Emaar Chairman Mohamed Alabbar, of the Saudi Zamil Group, Chairman of Al-Futtaim Group Hussein Al-Shobakshi and Orascom Telecom Chairman Naguib Sawiris launched the Arab Business Initiative (ABI).

ABI businessmen are scheduled to address leaders at Sharm El-Sheikh to present their demands, which include customs union, road and transportation connectivity, services liberalization, open skies and free movement for individuals and goods.

Last week, Mohey Eddin told journalists in a press conference that the bank, through its Arab World Initiative (AWI), is ready to finance projects which involve more than one country, and that it is ready to support the Arab world's development priorities as set by the summit. These should cover human development, infrastructure investments and job creation through small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The summit’s preparatory meetings will start Sunday and continue until Tuesday.

A joint meeting of permanent representatives and senior officials will be held on Sunday, while a ministerial level meeting will take place on Monday.

On the sidelines of the summit three forums will be held on January 17 and 18. These entail a business forum, attended by representatives of the Arab Chambers of Commerce aiming to examine the role of the private sector in the implementation of Arab summit resolutions, a forum for civil society and another concerning young people.

The call for an Arab economic summit was first voiced back in 2007 during the Arab League summit in Riyadh. This lead to a resolution calling for a summit devoted to economic and social development affairs and aimed at setting programs and mechanisms to activate development strategies.

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