The second Arab Economic, Social and Development Summit ended today in Sharm El-Shiekh with no special mention of Tunisia, a country within the Arab region whose economic crisis led to the ousting of the president.
“This is an economic summit and not a political one,” Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit said in a press conference today after the closing session, in reply to a question by a Tunisian reporter who chastised the summit for not addressing the Tunisian crisis.
“Egypt has said before that it is concerned with what happened in Tunisia and that it respects the will of the Tunisian people,” Abul-Gheit said. “I don’t see not addressing the Tunisian crisis as a shame, because there is a political summit upcoming in Iraq in March and it might discuss the Tunisian issue, if it’s still relevant.”
Through today’s summit, Tunisia was hardly mentioned in the speeches of Arab leaders, with the Social Economic Fund for SMEs the main concern. Amr Moussa briefly referred to Tunisia in his speech, calling events there a “revolution”.
“Arab societies have been faced by major societal shocks,” Moussa said. “The revolution taking place in Tunisia is much related to the issue of our summit this year: economic and social development.”
Moussa added: “The Tunisian revolution is not far from us." He warned: "The Arab citizen entered an unprecedented state of anger and frustration." He called for an Arab "renaissance" to lift people from frustration.
In his speech to the summit, President Hosni Mubarak made no reference to the Tunisian uprising. Instead, he highlighted that economic development and cooperation had become a main national security concern.
"We have realised that the priority of economic cooperation and development is no longer just about progress for our people ... but a basic demand of Arab national security," he said.
The summit agreed in its final resolution on many issues with no mention to Tunisia. Participants agreed to adopt the SMEs Fund initiated by the emir of Kuwait and assessed progress made in areas of regional infrastructure cooperation, including internet, rail, naval and electricity projects.
Moussa told reporters after the summit that there were commitments of $1.4 billion for that fund.
Participants also committed to working towards an Arab free trade area and customs union, adopting policies aimed at enhancing joint Arab investment and better enabling the private sector and civil society to contribute to overall development.
Special concern was also given to food and water security, especially that climate change will affect water resources, increasing scarcity. Participants agreed to work towards a water security strategy for the Arab region.
The summit has also pledged to support Jerusalem, Sudan and Somalia.