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"Arab regimes are not particularly willing to institute reforms because they don't want to give up power," said Hiltermann

AMMAN — Arab regimes are blocking reforms out of fear that gradual steps could eventually see them lose their tightened grip on power, analysts agreed, criticizing apathetic Arab people.
"Arab regimes are not particularly willing to institute reforms because they don't want to give up power," Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"They are afraid that if they give up a little they will have to give up everything," he said.

Opening the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday, May 20, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak argued that rushing reforms in the region could lead to "chaos".

Reform has been one of the main themes in the Arab world and the Middle East since the US launched its so-called Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative at a G8 summit in 2004.

Since then, Arabs and foreign officials have met to promote reform in the Arab world. Little, if any, has emerged.

Foreign ministers of Arab countries and the world eight industrialized countries are scheduled to meet in Jordan Thursday, November 30, to discuss means of promoting the US-sponsored reform initiative.

Some 56 countries and organizations are to take part in the third annual Forum for the Future on the shores of the Dead Sea. The two previous meetings were held in Morocco and Bahrain.

Prominent among attendees are US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Participants in the two-day forum will discuss a flurry of issues including political pluralism, good governance, corruption, judicial independence and freedom of the media.

Peoples Blamed

Fares Braizat of the Centre of Strategic Studies of the University of Jordan blamed the Arab people for the slow pace of reforms.

He said Arabs, though hungry for reform, are not pressing their governments enough for change.

"Opinion polls across several Arab countries show a great deal of support for democracy," he said.

"When asked their political preference, an overwhelming majority of people choose the democratic system," added the veteran pollster.

But it stops there, Braizat insists, because "Arab states are the largest employers in their respective societies" and large majorities depend on them for jobs, subsidies and business contracts.

The expert pressed for a real action to bring "badly-needed democracy" to the Middle East, to foster social and political development and help serve as a tool to ease deadly conflicts across the region.

Dead Reform

Many observers believe that the US championed aid freeze imposed on the Palestinians after electing the resistance group Hamas to power nipped in the bud the reform drive in the region.

Western countries have clamped an economic siege on the Palestinians since Hamas came to power in March, gravely affecting livelihood in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The Bush administration has admitted that its policies in the Mideast, including failure to make good on a promise to help set up an independent Palestinian state, have provoked Arab skepticism on reform.

"We are not ignoring Arab public opinion," a senior US State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Amman.

Arab activists meeting in Jordan ahead of Thursday's forum have called for international efforts to resolve regional conflicts before seeking to promote the US-sponsored reforms.

The US official said that Washington was seeking solutions for the Middle East conflicts.

"It would be wrong to believe that the US is sitting back, positively contributing to the problems in the region without seeking to address them."

He recognized that reform cannot be imposed on the region but insisted that the G8 countries have a "responsibility to nudge governments" into making progress.

"This is an effort that requires all of us -- the G8, governments in the region and people in the region -- to be rowing our boats all in the same direction."

"This (Mideast conflicts) should not be used as a pretext to stop reform," said Bakhit

SHUNEH, JORDAN — Foreign ministers from the G8 industrialized nations, Arab, European and Muslim countries on Friday, December 1, opened a conference on the shores of the Dead Sea to promote reforms in the region.
Jordanian Prime Minister Maaruf Bakhit told the Forum for the Future that political reform and the involvement of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the political process were "basic requirements" for economic development and tackling the Middle East's problems, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"I should like to renew our call on all to embark on a concentrated effort to address the existing tensions in our region and to resolve the age-old conflicts which have prevented it from reaching its full potential," he said.

Failing to find "rapid and fair solutions (to Mideast conflicts) casts a shadow on many initiatives and ambitious priorities for our people and slows down reform efforts" Bakhit said.

"This should not be used as a pretext to stop reform, although the absence of a fair and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict weakens moderate forces and reinforces those who stipulate violence, extremism and hatred".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Jordanian counterpart Abdel Ilah Khatib -- the conference co-hosts -- also spoke of the need to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis as key to improving regional stability.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended the Forum along with and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett.

Jordan has invited 56 countries and organizations to attend the third annual forum, after Morocco and Bahrain, since Washington launched the controversial Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative at a G8 summit in 2004.

The focus of this year's forum is on issues of political freedom and good governance as well as economic and educational empowerment in the broader Middle East, from North Africa to Pakistan.

Arab activists meeting ahead of the forum have called on world leaders to take urgent measures to resolve regional conflicts before pushing ahead with reforms amid concern that Arab regimes still lack the will for change.

Ahead of the forum Rice met foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Egypt and Jordan for talks on moves required to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the situations in Iraq and Lebanon.


Rice (3rdL) meets with Arab Foreign Ministers on the eve of the Forum.

Britain's Beckett told the meeting that regional partnerships and the education of the area's youth were key to tackling global problems like chronic underdevelopment, climate change and terrorism.

"If we, through out partnership, fail to meet the aspirations of our people, then the only winners will be the tiny minority, the extremists, who want to see us split apart," she said.

Non-governmental organizations and civil society groups were giving presentations to the gathered ministers at the start of each meeting, officials said.

Barry Lowenkron, the US assistant secretary of state for democracy promotion, said a sign of the progress made in the region since the first forum was held in 2004 is that at that meeting only five NGOs were invited to speak, while more than 50 were involved on Friday.

"That to me is the real story of the forum," he said.

Lowenkron said a second fund of around 90 million dollars was being developed to support small business ventures.

Last year's forum set up a 67-million-dollar-fund, called the Foundation for the Future, to provide grants to NGOs in the region -- a controversial scheme in many countries which frequently view such organizations with suspicion due to their activism on issues like human rights and corruption.


A survey showed that more than 80 percent of the Jordanians fear criticizing the government publicly.

CAIRO, November 15, 2005 ( – An octopus-like arm of Arab regimes, secret security emerges as a major hindrance for reform in the Middle East, a leading US newspaper reported on Tuesday, November 15.

In the Middle East people live "under the fist of the mukhabarat," Jordanian Sameer Al-Qudah, 35, who works as a supervisor of construction projects, told The New York Times, using the Arabic word for intelligence services.

"We are hungry for freedoms like the right to express ourselves," said Qudah.

Qudah, who recited poems depicting Arab rulers as pirates and highwaymen, wondered "why does this part of the world lack any kind of democratic practices?"

In Jordan and across the region, the paper says, intelligence agencies interfere with everything in public life there, even appointment of every university professor, ambassador and important editor.

Those seeking democratic reform in the Middle East say the central role of each country's secret police force is one of the biggest impediments.

"In the decades since World War II, as military leaders and monarchs smothered democratic life, the security agencies have become a law unto themselves," the paper said.

Hands-on Experience

Omnipresent secret police exist in every Arab country and Mukhabarat is among the first Arabic words expatriates learn, particularly reporters, the Times said.

A New York Times reporter has a hands-on experience in the murky world.

"Once in late 2001, I was loitering outside the Cairo headquarters of the secret police, an unfamiliar building, and was detained. My Egyptian assistant and I were ushered into the office of a polite major, whose walls were hung with roughly 10 diplomas from the FBI, including one for interrogation," he said.

"After a brief, friendly conversation about my impressions of Egypt, we were released. But in the years since, whenever I was involved in any reporting in Egypt that state security considered dubious, the major would call to inquire."

Maj. Gen. Rouhi Hikmet Rasheed, a 33-year army veteran and former top military dentist, ran for Parliament in 2003 on a platform calling for a constitutional monarchy in Jordan.

According to the paper, his campaign drew the attention of the intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Saad Kheir, who warned him to withdraw from the race.

"He told me that if I meant we should have a monarch like Britain's, this is not in the best interests of the country."

Rasheed, 62 and now an MP, said he was shocked when he was warned that his children might be affected by his decisions.

"'You are a son of the regime, we trust you, but if your sons want to work in Jordan in the future, it might affect them,' "he recalled the warning.


Many activists deem progress impossible unless the influence of the mukhabarat is curbed.

In a recent poll by the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, more than 80 percent of the respondents said they feared criticizing the government publicly.

More than three quarters said they feared taking part in any political activity.

"The issue of security has become a nightmare," Labib Kamhawi, a businessman active in human rights, said, contending that Jordan had failed to find the balance between democracy and security.

"If you give a speech against the policy of the government, this is a threat to security. If you demonstrate against this or that, it is a threat to security. It hits on all aspects of life and it is a severe hindrance to any change."

One man wrote a line from the Constitution stating that that personal freedom is protected.

Another wrote, "Love is immeasurable." A third scrawled, "Life comes first." A fourth wrote an Arab proverb about the absence of choice.

Three days later, the phone rang. The secret police summoned him and ultimately ordered him to paint over the graffiti because it might be "misinterpreted." (Click to read the article in full).

Prof Jean-Pierre Lehmann, IMD International, Lausanne

The annual mela in Davos, Switzerland, begins today and is being held under the theme "The Shifting Power Equation."  However, as Prof Jean-Pierre Lehmann from IMD Lausanne points out, this in fact is the "Demise of the Hub-and-Spokes World Economy" via "The 21st Century Great Global Economy Paradigm Shift."  With multiple sessions on climate chaos which some in the gathered crowd are  cynically branding as climate collapse -- this may be one of the "greenest" gatherings of the throng ever .  "Better late than never!" as one social entrepreneur put it.  Prof Lehmann writes:

Emirates Airlines runs daily non-stop flights from Shanghai and Beijing to Dubai. Soon it will be inaugurating a non-stop flight between Dubai and Sao Paulo. It will then be possible for Brazilian and Chinese business executives (and others including government officials, students, tourists and honeymooners) to fly between their two countries without the hitherto obligatory stop-over in either Frankfurt (Europe) or Los Angeles (US). Regular direct flights from Dhaka, Karachi, Mumbai and Colombo to Dubai also secure the dynamic and ever stronger link between the economies of the Gulf and the economies of the Indian Sub-Continent. Arab businessmen will be flying to all these destinations as an ever increasing flow of goods, capital and ideas link the four regions: Greater China, South Asia, South America and the Middle East.

The economic ties and business networks across Asia are being developed and discussed in the recently inaugurated Indian-Arab and Chinese-Arab CEO annual summits convened by the UAE based forum Moutamarat. This reflects, among other things, the fact that China, India and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council are the three fastest growing world economies. The recent increasingly growing business ties between and across the three Asian regions (West, South and East) have been described as the New Silk Road.

While the trans-Asian connection - which increasingly also encompasses Central Asia within its expanding orbit - is the most important economic story of the first decade of the 21st century, it is by no means the only one. In October 2006, as ATCA observed, Beijing hosted the first China-Africa Summit, a very grand affair that brought to the Chinese capital over 50 African heads of state. China is by far Africa's fastest growing trade and investment partner; with India also increasingly active, this trend has been described in a publication by Harry Broadman of the World Bank as "Africa's Silk Road: China and India's New Economic Frontier."  At a policy level, the new relationship between the three continents of the "developing world", Africa, Asia and Latin America, was reflected in the establishment of the G-20 during the Cancún WTO ministerial meeting in September 2003; led by Brazil, India, China and South Africa, the G-20 is the first developing world trade alliance to counter the hitherto overbearing authority of the "Quad" (US, EU, Japan and Canada).

All these trends are indicative of the terminal demise of the 20th century global hub-and-spokes business paradigm, whereby the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries represented the hub and the different parts of the developing world the spokes. The new paradigm, though not yet entirely clear, is one of growing axes of trade, investment, networks and knowledge across the erstwhile spokes. Economic ties are also spawning more political and cultural connections. By no means should one infer that the old industrialised nations are "finished". The US, EU, Japan, Australia, Switzerland and Norway remain extremely rich in both material and cultural wealth. But, in the words of Bob Dylan, " The times they are a-changin'" , and both the demise of the hub-and-spoke and the rise of the new global axes of business development are inexorable.

The influential and highly respected economics editor of the Financial Times Martin Wolf, also an ATCA member, wrote in a 2005 article: "The economic rise of Asia's giants is the most important story of our age. It heralds the end, in the not too distant future, of as much as five centuries of domination by the Europeans and their colonial offshoots."  [ Asia's G iants on the M ove, 23 February 2005] The rise of the European seaborne empires in the late 15th century spelt the end of the old Silk Road, as its merchants and rulers stayed confined in their resolute ways and mindsets, thereby failing to respond to the new competition and technologies, and to adapt to the changing times.  The shoe is now on the Western foot.

This will have immense implications across virtually every dimension one can think of. Western policy makers and business leaders will need to adjust.  The "typical" Western multinational enterprise that runs its business empire from a Western central hub with the developing world compartmentalised into regional spokes - Africa, Middle East, Latin America, South Asia, Asia Pacific, etc - is unlikely to capture the ethos of the new age and therefore ultimately will lose out on the business being created. The Western multinational corporation of the 21st century in order to survive, let alone thrive, will need to reflect these new realities, in terms of organisation, management, culture and manpower.

Western policy makers must also fully absorb the implications of the changing paradigm. The 21st century marks the end of the Western imperial age - what the Indian historian BN Pandey called "The Vasco da Gama era of history", stretching from the rise of the Iberian seaborne empires in the late 15th century to the resurgence of the great Asian nations in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. This new multipolar world will require, more than ever, the strengthening of multilateral institutions, and especially in such a way that they truly reflect the changes. Western political and business leaders must abandon their badgering colonial attitudes in favour of a truly global collaborative mindset.

It cannot be over-emphasised that carrying out these changes, especially the change in mindsets, is going to be extremely difficult. But there is no real choice, apart from decline and extinction.

Western business leaders and policy makers might be inspired by what Bob Dylan had to say:  

Admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Very warm regards

Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Professor of International Political Economy at IMD International -- Institute for Management Development -- in Lausanne, Switzerland, since January 1997. His main areas of expertise are the socio-economic and business dynamics of East Asia, the impact of globalisation on developing countries and the government -- business interface, especially in respect to the global trade and investment policy process. In 1994 he launched the Evian Group, which consists of high ranking officials, business executives, independent experts and opinion leaders from Europe, Asia and the Americas. The Evian Group's focus is on the international economic order in the global era, specifically the reciprocal impact and influence of international business and the WTO agenda. Jean-Pierre Lehmann acts in various leading capacities in several public policy institutes and organisations. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, Washington DC, and his doctorate from St Antony's College, Oxford University. He is the author of several books and numerous articles and papers primarily dealing with modern East Asian history and East Asia and the international political economy.

Prior to joining IMD, Jean-Pierre Lehmann has had both an academic and a business career which over the years has encompassed activities in virtually all East Asian and Western European countries, as well as North America. He was (from 1992) the founding director of the European Institute of Japanese Studies (EIJS) at the Stockholm School of Economics and Professor of East Asian Political Economy and Business. From 1986 to 1992 he established and directed the East Asian operations of InterMatrix, a London based business strategy research and consulting organisation. During that time he was operating primarily from Tokyo, with offices in Seoul, Taipei, Bangkok and Jakarta and was concurrently Affiliated Professor of International Business at the London Business School. Other previous positions include: Associate Professor of International Business at INSEAD (European Institute of Business Administration) in Fontainebleau, France; Visiting Professor at the Bologna Center (Italy) of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies; twice in the 70s Visiting Professor and Japan Foundation Fellow at the University of Tohoku, Sendai (Japan); and Founding Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Stirling (Scotland), where he also taught East Asian history in the University's History Department. From 1981 to 1986 he directed the EC-ASEAN 'Transfer of Technology and Socio-Economic Development Programmes' held in Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala-Lumpur and Manila.

Stephen Lendman

Founded in 1971, the Geneva-based World Economic Forum (WEF) meets annually in Davos, Switzerland to bring together top business and political leaders as well as mostly neoliberal minded intellectuals, economists, journalists, and others.

WEF calls itself "an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas." It aims for "world-class governance (read dominance)." Its motto is "entrepreneurship in the global public interest (read for the top 1%)." This year's theme - "Shaping the Post-Crisis World" - a tall order addressing what they caused that's heading the world for a calamitous depression.

Its five-day 2009 meeting attracted over 2500 participants from 91 countries, including over 1170 CEOs and chairpersons from the world's most powerful companies. Others included 219 public figures, 40 heads of state, 64 cabinet ministers, and various other high-level business, government, think tank, media, academic, religious, organizational, and union officials. Noticeably different, according to Bloomberg, "was the virtual absence of Wall Street figures" as well as top Obama administration figures.

Annually, Davos becomes headquarters for the world's power elite to meet and review past achievements, challenges, and prospects for greater exploitation of world markets, resources, and people everywhere. Or put another way, to use money to create more of it, for themselves, of course.

Ordinarily the occasion is celebratory. Capitalism flaunts its successes and parties. This year gloom prevailed, and one topic above others took precedence: assessing the global economic crisis, its risks in the near and longer term, plotting strategies for the coming year and beyond, and avoiding an appearance of panic in an event drawing prominent media coverage.

Not easy with capitalism most in crisis since the Great Depression, no one sure how to right things, and attendees like George Soros believing today's problem "is larger than in the 1930s." Bloomberg headlined the mood: "Grimmest Davos Ever Brings Anger, Finger-Pointing at Bankers," and one observer noted that "the only good news in Davos was the weather."

Bloomberg added that "Almost everyone blamed the few bankers who showed up for the near-collapse of the financial system," with harshest criticism for Wall Street, the Bush administration, and Obama officials for their absence. Economist Kenneth Rogoff called this year the grimmest Davos ever. Abraaj Capital's CEO, Arif Naqvi said "People are looking for the solution, but don't yet have the question formulated." Other attendees predicted that conditions in 2010 may be no better.

The Financial Times' (FT) John Gapper wrote: "This was not the week to be seen in Davos and, if you were there, it was not the time to remain calm." He cited one debate with Black Swan author Nassim Taleb saying bankers should be punished and forced to return their bonuses. He described WEF founder Klaus Schwab as "pale-faced," considering "the impossible task this year - to forge harmony out of tension" and plan how to recover.

For many, Davos this year was "where the pent-up dismay and anger over what Wall Street wrought boiled to the surface" despite efforts to contain it. The stars were those who saw the crisis early and warned about it. Figures like Taleb and Nouriel Roubini who says the worst is still to come.

The FT reported that "The unrelenting economic gloom and the fragility of the banking system have cast a cloud over the global agenda and (managed) to dominate discussions. Drama did as well with Turkey's prime minister Erdogan storming out after an exchange with Israel's Shimon Peres over Gaza, but there was more. Despite its absence, America dominated geopolitical and financial concerns.

The Wall Street Journal reported that "The premiers of Russia and China slammed the US economic system in speeches (January 28), holding it responsible for the global economic crisis."

Implying but not naming America, China's Wen Jiabao said the financial crisis was "attributable to inappropriate macroeconomic policies of some economies and their unsustainable model of development characterized by prolonged low savings and high consumption; excessive expansion of financial institutions in blind pursuit of profit."

Putin, in contrast, was blunt in attacking a "unipolar world," saying it's "dangerous" to rely on the US dollar, and calling for the development of multiple, regional reserve currencies in addition to the dollar. He also mocked US businessmen who boasted last year that America's economy was strong and prospects sound. "Today," said Putin, "investment banks, the pride of Wall Street, have virtually ceased to exist," then added: "The entire economic growth system, where one regional center prints money without respite and consumes material wealth, while another regional center manufactures inexpensive goods....has suffered a major setback."

US officials didn't comment but former Fed vice-chairman, Alan Blinder said: "The sad thing is that we might have scoffed at (these comments) a while ago. But we really dragged the world down" economically. "No wonder (Klaus) Schwab looked so stricken," said FT's Gapper.

Davos is a secluded ski village. Protests are banned but not entirely. Dozens marched through the town and threw snowballs and shoes at Swiss police and the convention center. Among them were members of the Young Socialist and Green parties as well as Amnesty International representatives.

Things were violent in Geneva where Germany's Deutsche Welle reported that "Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at bottle-throwing demonstrators protesting against the annual World Economic Forum in Davos." AP said hundreds turned out for a largely peaceful demonstration until police "chased black-clad protesters through (Geneva's) narrow streets as shoppers took refuge in bars and cafes."

Regional secretary for the trade union Unia, Alessandro Pelizzari, spoke for many in saying: "100,000 lost their jobs in Europe this week. And those responsible are in Davos." One of the protest organizers, Laurent Tettamenti, added: "The WEF is a symbol of the neoliberal policies of the last 20 years that have caused (today's) crisis. We have no confidence that the same people who caused (this) can solve it."

The World Social Forum's (WSF) Alternative Vision

At a time of global crisis, WSF more than ever was crucial, relevant and vital. Founded by Brazil's Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility chairman Oded Grajew, it held its first meeting concurrently with WEF in late January 2001 and continues doing it annually. Its motto - "Another world is possible." Today, it's essential.

WEF is "an opened space - plural, diverse, non-governmental and non-partisan - that stimulates  decentralized debate, reflection, (and) proposals building. (It) experiences exchange and alliances among movements and organizations engaged in concrete actions towards....more solidarity, (and a) democratic and fair world."

The first three forums were in Porto Alegre, Brazil. It moved to India in 2004, then back to Porto Alegre in 2005. In 2006, it was "polycentric" - in January in Caracas, Venezuela and Bamako, Mali, then delayed until March in Karachi, Pakistan because of the area's earthquake. In 2007, it was in Nairobi, Kenya, then in 2008, it became a Global Call for Action and Mobilization by letting thousands of autonomous organizations worldwide hold simultaneous events in dozens of countries. The 2009 forum returned to the Amazonian port city of Belem in northern Brazil, about 60 miles upriver from the Atlantic Ocean.

WSF's Charter of Principles

After its 2001 inaugural, WSF drafted Principles "to guide the continued pursuit of (its) initiative."

Unlike predatory capitalism on display at Davos:

(1) WSF "is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals," free exchanges among participants, and formulations of collective action plans. Participants are civil society individuals, groups and organizations committed to a new society "directed towards fruitful relationships among Mankind and between it and the Earth."

(2) WSF's "Another World Is Possible" theme is a "permanent process of seeking and building alternatives."

(3) WSF is "a world process."

(4) WSF supports global justice, democracy, human rights, equality, the "sovereignty of peoples," and opposes neoliberalism, predatory capitalism, complicit governments, and their destructive harm.

(5) WSF is a civil society meeting ground, not a body representing it.

(6) Forums are for participant exchanges, not to establish positions for WSF as a body or make it a "locus of power."

(7) WSF facilitates and circulates ideas and decisions "without directing, hierarchizing, censuring or restricting them, but as deliberations" and decisions by Forum participants.

(8) WSF is decentralized, "plural, diversified, non-confessional, non-governmental and non-party" locally and internationally "to build another world."

(9) WSF is committed to "pluralism (and) diversity." Government officials who accept the Charter Principles are welcome to attend. More on that below.

(10) WSF opposes totalitarianism and reductionist economic views. It stands in solidarity with all humanity in peace and harmony for a better world.

(11) WSF is a Forum for debate, reflection and exchange of ideas on how to "resist and overcome" the domination of capital.

(12) WSF "encourages understanding and mutual recognition (among) participant organisations and movements, and places special value on (exchanges) among them."

(13) WSF aims to "strengthen and create new national and international links (to) increase the capacity for non-violent social resistance (against) dehumani(zing) the world."

(14) WSF aims to have a global agenda for "building a new world in solidarity."

Themes and Solidarity in Belem

Over 100,000 attendees from 150 countries voiced common themes - Pan-Amazonia for the Forum's site, opposition to predatory capitalism, wars, inequality, injustice, intolerance, environmental destruction, prejudice, and elitism. For six days, hundreds of events took place in workshops, campings, seminars, conferences, speeches, testimonies, marches, cultural and artistic activities, exchanges, reflection, proposals, consensus-building for a better world, and ending with a "Day of Alliances" to decide on joint actions. In all, it was a mass coming together for a better world and an utter rejection of Davos and its ruling ethos.

Latin American Leaders at Belem, Not Davos

On January 29, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Bolivia's Evo Morales, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Paraguay's Fernando Lugo criticized Washington in Belem.

Correa: "The guilty parties in this crisis try to give lessons on morality and good economic handling. The most powerful people on the planet have united to find a therapy for the dying. They're getting together - the central bankers, the representatives of the large financial firms, the people primarily responsible for the crisis." They caused it. Can we expect them to fix it? Correa called for a "common project," a 21st century socialism characterized by justice and efficiency, a return to state planning "for the development of the majority of the people."

He also attacked US-dominated institutions like the IMF and World Bank: "Using the art of deception they will try to confuse us into thinking the victims are the guilty ones. They are the ones responsible for the crisis. They are not the ones to give us lessons." Correa should know. He's a University of Illinois-educated Ph.D in economics.

Lula: the global crisis affecting Latin America wasn't caused by "the socialism of Chavez (or) the struggles of Evo (Morales)," but by wealthy Western states. It's their crisis, not ours. "And who is the god to whom they have appealed? Why, the state! (They) told us what we need in our poor countries. They thought we were incompetent." Look what they did. In attacking George Bush, he added: "The world cannot elect any more presidents that do not listen to social movements, that do not listen to the people."

Lula is a former factory worker and union leader, yet far from a popular president. Outside the event, several hundred in his United Socialist Workers Party (PSTU) protested his making concessions to bankers, business and Washington, yet doing little to stabilize employment for ordinary Brazilians.

Paraguay's Lugo is a former Catholic bishop and liberation theology adherent. He said his country changed "because of your movements' voices of hope" and quoted from the Guarani people's ancient aspiration that one day a "Land Without Evil" might be created. He added that "Latin America is changing and the hope is the north will change as well. We have seen the economic policies they said were so efficient fail."

Evo Morales used anti-imperialist slogans in condemning American interventionism and its regional military bases. He said "Before you are four presidents - four presidents (Lula spoke separately) who could not be here were it not for your fight. I see so many brothers and sisters here, from Latin America's social movements to European figures."

Hugo Chavez spoke about a new revolutionary path saying social movements have been in the "trenches of resistance" and must go on the "offensive" to create alternatives to global capitalism.

"Just like Latin America and the Caribbean received the biggest dose of neoliberal venom, our continent has been the immense territory where social movements have sprouted with the greatest strength and began to change the world....another world is necessary (and) is being born in Latin America and the Caribbean. Revolutions are no longer guerrilla battalions, no! This is a new revolutionary wave....This year will be hard, we must unite. Our socialism should not be a copy. Our socialism should be a heroic creation....Socialism of our America, a profoundly democratic socialism. This is our path."

For the ninth consecutive year, WSF's participants agreed that "Another World Is Possible." This year it's essential, now more than ever.

Klaus Schwab: we need to redesign our systems in a proactive, collaborative way
Pain of economic crisis creates risk of social instability
List of detailed outcomes of the Annual Meeting:

Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 1 February 2009 ? The world’s business and government leaders only have a short time to develop effective solutions to the current economic crisis, participants at this year’s World Economic Forum Annual Meeting were told. In the closing plenary, participants joined members of the Forum’s Global Agenda Councils to formulate a message to key international decision-makers, such as the heads of government and ministers who will gather in April for the G20 summit. The message from the Annual Meeting is that leaders must continue to develop a swift and coordinated policy response to the most serious global recession since the 1930s: global challenges demand global solutions.

Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, Klaus Schwab said: “We have to address all the issues simultaneously and not forget any of them, like climate change. We have to involve all the stakeholders of global society in this process so that they feel responsible. Above all we need to restore confidence in our systems.”

Throughout the five days of the Annual Meeting participants worked on a number of objectives:

• Supporting governments and governance institutions, particularly the G20
• Ensuring that global challenges are examined in a holistic way, including climate change and water security
• Beginning a process to develop recommendations on how the structure and strategies of international cooperation can be updated
• Improving the ethical basis for business as a constructive social actor
• Restoring confidence in the future

For more details on detailed outcomes of the Annual Meeting click here

Participants at today’s closing plenary painted a sobering picture of a rapidly darkening economic landscape, in which the pain of rising unemployment, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and poverty are only beginning to be felt.

“This is the time to see courageous leadership on the part of the G20,” said Maria Ramos, Group Chief Executive, Transnet, South Africa and Co-Chair of World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009. “The time for words is over; this is the time for implementation and action. If we come back in six months or a year and are still talking about the same things, we will have failed. And the social unrest we will have to deal with will be absolutely dramatic.”

Klaus Schwab cautioned participants not to raise their expectations for the April G20 summit too high, noting that in London, leaders will focus on immediate, technical responses to the financial and economic crisis. The Forum, he noted, is preparing the launch of a new initiative to address the numerous longer term issues raised by the crisis, particularly the need for a complete overhaul of the existing global governance institutions. “We need to redesign our systems in a proactive, collaborative way,” Schwab said. “We all have to work together.”

David Weidner

The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has just wrapped up, and the world is a better place.

Now we know which billionaire can ski and solve — or perhaps cause — a banking crisis at the same time.

If it sounds silly, it’s nothing compared to the four-day event in one of the most exclusive ski resorts in the world. After wrecking the global economy, the powerful and rich are back to their insulated worlds. In one session, panelists and the audience were asked if 20th century capitalism was failing in the 21st century society. Read full story on Davos panel .

Almost no one raised their hand, except...

David Rubenstein, managing director of the private equity powerhouse Carlyle Group, Raghuram G. Rajan, Professor of Finance at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago; Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of Alcatel-Lucent / and Brian T. Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America .

In a nutshell, you can see the essential problem with Davos. It’s really not the “make the world a better place” forum it purports to be. It’s an ego trip for billionaires and politicians. It’s a place to reinforce the political and economic equation of haves and have-nots.

The billionaires who stormed Davos
Taking a look at the business community on hand at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Detractors who often chide the city for being too in tune with the global elite should back off their criticism, only 70 of the 2,500 attendees are billionaires. The rest are merely millionaires.  

People who run hedge funds, banks and multi-national corporations can see that the global system is working just fine. And they’re right. It is for them.

And their message — from the heart of cuckoo clocks, pocket knives and premier chocolates — to the rest of the globe? Let them eat Cadbury.

And if you don’t believe it, consider Robert Frank, author of “Richistan,” “High-Beta Rich” and wealth reporter for The Wall Street Journal. In a recent appearance on the WSJ’s Mean Street program, Frank said Davos remains a hot ticket in a world getting crowded by billionaires; 70 attended last week.

“You have many people in the room who affect those global businesses from the political side in government or the business side,” Frank said. So, if you’re doing business globally, “in two or three days you can get a lot of information about those markets and maybe do some deals.”

The other reason?

“There are very few truly exclusive clubs that make you feel special. Davos remains one of those clubs.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having an exclusive club, or a global chamber of commerce meeting, or even calling it what it is: an old boys’ club schmoozefest.

A snow-covered city sign stands in front the congress center in Davos. What is a problem is that Davos is revered by its participants and, in turn, by the media, as some kind of global summit where everyone tries to learn, discuss and make decisions based on the concentration of thought and power in the rooms.

Are the rich and powerful meeting in Davos truly addressing the need for a more just global economic system?


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