Arab spring pushed Palestinians into wings says Fayyad on Davos stage
Fayyad Says Palestinians ‘Marginalized’ by Arab Spring
By Olivia Sterns and Gwen Ackerman, Bloomberg
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said efforts to achieve a state through peace talks with Israel have been “marginalized” by the Arab Spring and the financial crisis in Europe.
“Conditions are not ripe for resumption of the political process,” Fayyad said today in an interview with Bloomberg Television at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Our cause has been marginalized to an extent unsurpassed for decades.”
The Quartet, which includes the U.S., the United Nations, the European Union and Russia, had set yesterday as the deadline for Israel and the Palestinians to resolve preliminary conditions ahead of the resumption of official negotiations that stalled more than a year ago.
After five meetings in Amman, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians failed to come to terms that could allow talks to go forward, and a Palestinian official said yesterday there would be no more meetings unless Israel agrees to stop construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Talks fell apart in September 2010 after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to renew a 10-month freeze on settlement-building and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out negotiations while West Bank construction continues.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking yesterday in Davos, was more upbeat than Fayyad. Peres said that in Amman gaps between the sides were “seriously narrowed, and neither the Palestinians nor the Israeli have any choice but to make peace.”
Fayyad said negotiations were now unlikely to gain traction because of the U.S. election this year, the European debt crisis and political turmoil in the region that has toppled leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Domestic issues will keep leaders preoccupied, he said.
Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled a month later and is currently on trial, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was killed in October and Yemen’s President Ali Abdullah Saleh signed an accord to relinquish power in November.
Fayyad said that the Quartet efforts to get talks back on track has come “at the expense” of giving “adequate attention to issues of the here and now and what is happening on the ground, including the fact that the Palestinian Authority is facing a severe financial crisis that isn’t getting much attention.”
The Palestinian Authority’s budget deficit is widening as foreign aid dwindles, said Fayyad, an economist who previously worked for the International Monetary Fund.
Saudi Arabia said on Sept. 20 that it would pay $200 million to help ease a financial crisis that left the Palestinian Authority struggling to pay employees and reliant on foreign aid to narrow a budget deficit of about $1 billion. Jihad Al Wazir, head of the Palestinian Monetary Authority, said in September that the Palestinian Authority was facing a funding deficit for 2011 of about $300 million.
Arab leaders tell Davos: Focus on jobs not Islam
By Warren Strobel and Paul Taylor, Maan news/Reuters
DAVOS — Leaders of the Arab Spring sought to assure the world’s elite in Davos that the rise of political Islam is not a threat to democracy, and pleaded for help creating jobs and satisfying the hunger of their people for a better life.
Politicians, activists and entrepreneurs from countries that have cast off dictators and held free elections in the last 12 months were prized guests at the World Economic Forum, where they asked for patience, understanding and investment.
The new prime ministers of Tunisia and Morocco, both chosen from Islamic parties, dismissed Western worries about a surge of political Islam across North Africa and sought to dispel the notion that the promise of last year’s protests had faded.
“I do not believe the new regimes should be called political Islamist regimes. We must be careful with our terminology … For the first time in the Arab world, we have free and honest elections that led to democratic regimes,” Tunisian Prime Minister Hammadi Jebali told a Davos panel.
Twelve months ago, stunned Davos delegates watched live television images of crowds surging into Cairo’s Tahrir Square in a political earthquake few had anticipated.
Arab officials and civil society activists urged Western executives and commentators not to demonize the Islamic movements that have gone from prison to parliament and the corridors of power in a year of stunning transformation.
“I would like to ask the businessmen in the room. Have you suffered from the victory of the Islamists? You supported the dictatorships in the past,” Moroccan Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane said.
“Today we can guarantee your interests more than they did in the past.”
Officials trying to meet huge expectations for economic improvement, jobs and social progress in newly democratic states that suffered big losses during the upheaval said the Arab Spring would take years to produce results.
“One year ago, when the revolution starts, I think we were dreaming, and we were dreaming with our feet in the sky. Now we are still dreaming, but we are dreaming with our feet on the ground,” said Mustapha Kamel Nabli, governor of Tunisia’s Central Bank.
A year ago this week protests began in Egypt, the most populous and consequential Arab state, culminating in the downfall of strongman Hosni Mubarak, now on trial for his life.
Since the wave of revolts began in Tunisia in December 2010, that country’s long-time president was toppled, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and killed, and Syrian President Bashar Assad has failed to halt an uprising despite a bloody crackdown.
Ousted Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh left this week for Oman, possibly en route to exile in the United States.
For some Western commentators, the results have taken a worrying turn with a surge of support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the rise of more radical Salafists, adherents of a more fundamentalist view of Islam.
But from many Arabs’ viewpoint, the success of religious-based groups is not surprising, and the suggestion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is insulting.
Moez Masoud, an Islamic scholar and preacher at Egypt’s Al-Tareeq Al-Sah Institute, said opinion polling showed people voted for Islamic groups in Egypt primarily because they were the most organized and effective.
“It wasn’t about bikinis or no bikinis, or whether to implement Sharia law. It got down to jobs, money and security, and the people wanted the best-organized groups,” Masoud said.
“First you have to let the Arab world be for a while… Stop trying to impose secularism from afar,” he advised his Western audience.
That advice was echoed by many others in conference rooms and hallway chats.
“Even if we don’t like what Islamists stand for, it’s a reality on the ground,” said Shadi Hamid, of the Washington-based Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. The Obama administration “should find a way to live with political Islam. That should be the priority right now.”
Hamid was on a panel on “Politics and Islam”, one of numerous Davos sessions devoted to the Arab Spring.
In interviews and in public remarks, Arab delegates said the debate over Islam and democracy was a distraction at a time of deep economic crisis in Egypt and elsewhere.
“All of us love Islam and respect Islam, but (jobs) is the main issue now,” said Amr Khaled, a televangelist who created a popular Egyptian television show. Egypt’s economy “is in intensive care,” he said.
“We have to get busy and keep busy with the situation in the country,” Amr Moussa, foreign minister under Mubarak and now an Egyptian presidential candidate, told Reuters. Debates over the role of Islam in politics were “issues of secondary importance.”
Egypt faces an economic emergency. The political turmoil has pushed up unemployment, widened budget and balance of payments deficits and drained foreign reserves. Many economists believe a devaluation of the Egyptian pound is imminent.
Egypt said on Thursday it would ask the World Bank for a $500 million loan and another $500 million loan from the African Development Bank to help plug a budget gap.
“Economic conditions are tough, and they’re going to be tougher,” said Ahmed Heikal, CEO of Egypt’s Citadel Capital, adding he was “modestly optimistic” on the political front.
While new foreign investment has stalled in Egypt and its neighbors, PwC International chairman Dennis Nally said foreign firms had not abruptly pulled out as they might have in the past — an illustration of the importance of emerging markets today.
“Five or eight years ago if we’d had the Arab Spring, I think you’d have seen most companies operating in that part of the world pull out of the Middle East,” he said in an interview.
“There’s an acknowledgment that the economic re-balancing is real and it’s here to stay and therefore companies are getting much more comfortable that in order to capitalize on the opportunities they are going to have to be there and deal with more volatility,” he said.
For post-revolutionary governments, Tunisia’s Nabli said, the “cost of the transition is much, much more than anticipated.” Generous financial backing promised by the international community, especially the G8 major industrialized economies, had never materialized, he complained.
To make matters worse, recovery has been hurt by the global economic picture, especially the euro zone crisis.
“The global environment has not been supportive,” Nabli said.