The recent World Economic Forum was held under the banner“Putting Diversity to Work.” For in the Arab world,diversity is a tool for conflict. This was borne out inspades at one particular session at the WEF when two panels,one made up of a Saudi, an Iranian and another comprising aPalestinian, an Israeli and two Americans (one Republican,one Democrat) convened to debate that hoariest of Arabchestnuts: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Prince Turki al Faisal al Saud argued that as the Kingdom ofSaudi Arabia was the home to the Kaaba and was thebirthplace of Prophet Mohammad, it was the most appropriatenation to propose an Arab peace settlement as it had done inBeirut years earlier. Not so, according to ManouchehrMottaki, the minister for foreign affairs of the IslamicRepublic of Iran, who argued that the Palestinian issue wasrather a Muslim issue and that Iran would champion the causeby continuing to support both Hamas in the PalestinianTerritories and Hizbullah in Lebanon, where it (Iran) hadbeen victorious in last summer’s war with Israel.
Next door, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian delegate from Fatah,pleaded that his government and his 1.5 million fellowPalestinians were in a hopeless position, relying on EUrations while they were hemmed in by the Zionist state.Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres argued that aslong as the bombs fell on his country, his country wouldexercise its right to self defense. The Americans threw intheir lot by saying that as long as half the Palestiniangovernment was moonlighting as terrorists, the US was in noposition to talk to Abu Mazen’s people.
They all parroted a line and listened to no one. That,apparently, was putting diversity to work, the sad irony ofwhich was not lost on attendees, mindful of the theme ofthis year’s gathering.
The only real highlight of the WEF, was the announcement bySheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president andprime minister of the United Arab Emirates and ruler ofDubai, that he would be establishing a $10 billion funddedicated to education and research, based in the UAE withthe aim of building a “knowledge-based society throughoutthe region.”
Here, amid the politics that overshadowed any economics, wasone man with one vision. It was a vision that had built astunning city state out of the sand and that was now seekingto create a generation of talent worthy of perpetuatingcultural and business life in that gleaming new city. Herewas a vision that understood that without education and theenlightenment it brings, the Arabs will never be able toembrace diversity and risk forever stagnating in the swampsof conflict and division.
Only then might diversity be put to work for the good.