- The international community must be involved in addressing the problem of violent extremism – a challenge not just for the Middle East and North Africa but for the whole world
- The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2015 ended with government, business and civil society leaders calling for coordinated immediate and longer-term action to counter violent extremism
- For more information about the meeting: http://wef.ch/mena15
Dead Sea, Jordan, 23 May 2015 – Addressing violent extremism is not only a challenge for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) but also for the whole world, said government, business and civil society leaders in the closing session of the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa. “In Iraq and the region as a whole, the biggest challenge we face is extremism and terrorism, but this has repercussions at the international level,” said Ayad Allawi, Vice-President of Iraq. Saleh Muhammed Al Mutlaq, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq, added: “Terrorism is not plaguing Iraq alone but is spilling over. If it does, it will affect the stability and security of the whole world. We cannot expect that any Arab country can fight terrorism without the help of the international community.”
At the meeting, participants engaged in discussions on how to address violent extremism. “There is an increasing demand for joint responses,” Espen Barth Eide, Managing Director and Member of the Managing Board of the World Economic Forum, said. “We believe this is something that has to be dealt with not just by governments but also by businesses and NGOs alike.”
Allawi called for clear strategies not just to counter the immediate threat of Daesh, the extremist group also known as ISIS, but also the long-term challenge of preventing the radicalization of citizens, particularly young people. “A military victory will not be sufficient. We need to have one clear strategy to develop conducive political and economic environments.” Al Mutlaq said: “Terrorism does not depend on the number of people recruited but derives its power from the feebleness of societies. Justice and the inclusion of all stakeholders are instrumental in stopping terrorism and keeping it at bay. Our concern is for the period post-ISIS. If we procrastinate, we will contribute to the social tensions that will lead to internal conflict.”
It is important to focus on preventive measures, Suleiman Bakhit, Founder and Chief Financial Officer of Hero Factor in Jordan, argued. “War-zone laws will not end extremism. For every terrorist we kill, there are a hundred more being born.” For now, Bakhit said, governments are monopolizing efforts to counter violent extremism. “They have to include civil society and the private sector. We can operate in real time where governments cannot. NGOs and the private sector are the ones that can develop the counter-narrative.” Young people who have joined ISIS do so because they are seduced by the opportunity to be heroic. “Heroism is how they sell extremism to kids,” Bakhit observed. “We don’t really have heroes. There is a lack of positive role models for our children. We need a different kind of heroism, one that is based on narratives of hope and tolerance.”
The business community, using marketing methods, can help amplify the message that NGOs are broadcasting, Mohammad Jaafar, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Company, said. Extremist groups haven’t hijacked the religion; they have relabelled it. “If you don’t do anything about the problem today, this will be nothing compared to what we will see in 20 years,” he said.
He called for a close study of extremism in every country: “Let’s X-ray the problem to determine what the needs are in Jordan as they are different from the needs in Saudi Arabia.” Sarah Sewall, US Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, also called for a close examination of what is driving the spread of extremism. “We need to understand where the primary factors lie. We have neither the resources nor the time to make every country perfect. But the emphasis should be to diagnose specifically what the drivers are and then integrate our efforts. That’s really a tall order.” Jaafar added: “We have to think about what it is that we are selling to the kids. Let’s come up with innovation, a change of approach. We must keep the momentum going.”
Inclusion is key, Atifete Jahjaga, the President of the Republic of Kosovo, told participants. “Terrorism and extremism are countered by engaging all the layers of our societies. No one should be kept aside. Exclusion is the breeding ground of extremism.” Moderates in religious communities have a special responsibility, she said. “It falls upon the moderate leaders of the faith to rob extremist groups of the false interpretation of the religion, which they use as justification for violence and the use of force.”
Sewall stressed that each country has to implement its own action plans to counter violent extremism. Improving governance, she concluded, is crucial, a point that was echoed by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his remarks to close the meeting. “There is a lack of confidence in the political and business communities because we do not always practise the best governance. If next year you can say that in my organization I have applied the best governance rules, then we will make real progress.”
The World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa took place at the Dead Sea in Jordan on 21-23 May. With the full support and presence of Their Majesties King Abdullah II and Queen Rania Al Abdullah, this year’s event marked the Forum’s ninth meeting in Jordan and the 16th meeting in the region. More than 1000 business and political leaders and representatives of civil society, international organizations, youth and the media from over 50 countries participated under the theme, Creating a Regional Framework for Prosperity and Peace through Public-Private Cooperation.
“We met against the backdrop of a number of deep political, economic and societal transformations, which this region has witnessed over the past four years,” said Miroslav Dusek, Senior Director and Head of Middle East and North Africa at the World Economic Forum, in a summary of the meeting. “In the midst of all this turmoil, the different peoples of the MENA continue to struggle to find an answer against the multiple challenges facing this region, especially the continuous demands of its young women and men for dignity and economic inclusion.”
In addition to the special programme on Countering Violent Extremism, the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa was the platform for the launch or progress of other initiatives. Jordan unveiled $6.9 billion worth of projects in energy (including renewables), water, transport, ICT, infrastructure, urban development and tourism. It also kicked off its Jordan Relaunched campaign to revitalize its economy and attract investments. The government announced new investment opportunities worth $20 billion, aimed at creating 180,000 new jobs.
At the meeting, the World Economic Forum’s Regional Business Council (RBC) for MENA set out on a new phase of its New Vision for Arab Employment initiative, which aims to invest in the continuous learning, training and job-readiness of the region’s youth through collaboration among businesses, educational institutions, civil society and governments. Nine founding partners from across the region committed to scaling their corporate initiatives or creating wholly new initiatives aimed at closing the skills gap in the region. Collectively, these initiatives will offer skilling opportunities to 49,000 people. These commitments meet nearly 50% of the RBC’s target of skilling 100,000 young people by 2017.
Business leaders from Israel and Palestine recommitted themselves to continue their quest for proposing civil society-led initiatives to the conflict in the framework of the Breaking the Impasse initiative and present a united front against conflict in the Middle East.
Next year’s World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.
The World Economic Forum is an international institution committed to improving the state of the world through public-private cooperation in the spirit of global citizenship. It engages with business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.
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