World Economic Forum opens under tight security
Egypt chides US over N-double standards
* Mubarak vows to work ceaselessly for Middle East peace
* Says rushing reforms in the region could lead to ‘chaos’
SHARM EL-SHEIK: President Hosni Mubarak opened the World Economic Forum on Saturday with a series of indirect but pointed jabs at the United States, warning that the world must overcome the widening gap between rich and poor and block escalating threats of terrorism.
With US-Egyptian relations as strained as they have been at any time in Mubarak’s 25-year rule, the 78-year-old Egyptian leader implicitly accused the US of double standards on nuclear policy - Washington’s resolute silence on the nuclear arsenal Israel is believed to possess while it leads a drive to deprive Iran of a nuclear programme.
He further challenged Washington to work towards a world “that fosters multi-lateralism, abides by international legitimacy and steers away from unilateral actions” in a clear reference to his and other Arab leaders’ distaste for the American invasion of Iraq.
In a speech opening the World Economic Forum in this south Sinai resort, the Egyptian leader also hammered on the need for more equal economic and trade treatment for developing countries which he said have been forced to take on “significant burdens” to the advantage of the major economic powers.
Mubarak, whose nation is the United States’ closest ally in the Arab world and the first to sign a peace treaty with Israel, vowed to work ceaselessly for a broader peace in the Middle East.
“We shall never relax our efforts with either the Palestinians or Israelis in pushing them back toward the path of negotiations,” Mubarak told the 1,300 assembled delegates to the first WEF to be held in Egypt. He warned that rushing reforms in the region could lead to “chaos”. “This strategic part of the world aspires to peace and development,” President Hosni Mubarak told participants.
He appealed to the “pursuit of reform that emanated from within the region, reform based on a gradual prudent approach that ensures its sustainability”, adding that the hastening of the process could lead to “chaos and the demise of the process itself”.
The annual forum is being held this year in the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh under top-level security, only a month after the Sinai peninsula was hit by a spate of suicide bombings.
Dozens of checkpoints were installed by Egyptian police along the main roads of the Red Sea vacation spot, while security men lined the streets. A total three-day ban on watersports has been imposed along the shores of the town, which is heavily frequented by European tourists, while plain-clothes policemen shooed away motorists parking in suspicious spots. “We have organised an exceptional security set-up to ensure safety at the forum, using the latest technology and specialised squads,” Interior Minister Habib al-Adly told reporters ahead of the forum. Among the highest-profile participants of the forum will be US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, who has been involved in intensive consultations in the region.
He was instrumental in securing a partial peace deal for Sudan’s Darfur region earlier this month.
Other prominent guests include Lebanese President Emile Lahoud and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, as well as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a string of ministers from the region. Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman, said that since last year’s WEF Mideast meeting in Jordan, the region has seen some dramatic changes, “but we want to concentrate on the positive developments and I think strong winds of hope are blowing in this region”. The fact that the conference was being held only a month after the Dahab attacks was “a great demonstration of the confidence of the international community has in this region in the long term and particularly into Egypt,” Schwab said. Agencies