1,200 global leaders just met in Jordan. This is what they discussed

Participants at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2017. Copyright by World Economic Forum / Benedikt von Loebell

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Syria, Trump, jobs and the possibility of a post-oil economy -- these were among the themes writ large in a meeting that brought together 1,100 global leaders in Jordan. Here are some of the highlights from the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa 2017.

Dealing with e-extremism

Extremist groups have become increasingly adept at using the internet and social media to recruit a generation that has grown up online.

But how do you stop an online terrorist? According to Jordan’s ICT Minister, Majd Shweikeh, systems security is key. Here she is explaining why we need to stay ahead of cyber criminals:


Others take a preventative approach. Omezzine Khelifa offers young Tunisians an alternative to jihad in the form of art or music, while Suleiman Bakhit lures them away from extremist idols with a more wholesome set of role models.

Here’s how his comic-book heroes are winning hearts and minds in Jordan.


There's more background on his project in this Facebook interview.

President Trump in the Middle East

The coincidence of President Trump's visit to the region meant that the US role in regional conflicts was a major talking point.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said she was confident that President Trump’s appointment of Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense meant military defeat of Daesh (Islamic State) would be accompanied by steps to secure long lasting peace.


Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende said he saw “surprisingly positive” signals from the Trump administration on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The Arab start-up scene

In a region where until recently bankruptcy could have landed you in jail, who’d want to be an entrepreneur? Regulatory restrictions make it hard for start-ups to gain footing. Nevertheless, the Arab tech scene is thriving. One hundred start-ups were invited to the meeting in Jordan to highlight successes and plot a path forward. Among them an app that helps Egyptian home-makers earn an income and an Arab version of Uber. You can see all 100 here.

Entrepreneurship has emerged as a priority for Arab youth, according to this recent World Economic Forum survey.

Image: Global Shapers Annual Survey 2016

Young people need skills

The Middle East is bursting with highly educated young people. But that's not necessarily a good thing if there aren't suitable jobs. Unless this fast-rising generation can learn skills more suited to tomorrow’s jobs, unemployment levels will speed towards a crisis. For more background see this Forum report.

Universities are working hard to catch up – and many perform admirably against the global average, as this Times ranking shows.

But the real solution lies outside the seminar hall. Tech hubs in Israel and the Arab world are a hotbed of jobs and new skills – and it’s this start-up scene that has the most to offer young minds.

Here’s Omar Al Al Razzaz, Jordan's education minister, on the value of taking students out of traditional learning:


The Iranian election result

News that Iranian President Rouhani had been re-elected broke as the Meeting got under way. European Commission Vice-President Federica Mogherini, who was in Jordan, gave the news a very positive reaction.

German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen saw a “positive sign, positive for the nuclear deal because it’s necessary that all sides meet the requirements."

Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende voiced his hopes for a better relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia.


Economic reform

The MENA region, partly prompted by the collapse in oil prices, is embracing radical economic reform. The challenges of moving from an energy-based economy are highlighted in this analysis from David Hobbs of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center. The legacy of oil dependency is a range of competitiveness challenges summed up in this graphic.

This comes at a time when all economies are trying to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution -- the combination of new technologies that is speeding change.

A third economic challenge is to ensure that growth is inclusive -- that the benefits go to the many rather than the few. And a crucial aspect of that is the integration of women, as highlighted by Saudi science entrepreneur Hayat Sindi in the session on Human-centric Growth.


The refugee crisis

Jordan shows other countries the way when it comes to the number of refugees it hosts, said King Felipe VI of Spain in his speech to an assembly that included the Crown Prince of Jordan and presidents of Iraq and Niger.

The contrast with richer, European countries is certainly stark. “Europe would have had to welcome 100 million refugees and been 50% poorer to do what Jordan has done for Syrians,” said Jordan's Minister for Education, Imad Najib Fakhoury.

Here's an excerpt from King Felipe's address.


Strong representation at the meeting from the humanitarian community revealed a sunnier side to the crisis, with camps around the Arab world transformed into crucibles of social innovation – from bricks made of plastic bottles to humanitarian impact bonds to help rehabilitate injured Syrians.

Here’s how well those bottle bricks work when built into a house.

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