In the wake of the Arab Spring, growth in the region is a top issue in the Swiss ski resort for the politicians and assorted big thinkers who, over five days, will discuss global economic concerns. Intriguingly, the very future of capitalism will also be closely examined, Frank Kane writes:
The Middle East will be high on the agenda at this year's annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
As the world's elite politicians, businessmen, economists and intellectuals - representing what some have called "Davos man" - prepare to gather for the event starting tomorrow in the Swiss Alpine town, the ongoing repercussions of the Arab Spring have forced them to focus on the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) as never before.
A "call to action" by the WEF's Global Issues Group, including such luminaries as the IMF managing director Christine Lagarde and Robert Zoellick, the World Bank president, said the WEF should "support reforms to unleash growth in the Mena region".
That call will be heard and debated by some of the region's most important and influential players, including sizeable contingents from the UAE and other GCC countries.
The WEF will focus on a series of debates and presentations discussing the "new context in the Arab world", as well as the implications of the Arab Spring, the role of Islam in politics, and new political and economic models for the Arab world.
Other issues crucial for the region, and the world economy, will also be addressed on the WEF's formal agenda: the possibility that Iran may develop nuclear capability; and the outlook for world energy and oil markets.
Davos 2012 comes at a time of rising concern about global financial and economic conditions, so it is no surprise the main focus of the WEF will be the ongoing repercussions of the 2008 credit crunch, and the implications for the world economy. It will even be asked to consider the future of capitalism itself as an economic system.
The WEF's self-declared mission is to "improve the state of the world", but this year the theme of the forum is more specific: "the great transformation, shaping new models", is the banner under which 2,600 participants and hundreds of media representatives will gather.
Professor Klaus Schwab,73, a Swiss who founded the organisation in 1971, is even more radical. He recently stated at the WEF's Swiss headquarters near Geneva that capitalism needed a complete overhaul if it was to survive.
"Capitalism in its current form has no place in the world around us," he said. "We have failed to learn the lessons of the financial crisis of 2009. A global transformation needs to take place urgently and it must begin by restoring a form of social responsibility."
The protesters who launched the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US, which rapidly spread to many of the world's financial centres last year, will applaud that sentiment.
They intend to make their presence felt in the Alpine resort this week: "Occupy WEF" activists have started to build igloos in the town and some are planning to disrupt the five-day event. Security will be intense, with an estimated 5,000 extra security personnel employed in the Davos-Klosters region.
"We are in danger of completely losing the confidence of future generations," said Prof Schwab.
The gathering has in the past attracted criticism as a capitalist talking shop where the so-called "masters of the universe" meet to socialise and backslap.
This year's agenda can be seen in some respects as a reaction to that perception in an increasingly austere economic environment.
How "Davos man" (or indeed woman) reacts to the anti-capitalist background noise will be intriguing. The tone will be set by the opening remarks of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who has been preoccupied with the problems of the euro zone for the past year.
Germany's persistent calls for fiscal and economic stringency among EU members and the EU's financial industries should be well received by the critics, except perhaps those from Greece and other EU countries facing EU-imposed austerity packages. No senior Greek politicians are listed among the participants.
Mrs Merkel's message will be hammered home later in the week by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank.
Apart from the big set-piece debate on the future of capitalism, the WEF this year will feature four "sub-themes", each focused on the need for new models in the uncertainty of the political and economic world: growth and employment; leadership and innovation; sustainability and resources; and social and technological developments.
To help with the serious business of improving the world, the usual stars of the international power brokers will gather at WEF: Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire, George Soros, the hedge fund manager turned philanthropist, and Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Prize-winning micro-financier, will be there, as will Harvard University's celebrity historian Niall Ferguson.
Apart from Mrs Merkel, other heavy hitters from the political world include Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, David Cameron, the British prime minister, and Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president.
China and India will send large contingents of business and political representatives, while Myanmar will be represented for the first time at Davos, illustrating the opening up of the South-East Asian country to outside influence.
From the world of finance there are top executives from the biggest banks in the world, such as Josef Ackermann, the chairman of Deutsche Bank, Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citibank, and their British-banking counterparts Bob Diamond of Barclays, and Stuart Gulliver of HSBC.
In the short term, the strain on the world's financial system is likely to grab the attention of the movers and shakers in Davos.
The Global Issues Group says "the world faces significant and urgent challenges that weight heavily on prospects for future growth and on the cohesion of our societies" and that the immediate task is to "solve the sovereign debt and banking crisis and reignite growth, and to stem financial contagion and stabilise fiscal frameworks in Europe".
Whether that complex set of problems will be settled over five days of debate, pontificating and socialising in the Swiss Alps remains to be seen.