x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Will a newfound friendship see life beyond the Dead Sea?

If you're a truly dedicated Weffer, the forum can be a very busy time. Sessions start at 8.30am and run virtually non-stop all day until about 7pm.

If you're a truly dedicated Weffer, the forum can be a very busy time.
Sessions start at 8.30am and run virtually non-stop all day until about 7pm. Even meal-breaks turn into networking events, so you have the experience of trying to talk to somebody important, and remember what they said, while simultaneously balancing a plate of rice and chicken and a glass of juice.
Evenings are given over to networking opportunities at the big hotels away from the conference centre. These are more relaxed events, and sound relationships can be forged there.
There was one Emirati businessman who has in the past turned down all my requests for interviews and coffee meetings in Dubai. But at the evening organised at the Kempinski hotel by the National Bank of Kuwait, we finished the night like old buddies.
Let's see if our newfound friendship survives the trip back to the UAE.
***
The star of the WEF, by consensus, was King Abdullah of Jordan. He spoke at the official opening plenary session, and at a couple of events later, and there was much speculation that he must have had a bit of training over the past couple of years, since the event was last held in Jordan.
I've never heard him speak before, but I must say he was very impressive. The delivery was perfect, without notes or cues that I could see.
He struck me as similar to John Fitzgerald Kennedy in manner, and he even bore a slight resemblance to the late US president in looks and dress.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, was the other impressive speaker. As you might expect from a man of his experience and gravitas, the speech was serious and professional, but enlivened by an injection of humour at just the right time.
After a long, trenchant criticism of current Israeli policy delivered by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mr Kerry tried to lighten the mood by telling Mr Abbas and Shimon Peres, the Israeli President: "I just happened to have a peace agreement in my pocket and you can both come up and sign it if you want."
***
Jordan has plenty on its mind at the moment with the influx of refugees from the conflict in Syria. Abdullah Ensour, the country's prime minister, said Syrians would soon comprise 20 per cent of the population, or some 1.5 million people.
What is bothering the Jordanians, however, is not the drain these people put on the economy, but the fact that most of them are actually better off than the average Jordanian.
In many cases, they've liquidated their assets in Syria, and are subsidised by the various international bodies working for relief.
They often arrive in Jordan cash-rich and looking to buy businesses, cars and homes, thereby destabilising the local economy and causing a lot of resentment.
The Jordanians have hit back in a series of "car kidnaps" in which a vehicle is stolen from its new Syrian owners and held for ransom.
The Jordanian police seem powerless to intervene.
***
With the hectic schedule at the WEF, I couldn't really take the opportunity to sample any of the facilities at the upmarket resort.
But on the final night, around midnight, I decided I just had to at least have a paddle, so headed down to the shore. It was a moment of sheer distraction: paddling in the salty waters and looking over at the glow of Jerusalem over the hills on the other side of the Dead Sea.
 
fkane@thenational.ae