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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 December 2018

Trump sets his own rules at Davos

Slipping in quietly was never the US president's intention

Marine One carrying US president Donald Trump arrives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, on January 25, 2018. Gian Ehrenzeller / EPA
Marine One carrying US president Donald Trump arrives at the World Economic Forum in Davos, on January 25, 2018. Gian Ehrenzeller / EPA

Helicopters flying over Davos around noon – usually not allowed – was the signal to those gathered at the World Economic Forum that the leader of the free world had arrived.

After that, the only evidence this afternoon that Donald Trump is here was the sight of three people on the Promenade in masks of the US president chanting he is not welcome and posing for photographs with passers by.

Outside of Davos organisers and the media, few among the thousands of delegates had seemed pleased about Mr Trump's arrival. The grumbling beforehand ranged from how his presence would completely overshadow other events to the expected chaos on the roads triggered by his entourage's movements.

The likely ramping up of an already intense security regime that messes with overflowing schedules were also on people's minds. Bookings for meeting rooms, confirmed weeks and months in advance, have already been affected, although the organisers shuffled these changes with aplomb.

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There was a buzz among at least some staff about Mr Trump's attendance. Members of the media expect a typically showman-like performance, with one senior journalist predicting the US president will "say something we really don't expect".

Judging by the first two days of this year's forum without Mr Trump, most other delegates seemed perfectly happy as they mingled, discussed and listened to other leaders, including India's Narendra Modi and Canada's Justin Trudeau.

One delegate complained that the forum would now be "all about Trump". Another, an American financier called Mr Trump being at the forum "the height of hypocrisy". He related to me how Trump's people had turned down the chance for a special demonstration of VR technology during the president's visit because the running time of 18 minutes would be too long for his infamously short attention span.

This crowd will offer quite a bit of scorn for Mr Trump's intellectual style, rather the lack of it.

The halls have been filled with sometimes snide and dismissive whispered exchanges about him and who he will be meeting. It is not secret, however, that he is staying at the Intercontinental Hotel, about 3.5 kilometres from the congress centre.

That is an irritation to other guests given the traffic gridlock of trying to get to the meeting venue, meaning the snowy pavements will likely have a lot more people trudging along them. In a testament to the US president's entourage, there are not enough hotel rooms for all of them to stay in Davos.

I am told approximately half will lodge in Zurich which is a couple of hours away by car, traffic and weather dependent, and two and a half hours by train. There is always the option of a helicopter ride though, should the commute prove daunting.

Mr Trump is already scheduled to meet one on one with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu during the forum. There is some speculation that further individual discussions with national leaders could be slotted in.

The sizeable Arab presence offers plenty of options should Mr Trump be inclined to pick up the thread of the Jerusalem discussion while he is here, though that might distract from the very fact that his presence is the story he will most enjoy.