Saudi Arabia’s ‘Davos of the Desert’ Economic Conference Draws Powerful Crowd

CAIRO – Saudi Arabia has been hosting more than 300 of the world’s political and economic leaders at its three-day “Davos in the Desert” conference, which is focusing on investments, infrastructure and technology for the future of the kingdom.

Saudi-owned media touted the economic gathering in Riyadh, which its chairman says has become “one of the top three such gatherings in the world.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry and President Donald Trump’s influential son-in-law Jared Kushner were in attendance, while some international figures are expected to address the conference via satellite-link.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdel Aziz Bin Salman told the gathering the long-expected IPO for Saudi oil-giant Aramco would take place when Saudi leaders determined it was the right time to do so.

Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV reported the IPO, according to its sources, would take place in December.

Jordan’s King Abdallah II told the gathering’s opening session that investing in the future of the Arab world and its youth is a wise move:

“The future starts here, in this region, with this talented, creative and forward-looking youth, 70% of our population. Their innovation knows no bounds, their energy knows no limits and their potential is so full of promise. You can find them all across the Arab world, from the Atlantic Ocean to the Arabian Gulf, and here in Saudi Arabia, you will find an eager youth cohort, ready to play their part, but incentivized by a leadership that speaks their language.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also addressed the conference, vaunting India’s expected growth in the coming years and its attractive business environment.

Modi said India is aiming for a $5-trillion economy in the next five years and is becoming a startup hub, from research and development to tech enterprise. He said it the world’s third largest startup ecosystem, and it is doing well in sectors from hospitality and medical treatment to tourism. Infrastructure, Modi emphasizes, is an opportunity multiplier.

Brazilian President Jair Balsonaro, also due to speak, told Arab media his country was a good place to invest.

He said Brazil has truly changed, and the facts and figures of the economy are evidence of that change. More and more countries, he said, want to do business with Brazil, which stands with open arms to ensure that business opportunities take place via agreements and partnerships that allow everyone to win.

Saudi economic adviser Majed Soueigh told Saudi state TV the kingdom was hoping to take advantage of the Riyadh conference “to help propel its economy into the new, non-oil future, amid ongoing initiatives to improve non-oil sectors of the economy, including tourism and various economic projects now being undertaken.”

Theodore Karasik, Washington-based Gulf analyst, told VOA the conference is “successfully moving Saudi Arabia’s agenda forward,” especially in the areas of “investment and future strategies, despite dissenting voices.”

Karasik underscores the gathering also “demonstrates that Africa is a key part of the kingdom’s future.”

Source: Voice of America