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Key figures line up for Arab economic summit

Egyptian traders work in the Cairo Stock Exchange Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian traders work in the Cairo Stock Exchange Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

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The upcoming Arab Economic Social and Development Summit has been hailed as a “major achievement” by a senior figure at the Arab League. On 9 September, the Arab Times reported that Minister Plenipotentiary Abdel-Latif Al-Awadhi, chief of the Arab League’s news section in the media and communication sector, told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA) that preparations are well advanced and that the summit should spur Arab nations to seek greater Arab economic unity. At an evening ceremony thrown by the Egyptian-Kuwaiti Friendship Society (EKFS) on 7 September, former Egyptian Prime Minister Ali Lotfi, who is the chairman of the EKFS, added his support to the forum. Emphasising the significance of the summit, Lotfi said he hoped it would generate resolutions and recommendations that could lead to greater Arab economic integration, KUNA reported.

The summit, to be held from 19–20 January 2009, will be the first meeting by heads of state of the 22-member Arab League to focus solely on economic and social issues. The pressures of globalisation make the summit particularly timely.

“The Arab world will not witness substantial development in various spheres without [...] success in the efforts for bolstering economic cooperation and integration among the Arab countries,” Kuwaiti Finance Minister Mustafa Al-Shimali told KUNA.

At a July press conference, Dr. Ahmad Goweili, the Secretary General for the Council of Arab Economic Unity (CAEU) said that the summit would focus on accelerating Arab economic integration, establishing a system to help the transportation of energy and goods in the Arab world and finding solutions for problems facing Arab education, health, employment, and food and water security. Goweili also noted that the upcoming summit would look into the establishment of an Arab customs services federation, a joint Arab market, and a unified Arab currency, reported.

CAEU was established on 30 May 1964 to implement the Arab Economic Unity Agreement, ratified in 1957 by 12 countries with the goal of achieving complete economic unity among member states. The CAEU has 11 members: Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Mauritania, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen (which was two countries when the agreement was signed) and Palestine.

In August, Kuwaiti officials suggested that the summit would focus primarily on Arab economic integration. Undersecretary of the Kuwaiti Ministry of Finance Khalifa Hamada told KUNA that up to 300 draft projects have been submitted by Arab cabinets and specialized organisations to the Arab League Secretariat. Many of them deal with pan-Arab ambitions in linking the region via power grids, railway networks and super highways.

Al-Shimali said that the Arab Economic Social and Development Summit will be a milestone in the pursuit of economic integration among the Arab countries, the Arab Times reported.

“The summit will tackle the aggravation of poverty and unemployment and the deterioration of living conditions in the Arab world, besides boosting modest trade,” Al-Shimali told reporters after a preparatory meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo in August, according to the Arab Times.

He told reporters that the summit will seek to encourage the private sectors of Arab countries to play greater roles in the region’s economic development, in addition to the development of human resources. He also said the private sector — as the mainstay of economic development — has to invest heavily in large projects in order to contribute to the fight against poverty and unemployment across the region.