JEDDAH – Is the Jeddah Economic Forum dead?Amr Enany, who was chairman of the Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) for two successful years from 2005, thinks that could very well be likely for several reasons.
The annual JEF, held in January-February every year since its launch in 2000, and hailed as “Jeddah’s Davos”, was suddenly put off this year. Last week, JEF chairman Sami Bahrawi was relieved of his post in a top-level shuffle at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which also saw JCCI chairman Saleh Al-Turki losing his job.
While there is talk that JEF is now scheduled to be held in April, signs are that it’s just wishful thinking.“Is the forum still alive or dead?” Enany repeated the question, and desisted from a direct answer.“Most importantly,” he said, “we now have another great forum, the Global Competitiveness Forum which is another Jeddah Economic Forum but in a new mantle.” He was referring to the Riyadh event in late January that had several international business bigwigs, including the CEOs of Airbus and Nissan, and even Olympics stars Michael Phelps and Carl Lewis as speakers – all not surprising considering that Amr Dabbagh, the founding chairman of JEF is now the force behind the Global Competitiveness Forum as the head of its organizer, Saudi Arabia General Investment Authority (SAGIA).
Enany told Saudi Gazette/Okaz that what has happened to JEF “resembles what is happening in Gaza, despite the difference in some aspects.”“There is an agenda for killing the forum,” he said, “and in fact these efforts have succeeded in aborting the forum.”
When asked about the JCCI board’s promise of holding JEF in April, he replied, “We are making a mockery of Jeddah’s people by saying that the forum would be held after three months.” He said JCCI’s announcement of the postponement of the forum last month for want of a license to convene it, was “astonishing.”“Is it possible that they were not aware of this matter? There are questions that need to be answered.”Enany has good reason to be disappointed, given the effort he had put in to enhance JEF’s long standing as Saudi Arabia’s premium business networking event.He recalled how Jeddah had first taken the initiative to institutionalize a different concept for forums.
“In fact the credit goes to Amr Al-Dabbagh for this. During his time, the JCCI board enjoyed a singular team spirit. There were no conflicts, no power struggle. It was a harmonious and integrated team, a nice atmosphere for work in the interest of Jeddah.
“Now, after these conflicts have surfaced, the Jeddah Economic Forum is made the scapegoat – instead of celebrating its 10th anniversary, people are talking about postponing it. Really very sad.”So what now for JEF?“The question should be, are there any changes? I expected an organizational structure, not just one individual. “Whoever takes over and discards what was achieved by his predecessors – just for the sake of change – would never make the JEF a success.
On the contrary, he should base his plans on what was done in the past. This is voluntary work.“If there is a hidden agenda, then it will definitely affect the work. The board started off in a manner that I can’t even describe. I’m speaking about my experience when the problems started, during the time of Abdullah Al-Muallimi (who was JCCI chairman before Saleh Al-Turki).
“At that time I had apologized and bowed out because I could not involve myself in voluntary work in such an atmosphere. So they joined hands with Al-Muallimi. They were expected to support the man when he was faced with certain circumstances and deal with him with high values and ethics. They should have respected the circumstances he was going through. “But the campaign that was launched – I don’t want to utter the word – was unethical. It is the irony of the century that this can happen in Jeddah’s Chamber.”
Today there are several forums in the region competing with JEF. “Dubai is the pioneer, having 300 conferences a year. But I must say that the Global Competitiveness Forum is professionally organized, considering its huge success and the progress it has achieved. It is more of a matter of quality than quantity. “By all standards Jeddah’s forum had reached a global level.
The seventh JEF was addressed by five presidents in office, which had only happened in Davos until then. This achievement had placed Jeddah’s forum on the global map. There was live media coverage to 25 countries. “We could have built on what we had inherited. Instead, those who came after us ruined everything – the sessions were cut from 45 to 6 and the speakers from 140 to 20.”All said, would he volunteer again and head JEF?Enany said he would always willingly serve his country in any capacity.
“But I have no idea of the stage the current organizers have reached for the next forum. There are several questions. Are the speakers ready? Does the new date suit them? Are certain arrangements made?”He didn’t give a clear reply but said it would take him at least one year to organize a forum of the standard JEF deserves. – Okaz/SG