Friday was a strange day in Davos as the news of the death in the early hours of Friday of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia dominated the plenary sessions. King Abdullah of Jordan had left Davos as soon as he heard the news to attend the funeral that day, as did Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud and many others from the region.
Every political leader who spoke on Friday started with a message of respect to the king’s memory. French President Francois Hollande expressed the condolences of the French people and referred to the way the Saudis had supported France in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Al Abadi expressed his sorrow at the news. IMF chief Christine Lagarde paid her respects to the memory of King Abdullah adding that she appreciated his strong advocacy of women in society, even if he did this in a very discrete manner.
US Secretary of State John Kerry gave the condolences of the United States at the passing of a close ally and friend. He described how he valued his own meetings with King Abdullah over many years, going back to when as a young senator when he appreciated King Abdullah’s sincere and prescient efforts even then to promote interfaith dialogue and create better understanding between different peoples, through the creation of the on-going Arab Peace Initiative, which started life as the Abdullah Plan.
He referred to King Abdullah’s strong endorsement a few months of the anti-Daesh coalition in the Jeddah meeting, which was key to building today’s broad coalition in Iraq. “He made a special contribution,” said Kerry.
Liberal market thinking
Throughout the Annual Meeting continued, it has been remarkable how leaders from all sorts of countries use very similar language to describe their vision of how to take their countries forward. Despite a wide variety of political systems, they all say they embrace the importance of the rule of law, transparency, inclusivity in society, ending corruption, and the importance of education and training in marketable skills.
Earlier in the week, Premier Li Keqiang of China had used an elaborate Chinese metaphor when he said that “In a world of diverse civilizations, we need to coexist. The flowers of different civilizations make the garden of the human race.”
Switching to more accessible targets, he said that the Chinese government’s new strategy of “New Normal” requires social justice, reform of administration to make it both more accountable and transparent, and mass entrepreneurship.
On Friday Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi spoke of similar aims: inclusive government, rule of law, eliminating corruption and fraud, decentralized government which is more responsive to the needs of the people, and private public partnerships to take on some of the larger projects.
On Thursday Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had spoken of how he hoped to use Turkey’s chairmanship of the G20 to spread free market economics with a particular focus on the Low Income Developing Countries, and to encourage the role of women and young people in employment, and attack corruption.
Since Davutoglu spoke in Davos, he has returned to Turkey and has pressured four former ministers to go to court and answer charges of corruption. It has been reported that when a minister threatened him that his referral to the court will cause secret information to be "scattered about," Davutoglu gave the robust response that “if it is scattered, let it scatter.”
Iraq, Turkey and China are only three of the many countries that embrace liberal free market thinking and there are many more. But these three illustrate the very different political backgrounds that have adopted the new orthodoxy.
Iraq is almost in meltdown despite Al Abadi’s brave words, and his comments have to be taken more as aspirations rather than reality, but nonetheless they show which way the Iraqi government is trying to move.
China is a peculiar mix of an economy that is opening up in a political system that is firmly in the grip the Chinese Communist Party which manages events by a maintaining a strict control over all public and private sector appointments.
Turkey is the only genuine open market democracy of the three, but it is fighting its own demons as President Tayyip Erdogan moves alarmingly from his earlier heroic role as the democrat who tamed the army, to the political Islamist who seems to becoming a president for life as he shifts the constitution to his advantage.
The question which was not asked at Davos was how can such a variety of political systems handle free market economy and the transparent rule of law? The unspoken hope of the Davos audience is that as these economic forces bolster a strong middle class, it will become more difficult for tyrants and wayward systems to flourish. It is not at all clear that the visiting leaders agree.