This chapter was written for the World Economic Forum Arab summit meeting, held in Davos August 2002. I wrote the introduction to a volume of well-written chapters. But having perused them, I concluded that their authors had tiptoed around awkward political and social phenomena. My theme was twofold: after 9/11, war was coming to the region; and the US was in the midst of re-defining policy to the whole region away from indiscriminate support for dictatorships, towards a renewal of the drive for democratisation, interrupted by the creation of a theocratic state in Iran in 1979.
The Saudi representatives at the conference read the chapter by noon, went straight to Dr Klaus Schwab, the WEF chief executive, and said if the chapter was not withdrawn, their funding would be. Despite the fact that the chapter had been cleared through the usual academic procedures–I was assured that 8 readers had examined it–Dr. Schwab did what the Saudis asked. A flurry of speeches then accused me of waging “civilisational warfare” on the region, including the Secretary-General of the Arab League.I suggested a public debate. The Saudis categorically refused.
A number of lessons may be culled from this incident. First, people raised in dictatorships have difficulty in thinking clearly. This is a serious deficiency given modern conditions. Second, the WEF, if judged on this event, provides a venue for the rich and powerful to network, but is concerned not to upset them. Third, analysts like myself should never deviate from our task which is to tell it as we see it. If organisers want guff, they can invite scribes and diplomats. Fourth, a few months after the Iraq II war broke out, I was invited to an Arab meeting in Lebanon. Senior people from Saudi Arabia sat in the front row. An elegant apology, for which I thank them.