C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02
RIYADH PLEASE PASS TO DHAHRAN, DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP ANDNEA/IPA
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/10/2014
TAGS: ECON, KWBG, PGOV, SA, SOCI
SUBJECT: JEDDAH ECONOMIC FORUM "POSTPONEMENT" -— RIVALRYAND A JEDDAH INSTITUTION HEADING DOWNHILL
REF: JEDDAH 00013
Classified By: CG Martin R. Quinn for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
- (C) Summary: On Friday, January 9, Saudi press carriedannouncements of the Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF)’spostponement for 3-4 months although contacts now indicatethat the event may not happen at all. Connection with Gazaviolence has been cited as a factor (although it may be onlya convenient excuse) while competition between rival Jeddahorganizations and possible official displeasure with lastyear’s JEF are likely the real reasons. Jeddah businesscommunity contacts speculate that JEF may be on its lastlegs, losing out in prominence to Riyadh’s GlobalCompetitiveness Forum.
- (U) KSA papers announced January 9 that the February 14-1710th Jeddah Economic Forum (JEF) has been "postponed by threeto four months," according to Jeddah Chamber of Commerce andIndustry (JCCI) Secretary General Mustafa Sabri, "as we havenot received government permission." Sabri, in January 8press conference, "denied that the postponement had anythingto do with the global financial crisis."
DELAY OF OFFICIAL PERMISSION
- (U) Speaking on condition of anonymity, another JCCImember was cited as stating that aside from the delay ingetting the official permission, two other factors wereresponsible for the postponement:--(1) the impact of the global financial crisis on some forthe event sponsors and co-sponsors as well as exhibitors;--(2) hesitation on the part of speakers and participants totravel within the region due to the ongoing Israeli war inGaza.
- (U) Yet another businessman, quoted in the press, said theJEF’s original scheduling came too close to the GlobalCompetitiveness Forum (Riyadh, January 25-27) and indicatedthat they needed to be staggered "and so the JEF has to bepostponed."
- (C) Sami Behrawi, chairman of JEF, told post that hecannot now say whether the JEF is definitely off or merelypostponed. In a vote by the Jeddah Marketing Board (JMB)last week the majority favored postponing the JEF. Behrawicommented that approvals used to come automatically, but thisyear the procedure was changed to require government approvalbefore guests were even approached. Last year there had beensome official displeasure with the Forum. Businessman AmrKhashoggi concurred, suggesting that the delay in approvalmeans that the government doesn’t want the Forum to happen.
"BROTHEL" ATMOSPHERE AND MIXING OF GENDERS AT THE JEF
- (C) January 11 Al Madina Arabic daily quoted a SAGlicensing official warning that if JEF organizers failed totake into account "instructions of concerned authorities,"the Forum would be closed down. This veiled threat alludesto past complaints from religious conservatives that the 2008JEF allowed opportunities not only for women to attend (manydid, sitting in a separate section) but for men and women to"mix indecently, laugh and flirt in public," creating a"brothel" atmosphere. When some women went for coffee in thelobby reception area between sessions of the 2008 Forum, anumber of men disapproved of their "mingling." At the timeJCCI Chairman Saleh Al Turki was criticized for allowing such"prostitution" and "moral corruption" to occur on the holysoil of Saudi Arabia.
- (C) Behrawi said he did not think the global financialcrisis was a factor in the decision since already SR 20million ($5.3 million) had been collected from sponsors.Asked whether the money would be returned to sponsors ordonated to the Palestinians in Gaza, Behrawi said there wouldhave to be another vote on that question depending on whetherthe JEF is ultimately postponed or cancelled altogether.With regard to money for the Gazans, January 10 papersannounced that the JCCI has donated SR 2 million ($533K) andthe JCCI Chairman Saleh Al Turki has donated SR 1 million($267K) from his own pocket.
TENSION BETWEEN JEDDAH CHAMBER AND MARKETING BOARD
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- (C) The vice president of the PR agency for JEF, Sara AlAyed, said she was not surprised at the cancellation sincethe JCCI and JMB have been feuding among themselves and thatserious organizational steps simply were not taken. Shevolunteered that the Global Competitiveness Forum in Riyadhhad become the new economic highlightin the Kingdom and thatJEF was "dying if not aleady dead." According to anothersource the peronal tension between Salh Al Turki (JCCI) andSai Behrawi (JMB) has become palpable, creating greaawkwardness when both are present in the same rom.
- (C) A resident Amcit ecoomist, not privy to theserivalries, favors the view that the Saudi Arabian Governmentis simply not ready for the JEF to happen early in the yearand, with its large cash surplus, the SAG prefers not to beboxed into a corner with foreign entreaties for financialassistance before it determines where exactly the globaleconomy is headed.
JEF ON THE DOWNSLIDE?
- (C) Comment: It is increasingly doubtful that the JeddahEconomic Forum will happen this year while the link with Gazaviolence looks more like a convenient excuse. The JEF hitits peak in 2004, nearly five years ago, when Amr Dabbagh --now Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) head-- was the JEF chairman. Since then, JEF has had threechairmen and is perceived to be going downhill as a result oforganizational squabbling. Under Dabbagh’s leadershipRiyadh’s Global Competitiveness Forum is moving to theforefront. As current JEF chairman Behrawi remarkedbitterly, "Amr Dabbagh never has to apply for permits; he caninvite whomever he likes without checking with anyone."