Saturday, January 28, 2006

Davos: Happiness, Hamas, Egypt, Ayman

I couldn't resist playing with my tiny Philips Key019 camera at Davos, and posted several little clips on the Newsweek site. I was at the annual World Economic Forum get-together at the little Swiss ski resort from Tuesday to Saturday. The first 48 hours were relatively light-hearted, and I had a pleasant drive up the mountain with the extraordinary French Buddhist-monk-photographer-author Matthieu Ricard. But on Thursday, news of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections hit Davos like an avalanche, shaking confident judgments and burying conventional wisdom. Of course, there were some upbeat distractions, like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but the mood generally was somber. On Friday I had an an off-the-cuff dialogue with readers about what was happening in Davos and around the world.
One of the more interesting interviews I recorded was with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, whom I'd gotten to know a little bit over the years, starting when he was telecoms minister. A technocrat, Nazif is a great deal more candid than most Arab politicians. He made several interesting points about Hamas, the Egyptian economy, the Egyptian elections, and the persecution -- I use the word advisedly -- of my old friend Ayman Nour, who dared to challenge Hosni Mubarak in the presidential elections last year and is now serving a five-year jail sentence. Nazif said he wishes the Nour case had never happened. I wish Nazif and the president he serves would make it end right now by releasing Ayman from jail. The move would be good for Ayman, and good for Egypt. In any case, the special pleading about Egypt's independent courts is completely unconvincing. Egyptian authorities regularly gather dirt on their rivals -- and sometimes manufacture it. They then keep the dossiers at hand, ready to toss them to the courts like garbage to a Nile crocodile, whenever they want to make a point.
The WEF people asked me to moderate a panel on Islam and extremism, which was on the record (the WEF minutes of the session are on the Web). The other session I moderated was a dinner to examine the challenges of Palestinian statehood. It filled up fast once the news broke about Hamas, and the discussion offered a fascinating overview of first takes on the situation. Unfortunately, the dinner was off the record, but you can get a sense of the debate's parameters from the Islam session, the Nazif interview, and a video clip of Tel Aviv University president Itamar Rabinovich.

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