All smiles at the World Government Summit, eventually, as government secret is shared

Summits come, summits go. But the World Government Summit looks as though it’s here to stay. It’s the fourth year for the glittering gathering at the Madinat Jumeirah and each year has grown impressively in terms of size, importance of the attendees, and quality of news coming out of the event.

“The Dubai Davos”, one of the organisers called it yesterday, only half-flippantly, and it sums up the sheer ambition of the event. The World Economic Forum annual meeting in Switzerland has had 46 years to get to where it is now, the often imitated but seldom rivalled highlight of the global forum scene. Where will the WGS be in 42 years’ time?

On the eve of the three-day gathering a media get-together was held in the splendid Magnolia restaurant in Madinat Jumeirah. Even the grumpiest sceptics among the press and broadcasting corps appeared to be won over by the sheer glam of it all.


Many were intrigued by the tease delivered by Mohammed Al Gergawi, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs, who told us that the ultimate challenge for governments was “how to create a happy society” before he hinted that there would be a major reshaping of the UAE government structure forthcoming. There was more teasing to come. Sultan bin Sulayem, chairman of the ports group DP World and one of the summit sponsors, gave an exciting speech about the summit’s coming attractions, without mentioning the fact that the following day he would be taking over the chief executive job at DPW. He could have let us in on the secret.

The opening day followed the successful formula of its Alpine rival: grand set piece “plenary” events, around which revolved smaller but no less stimulating side-events where you could get to physical grips with the big themes of the summit: the fut­ure (exemplified by the Museum of the Future display floating above the Madinat lake), youth empowerment, technological advance, government innovation.

But again, it was hard to please some of the media there. As the day wore on, there was little in the way of hard news from the event. A hack from one of the big international agencies moaned: “We’ve had four people here all day and we’ve produced four lines of copy, one each.”

The day was on a slow fuse, I have to admit, but then the agenda had always suggested it would gather pace later in the evening, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was due to tweet the main announcement – the government restructuring heralded the previous night.

This is how media events will be in the future: a crowd of journalists gathered around looking at their smartphones waiting for the screen to refresh with a fresh tweet.

Eventually, the big news broke – about the creation of a new Ministry for Happiness – and the previous day’s hints and nudges all made sense.

I bet the wire hacks, who had left by then wished they had hung around after all. They missed one of the biggest UAE stories of the year: the most radical shake-up of government in the country’s 44-year history.

But the WGS imitated Davos in another, rather more negative way too.

An increasing trend at the Alpine resort is for attendees of the big on-stage events to spend most of their time not listening at all to the glittering array of speakers on show for them. Instead they are nose-glued to their smartphones.

This was even more the case in the mobile-mad UAE. The organ­isers should do something about that.

fkane@thenational.ae

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