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World: Economic Forum Discusses Global Anger And The Last Superpower

  • Robert McMahon

The World Economic Forum wrestled with issues such as prosperity, poverty, and terrorism on its second day of meetings in New York on 1 February. A panel featuring a top Arab diplomat, a Central European president, and the chief executive of a famous U.S. company debated the issue of global anger and explored why the United States arouses the greatest passions of any country.

New York, 4 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- It is a time when terrorism dominates national security agendas and global trade meetings regularly brace for violent protests. So an annual gathering of world leaders has devoted more attention than usual to what unleashes such anger.

The World Economic Forum, meeting in New York, continued debates on 1 February over the root causes of some of the violence that rocked the world in the past year.

The first and most obvious cause repeatedly cited by a panel of experts is the growing gap between rich and poor and the resentment this breeds. But the developed world hasn't yet responded meaningfully to the worsening situation in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, said panelist Amr Moussa, an Egyptian diplomat and secretary-general of the League of Arab States.

"Such a situation breeds agitation all over the world. People don't feel that the so-called new international order is really helping them or serving them. Added to that, when we know that two-thirds of the world's population is poor and hungry, (we must realize) those two-thirds are really angry," Moussa said.

The danger of this mounting sense of exclusion was also cited by Kumi Naidoo, a South African who heads a civil society group known as Civicus, USA. He told the panel there is an absence of institutions on a global level that can deal with the impact of converging cultural, political, social, and economic issues.

Naidoo said disillusionment is also rising in developed countries, where long-standing democratic traditions have started to erode. This is breeding anger among rich citizens as well, he said.

"Increasingly, there is a sense that citizens' voices don't actually matter. This is captured in increasingly low voter turnouts, lack of confidence in public institutions [and] the fact that more than 50 percent of the people in the world are women but women continue to be marginalized from the public space," Naidoo said.

The panel shared the belief that the United States arouses the greatest passions worldwide, both negative and positive.

One unfortunate image it conveys is of an aloof, uncaring giant, said Zaki Laidi, a senior research fellow at the Centre D'Etudes et de Recherches International, a French think tank. Laidi said this is nurtured by the enormous influence of Washington on international affairs but its reluctant to engage in multilateral environmental accords or support an international criminal court.

"This imperialist power is regarded as I would call a parochial superpower. A power who is influencing the world but whose own population doesn't have a real interest in the world and, in a sense, it's deeply resented," Laidi said.

Laidi said resentments intensified in some areas because of the way the United States has pursued its war on terrorism since the attacks of 11 September. But he said that while U.S. policy generates anger in parts of the world, the United States is also widely admired.

Egypt's Moussa, who is critical of U.S. support for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians, also sees a wide respect for U.S. accomplishments. He said Americans should not interpret anger in the Arab world as jealousy of U.S. achievements but as a reaction to government policy.

"I believe there is a global admiration for the United States -- the way of life, the culture, the movies, the products. But there is a deep difference with the United States' policies in so many regions that creates real anger and frustration and agitation," Moussa said.

Moussa said there was solidarity with the United States among Arab leaders after the terrorist attacks, but this support has weakened over what he called "biased" U.S. policies in the Middle East.

Another panelist, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, defended U.S. actions since 11 September. He said they have reflected a fundamental change in engagement with the rest of the world.

Kwasniewski said that despite the desire in Europe to assert greater independence from the United States in institutions like NATO, U.S. leadership will remain indispensable.

"We want to have in NATO [a] much stronger European factor, but if we start to discuss how this European factor must be, we [realize] that America must play the crucial role because we are not ready to pay, not ready to organize, not ready to take this responsibility on our side," Kwasniewski said.

The chief executive officer of the worldwide fast-food restaurant McDonald's spoke out against what he called distorted reports of international backlash against multinational corporations. Jack Greenberg said McDonald's restaurants have remained enormously popular worldwide despite coming under attack in some antiglobalization protests.

"Businesses like ours were a target, and yet when you watch how people live every day in terms of what their needs are they behave very differently," Greenberg said. "That doesn't suggest that there aren't real issues, but it does suggest that the dialogue about them and trying to get to real solutions, to get to the core of what government, business, non-governmental organizations can do to resolve them gets lost in that kind of activity."

But Greenberg agreed with other panelists' comments that global businesses have an obligation to be socially responsible to the communities in which they reside.

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