An Egyptian gift
The upcoming IMF and World Bank meetings in Dubai were originally planned for Cairo. Ahmed M Abushadi* comments
Thousands of senior monetary and financial officials from 184 countries will descend upon Dubai in mid- September together with countless bankers, journalists and other big spenders. The occasion: the joint annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank Group.
The week-long events, which start 17 September 2003, are an important aspect in directing global financial and monetary stability, while for the host country they generate international prestige as well as tens of millions of dollars in local revenues.
The meetings are attended by economy and finance ministers and central bank governors representing countries ranging between industrialised economic powerhouses and debt-ridden developing countries. In the past, up to 15,000 participants have attended such meetings, and this is anticipated to be the largest yet.
Originally, the much-coveted meetings were slated to take place in Cairo, following an all-out lobbying effort by Egyptian tourism and monetary officials. The shift to Dubai, which had been the runner up after Cairo, occurred just hours before the Executive Board of the IMF had been expected to approve the selection of Cairo as the chosen venue for the 2003 meetings.
The vote was scheduled following an extensive review of the proposed meeting facilities and other amenities available at each of the competing locations. A draft decision submitted for the Board's vote concluded that Cairo was preferable to Dubai.
However, Abdel-Shakour Shaalan, who was representing Egypt before the IMF, received a telephone call from his superiors in Egypt only hours before the vote advising him to withdraw Cairo's candidacy in favour of Dubai. Mr Shaalan was told that the decision came as a result of contacts at the highest level between the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is an autonomous member, and Egypt.
The official agenda for the Dubai meetings includes ministerial meetings of the so-called G-10 (group of the world's 10 richest nations), and the G-24, a ministerial- level committee designed to look after the interests of developing countries. Some issues then continue on to the Monetary and Financial Committee, the highest decision-making body for the IMF, and the Development Committee, which is closely involved with the World Bank.
The intense meetings conclude with a two-day session of the Joint Boards of Governors of the IMF and the World Bank Group, the legislatures of the two institutions. Representatives of scores of countries are invited to present their views and proposals regarding international economic and financial developments.
The heads of both the IMF and World Bank participate as well as the entire membership of the Executive Boards of the two institutions. More than 1,000 journalists cover the weighty deliberations focussing on the health of the global economy. Furthermore, the IMF releases at the onset of the meetings the long-awaited World Economic Outlook, a report that analyses recent trends in painstaking detail and forecasts the expected future behaviour of the global economy.
Separate from the official conferences, and behind closed doors, the occasion is ripe with high-power meetings between the world's financial movers and shakers representing both the public and private sectors. Hundreds of senior bankers and other financiers are travelling to Dubai for the week, many arriving in their own executive jets.
Leaders of both the IMF and the World Bank Group are also at hand with their senior aides to discuss pressing national matters with representatives of various countries. In recent years, representatives of non- governmental groups opposing IMF and World Bank policies have targeted these meetings as a major occasion to air their views to anyone who would listen.
Ironically, when for the first time these important meetings are held in the Middle East region, the host is minuscule Dubai, a relative newcomer on the international scene, rather than one of the founding members of the IMF and World Bank. Of the Arab countries, only Egypt and Iraq were at the Bretton Woods conference which established the IMF and World Bank in 1944.
The news that the World Bank and IMF meetings were to take place in Dubai rather than Cairo came as a sharp disappointment to the Egyptian tourism trade. In hopes of giving a boost to the ailing industry, several leading companies had invested heavily to promote Cairo as the optimal selection.
For the tourism industry, the conference's location in Dubai is not a complete loss. Many travellers to the meetings are planning to stop over in Egypt en route to or from Dubai, to see tourist sites or relax at coastal resorts.
For the Egyptian monetary authorities, however, it will be far more difficult for Cairo to try to host the meetings again any time soon, now that they are being held in an Arab country in 2003. Within the Bretton Woods institutions, the annual meetings are held outside of Washington only every three years. It could take at least a decade before Egypt can launch a serious bid to host the meetings it has inexplicably turned down.
* The writer is a journalist and former senior press officer at the IMF.