The recent visit to Athens of Egyptian President el-Sisi and the flurry of announcements and press releases regarding the strengthened cooperation between Greece and Egypt reminded me of an incident that took place during my first weeks as a member of the IMF Executive Board.
I joined the Board in January 2012 as an Alternate Executive Director and my first undertaking was to introduce myself to other Board members. One of the first to visit was Mr. Shakour Shaalan, Executive Director for Egypt and another 12 major countries in the Middle East, including Jordan, Syria, Libya, Lebanon and Iraq. Mr. Shaalan was also the Dean of the Board, i.e. the longest serving Executive Director ( Mr. Shaalan retired in 2014 after a 53-year career in the Fund as both a staff and a Board member; currently the Dean is the ED for Russia, Mr. Aleksei Mozhin).
After we exchanged the requisite pleasantries, I got up to leave and Mr. Shaalan graciously accompanied me to the front door of his office suite. He thanked me for the visit, patted me on the back and said:
“Thanos, let me share a secret with you”.
“Yes, Mr. Shaalan”.
“Thanos, I want you to know that Egypt and my constituency will always support Greece…”
“Thank you, Mr. Shaalan…”
“…but let me share a secret with you : “
I looked him in the eyes and he continued:
” Greece does not belong in the Eurozone; Greece belongs in the Arab League!”.
For the next year or so, wherever I would run into him–the IMF hallways, the Board room, other functions– Mr. Shaalan would repeat the phrase lest I forget: “Remember, Greece belongs in the Arab League!”
I don’t know if Mr. Shaalan will prove clairvoyant, but the recent strengthening of diplomatic and economic relations with Egypt is clearly a step in the right direction by the Syriza government given the precarious position of Greece in the Eurozone.