WASHINGTON: The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, said Friday that the lender stood ready to offer financial support to Arab countries like Egypt and Tunisia if they ask for it.
"We’re here to help," Strauss-Kahn said at a conference on the Middle East and North Africa at IMF headquarters in Washington.
In Egypt and Tunisia, where revolutions have toppled longtime strongmen, revenue from sectors such as tourism may be less this year than last year, the IMF managing director said.
The IMF "has learned lessons" from the recent political unrest in the region, he said.
The 187-nation institution created more than 60 years ago acts as a lender of last resort when member countries have nowhere to turn for financing, he said.
But now "we have to go beyond" looking at the macroeconomic picture and find ways to help build healthy economies.
"We will be on the side of the people who tried to have things go forward."
Still, he said, economic growth is vital in the battle for social justice and job creation.
"We can together build a better future for these countries. And that’s not only important for Egypt and Tunisia, it’s important for the whole world because this example is an example that is going to have a lot of consequences," he said.
The IMF was tasked Thursday to provide an economic assessment of North African economies ravaged by unrest as part of an international financial aid initiative initially focused on Egypt and Tunisia.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will lead the team of multinational banks that includes the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.
Strauss-Kahn insisted that the IMF does not pressure a country to borrow.
"We’re not bankers looking for customers," he said. "We’re not coming from outside like an economic dictator saying that’s what you have to do."
Strauss-Kahn, a former Socalist Party French finance minister who has helmed the IMF since 2007, emphasized the need for measures that promote macroeconomic stability.
"For a democratic revolution, wherever it is, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Latin America… it’s easy, after, to say okay we’re going to spend a lot of money, we’re going to subsidize a lot of people," he said.
"If Arab revolutions are to be milestones in history, and I believe it can be the case, then I believe the success relies on building democratic institutions, and also labor organizations," he added.
Sitting on the same panel discussion was the new head of Tunisia’s central bank, Mustapha Nabli, who spoke in broad terms about whether the new transitional government would seek an IMF loan.
"The question is not if you need financing. Any financing can be good and can be bad. That’s the way you use it. You can have corruption, you can have mismanagement," Nabli said.
"That’s why the democratic process is so important," he added. "It’s not an easy ride that we’re going to go through."
Tunisia’s justice minister announced Thursday that toppled president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali faces 18 charges, including murder and drug trafficking.
Tunisians will vote July 24 for a national constituent assembly that will develop a new constitution.