I have heard a number of different interpretations concerning the formation of the G20 and its member states whose leaders met recently in Washington to address the global financial crisis. One person who spoke about this issue objected to the fact that Egypt was not invited to take part in the economic summit and I imagine that this viewpoint is shared in other Arab and regional countries that believe that Egypt had the right to participate.
Politics, as those involved in the political field know, has standards and objective circumstances for both small and large countries. As for the economy, its standards differ to politics. China, for example, which was recognized as a political and military power for half a century, was not recognized as an economic power until very recently.
Every country that attended the latest G20 summit in Washington has considerable economic influence. Saudi Arabia, for example, was not invited out of politeness. Rather, it was invited to the summit as it is an influential economic power whose cooperation is required. This is not to say that its strength is solely economic; however its government budget, even with the decline in oil prices, stands at US $120 billion whilst Egypt, the largest country in the region, has a budget that represents only one-third of this amount. The strategy that was followed surpassed politics; it was about external influence.
I explained to a friend recently that this matter must be looked at objectively. If the aim of the summit was to end the conflict in the Middle East, then there is no doubt that Egypt’s presence would be required because without it, there can be no peace. However, Saudi Arabia’s absence would not necessarily disrupt the peace process. This is the difference between solid power, such as military strength, and flexible power, such as economic strength, of which students of political science are well aware.
A significant part of the world economy depends on oil, which can make or break the markets. The world’s top oil-producing country is Saudi Arabia, and it is probably the one country that has the power to starve the world or inundate it with regards to oil, and accordingly influence the price of oil. If Saudi Arabia decided today to cut oil production from nine to three million barrels, then perhaps the world would be afflicted by a new crisis, in addition to the banking crisis which has plagued the world for quite some time now.
Therefore, the fact that the world’s top oil producer was invited to the G20 summit was not out of courtesy especially that the summit was aiming for coordination between the member states that were present. The G20 states were selected because they represent ninety percent of global gross national product, whilst trade between these 20 countries represents eighty percent of total world trade; it is important to remember that there are over one hundred and ninety countries in the world.
There was an important absentee from the G20 summit, and it was not Egypt or Algeria or any other one specific country; the absentee was the Arab world as a whole. The G20 summit revealed the fact that the Arab world is always preoccupied with politics at the expense of development. Most countries in the region regard political success as the most important goal, and the leaderships, which are responsible for this, determine the fate of their people, either choosing to make them powerful militarily, or to pursue domestic developments making them regional powers.
Do you remember the proposed Arab Common Market? If Arab governments had fulfilled their promises, established this market and turned towards economic unity, then today this organization would most certainly have been a member of the G20 just like the EU that has its own chair despite that some of its members, such as Britain, France, Germany and Italy, are members of the G20 independently.
We are not suffering from a financial crisis; we are suffering primarily from a crisis of leadership. There is shameful ignorance of the value of economic development and its impact on political success, both internally and externally. This failure has meant that countries are unable to progress, and sometimes unable to stop the process of deterioration even though the Arab world has the basic elements to become a great economic power and influence the world but only if it chooses to act as a single bloc and reject political infighting.