Jihad Azour: Director of the IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department

Washington – In parallel with the 2017 Spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, the new director of the IMF Middle East and Central Asia Department and Lebanon’s former Finance Minister Jihad Azour will unveil a report on the economies in the Middle East, tackling challenges and threats facing the region, as well as the expected growth rates for 2017.

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF appointed Azour as the new IMF director of the Middle East and Central Asia, replacing Masood Ahmed who left the Fund in October.

Azour served as Lebanon’s Finance Minister from 2005-2008 and held a wide range of posts in the private sector.

In an interview with Asharq al-Awsat, Azour talks about efforts to expand the scope of cooperation between the IMF and the Arab region, as well as the means to face geopolitical challenges to implement urgent economic reforms.

The former finance minister holds a PhD in International Finance and a post-graduate degree in International Economics and Finance from the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris.

Asked about the main challenges in his new role, Azour said: “The Middle East region is going through an important phase, as changes over the past five years happened swiftly.”

“Since the financial crisis to this day, many transformations occurred and affected a number of countries; citizens felt the need for a clearer vision and the translation of their ambitions into reality,” he stated.

Azour stressed that his deep knowledge in the Middle East would help him convey the right message to officials that difficult reforms are less costly than stalling their implementation.

“My mission is to create an expanded a common platform for cooperation between the region and the Fund,” he added.

“Prosperity cannot be established without stability,” Azour said, noting in this regard that a country’s government, political forces and the public sector should assume the responsibility of promoting stability and attracting foreign investments.

Asked about the chances of achieving economic development in the region, the former finance minister said: “Some countries have a growth rate ranging between 3 to 5 percent, and such rates are not enough to receive newcomers into the job market.”

He explained that such situation would force the government to become the main employer.

“Consequently, one of the missions of the Fund is to enable the region to become an active partner, allow it to benefit from economic transformations in the world, and protect it from lurking threats,” Azour said.

He added that the IMF was assisting war-stricken countries in preserving their institutions, such as central banks and ministries.

He noted that IMF projects include Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as countries affected by the region’s crises, including Lebanon and Jordan.

On the second of May, the IMF will issue its annual report on the Regional Economic Outlook in the Middle East and Central Asia in 2017.

Azour said the report would be announced from Dubai and would update growth rates for 2017 as well as expectations of the upcoming challenges and changes in the region’s economies.