The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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George Abed Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

December 16, 2014


George Tewfic Abed was born in Jifna, Jordan in 1938. He grew up with seven siblings and attended private denominational schools, where he learned both Arabic and English. In 1955 he graduated from high school and began teaching mathematics and physics at St. George's School in Jerusalem. After two years there, he decided to continue his own education.

In 1958 Abed came to Oregon State College on a scholarship. He spent his first year staying at three different fraternities and studying Mechanical Engineering. By 1961, however, he had lost interest in engineering and began considering a career in law. With this new ambition in mind, he changed his major to General Social Science and completed his undergraduate degree in 1962. While at OSU, Abed was also very involved in student activities, serving as a member of the student Senate and the Memorial Union board of directors, participating in the Model United Nations, and becoming both the junior class president and OSU's first foreign-born student body president.

After graduating from Oregon State, Abed moved to Portland and spent a year working. In 1963 he resumed his studies in the University of Oregon's graduate program. While at Oregon, Abed came to realize that his passion lay in economics and he decided to relocate to California with his wife, Paula, and their first child to study at the University of California, Berkeley. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Economics in 1971.

After receiving his doctorate, Abed remained at Berkeley for a year to teach Economics. A year later, in 1973, he was offered a tenure-track position at California State University-Hayward, but he declined. Instead, Abed found employment with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an organization with which he was associated for more than two decades. Abed's first years of work with the IMF were hectic ones. He and his family spent the 1973 and 1974 oil crisis years in Beirut, Lebanon, during which time Abed led a policy-planning initiative based in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1975 the Lebanese civil war began and Abed and his family returned to the United States, settling in Washington, D.C.

Working at the IMF, Abed assisted Middle Eastern countries in discerning how to best to retain their oil revenues and use that money to develop their countries. Abed also supported various Palestinian social causes during this time. In 1977 he and a friend set up The Jerusalem Fund to help young Palestinians afford an education. Later, in 1983, Abed helped to found the Palestine Welfare Association (PWA) and in 1985, after a period of growth at PWA, Abed resigned from the IMF and moved to Geneva, Switzerland to focus full-time on the organization. The first Director General of the PWA, Abed remained in this position for eight years.

In 1993 Abed returned to the IMF and resumed his work in professional economics. In particular, Abed was tasked with coordinating the IMF's assistance to Palestine as it established an autonomous government. In 1997 Abed became the Deputy Director of the IMF's Fiscal Affairs Department, and in 2002 he was named Director of the Middle Eastern Department of the International Monetary Fund. Abed's career shifted again after the election of Mahmoud Abbas to the Palestinian Presidency in 2005, when he was asked to take over and improve the Palestine Monetary Authority. Abed subsequently became Governor and Chairman of the Palestine Money Authority and made significant improvements to the system in the three years that he worked there. Near the end of 2007, Abed abruptly resigned when one of his sons developed serious health problems.

Soon after Abed returned to the United States to care for his son, the 2008 financial crisis began. Abed involved himself in the search for solutions to the crisis by accepting a position as Senior Counselor and Director for Africa and the Middle East at the Institute of International Finance (IIF), the institution with which he remained affiliated at the time of this interview. At the IIF, Abed has worked as an advisor to the President and CEO, and has also directed activities of concern to the Middle East and Africa.