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The Middle East is perceived by most of the world as one, generally tumultuous, region. Yet, from inside the region-even subtracting Israel-one quickly sees a multitude of viewpoints, often in sharp contrast with one another.

This became quickly evident during the recent Networking '95 conference in Dubai, which was co-sponsored by the local chapter of the International Advertising Association.

There are several such regional IAA conferences during a given year; this month, the Budapest chapter of the IAA is hosting the East Meets West conference. However, every two years IAA holds its World Conference, and it's obviously a great honor for a city to be granted the opportunity to host the event. Last year it was held in Cancun, Mexico. Next year it'll be in Seoul.

In June, in Zurich, the 70 corporate members of the IAA will choose the site of the 1998 World Congress, and the politicking is in full swing.

As fate would have it-or, most likely, a reflection of the growing emergence of the area-two Middle Eastern cities, Dubai and Cairo, are bidding for the conference, which generally attracts about 2,000 IAA delegates from around the world. During last month's Dubai meeting, delegations from both cities never lost a moment's opportunity to petition IAA voters-or just espouse their case to anyone within earshot.

Representatives from both countries claimed the support of their respective leaders-Sheikh Hasher Maktoum in Dubai and President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. In Dubai, a remarkably sophisticated international city sprinkled with construction cranes throughout, the talk was a planned convention center with all the bells and whistles-and simultaneous transmission facilities.

In Cairo, proponents spoke of the massive world population conference held here-without mishap-last year, and the assortment of tourist sights to attract the international advertising community.

The petitioners, however, didn't stop with their glowing reports on their respective cities. They were also quick to point out the negatives of their opponents' cities. At times, when representatives from both cities sat at the same dinner table, the arguments became quite heated. Those of us who were refraining from voicing opinions-or had none-eagerly changed the subject.

Richard Corner, executive director of New York-based IAA, repeatedly explained that he had to remain impartial. "I'm keeping a Sphinx-like face," he said until he realized his minor faux pas. "Oh no, I didn't say that."

No matter what the final outcome of the vote, the competition for the IAA World Congress serves to underline the fact that two or more countries in the Middle East can indeed be worlds apart.

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