15 April 2011


It is the amount of money that reportedly was gathered by the family of outgoing Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. It is also the amount of the estimated national debt of Egypt.


Elizabeth Taylor, who died in March, used to arrive fashionably late -- about 15 minutes. Her funeral in Hollywood, attended overwhelmingly by anyone who could get in, was deliberately -- and fashionably -- 15 minutes later than originally scheduled. A saying by another fashionista, Andy Warhol, was that everyone was entitled to 15 minutes of wealth or fame. The "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" had it both ways -- in abundance. The famous 15 minutes were for admirers to catch their breath in her overwhelming presence.


For a while, Saif Al-Islam Qaddafi was introduced by paid Public Relation firms as a brilliant promising intellectual, an urban liberal seeking peaceful reform as he hobnobbed with the glitterati and literati while his brothers squabbled over percentage deals. With the unleashing of Qaddafi's mafia, he was quickly exposed as the thug that he really is. Still, Saif continued to claim he supported U.N. resolutions, giving it his own interpretation. As to his father, he insisted in another incoherent ramble that no one had been fired upon because there were no demonstrations; there was no ruler nor ruled because everyone is the People -- the only real democracy since ancient Athens.


Former General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Mikhail Gorbachev celebrated his 80th birthday at a star-studded luxury party held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, attended mainly by Hollywood celebrities like Sharon Stone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Spacey. He was serenaded by singers like Paul Anka, Shirley Bassey. Contributions were collected for a charity named after his departed wife Raisa. That celebration followed his repeated appearance in a paid commercial for Louis Vitton luggage while looking at the fallen Berlin Wall.


Sadly, Maher Nasser, who just got appointed to a D-2 post in UN/DPI has already disappointed many of those who thought that his new post will give him an opportunity to prove his competence and show some level of courtesy towards his colleagues. Obviously encouraged by lack of adequate supervision by his immediate boss, "Herr" Maher -- who arrived from Vienna -- behaves like someone full of himself, threatening his team rather than inspiring them or leading by example. Only a few weeks into the job and he acts as if he owns the whole Secretariat, challenging even the Secretary General. Perhaps he will need some on the job training at the Public Enquiries unit of the outreach before dealing with questions way beyond his limited scope. "Herr" may sound authoritative in German. But as he should know, despite renouncing his own culture, "Herr" in Arabic just means: "pussycat."


At times like these we remember our creative dedicated departed colleague Mahbub ul Haq who broke new international ground in conceiving and launching the landmark Human Development Report, who once remarkably stated: "Human Security is a child who did not die, a disease that did not spread, an ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissident who was not silenced, a human spirit that was not crushed."


"If we go into Libya, where does it stop? Do we go into Africa next?!"
U.S. Congressman Tom Marino -- Foreign Affairs Committee


Talk about Nicaraguan representation of Qaddafi's regime at the U.N. is contrary to Qaddafi's Libyan law. According to "giving the government to the people," no one could represent Libya anywhere except a Libyan citizen. No one can authorize use of Libyan funds except a Libyan. To whom funds are eventually given is another question.


For over thirty years, an underground tunnel linked the Presidential Palace in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire, with the residence of the French Ambassador. It was supposed to be an escape route for the first President of a newly formed country, Felix Houphouet Boigny, the staunchest pro-France leader in Africa. When Laurent Gbagbo -- a member of the Socialist Party while in Paris -- took over, and eventually suspected plots against him, he closed it with blocks of cement. When encircled by French troops and U.N. Peacekeepers, Gbagbo could have found it convenient if he had a backchannel, like a tunnel, to contact French diplomats. The grapevine has it that several other long-serving Francophone heads of state have regular discreet use of a special "la tunnel" -- until, of course, their time was up. Who's next?


According to a Wikileaks cable, a review by the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, the Saudi General in charge of military operations on the border with Yemen, indicated that President Ali Abdullah Saleh was not always accurate in giving his neighbouring allies targets for their airforce to attack. In one case, they hit a hospital. In a very revealing operation, Saudi pilots aborted a strike when "they sensed something was wrong" about the information they had received from the Yemeni counterpart. It turned out the site recommended to be hit was the Headquarters of Yemeni General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar, Northern area military commander. He is half brother of the beleaguered Yemeni President and a potential competitor of his two sons whom he had been grooming to succeed him. Plotting to kill his own brother? That's way beyond the bottom line.


"The Hen is the wisest of all the animal creation because she never cackles until AFTER the egg has been laid."
Abraham Lincoln


Dag Hammarskjold paid his first visit to the United Nations Emergency Force in the Gaza Strip at Christmas time in 1957. He flew in from Beirut in the UNEF Dakota, landing at "Gaza International," a grass strip that dissected the Israel-Gaza border. Bruce Stedman, who was Chief Administrative Officer of UNEE thought, with his colleagues, it a good thing if the S-G's first experience of UNEF would involve exposure to military field operations, so we took him directly from the plane to the headquarters of the Brazilian Company that was responsible for that sector of the demarcation line. Surrounded by local press and television reporters, the S-G was led to the company headquarters tent, where he was greeted by the Brazilian Captain in command and given a little talk about the Company, its duties, and how it fitted into the big UNEF picture, illustrated with a few maps and overlay charts. The Captain's English was all the more effective because it wasn't perfect but it was very clear, delivered with modesty but pride, and the S-G was quite touched. When the Captain finished his little lecture, he said, "Sir. As you know, we're from Brazil, and we think we have pretty good coffee. May I offer you a cup of Brazilian coffee?" Hammarskjold nodded his thanks while one Major Forrero, a brash fellow of small stature and liaison officer for the Colombian Battalion said, "Yes sir, Mr. Secretary-General. This is the second best coffee in the world, and when you visit the Colombian Battalion, I'm sure you will have the opportunity to tast our coffee, and see how it compares!" Hammarskjold nodded. And then one of the local newsman spoke up. "Well, Mr. Secretary-General, you are certainly familiar with the world-famous 'Arabic coffee' which is what we normally serve in these parts." Hammarskjold again smiled and nodded but said nothing. Then another representative of the media spoke: "May we ask, Mr. Secretary-General, which type of coffee you personally prefer?" After the slightest pause, the S-G replied, with a stronger than normal Swedish accent: "Vell, in my opinion, good coffee is like fine wines, each one suited to its own occasion." The sighs of pleasure and relief from the UNEF staff present were barely audible!
(Recounted by Bruce Stedman to AFICS, N.Y. Bulletin)



War does not determine who is right; only who's left.
Bertrand Russell


From "The Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens: "The mall was in its usual genial position that the guard suspected the passengers, the passengers suspected one another and the guard, they all suspected everybody else, and the coachman was sure of nothing but the horses; as to which cattle he could with a clear conscience have taken his oath on the two Testaments that they were not fit for the journey.


For three decades, certain Lebanese complained about interference of their Syrian neighbour in their political affairs. Just recently, certain Syrians started complaining about Lebanese interference in their political affairs.


After retirement, outgoing Director of Media Division Ahmad Fawzi has settled in the Hague, Netherlands, his wife's country of origin. His precious daughter Bella, our promising future media star, is already five years old and newly born Luna is five months. Their many friends have not been able to catch up since they had moved to visit various spots on their way to their homeward niche. Dynamic Ahmad will certainly be working on specific media projects after taking time to establish solid ground next door to the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court. He may indeed spread a jolly atmosphere of good humour amongst the terribly serious pillars of international jurisprudence.


"If you can't afford a doctor, go to an airport. You'll get a free x-ray, a breast exam; and -- if you mention Al-Qaeda, you'll get a free colonoscopy."


Our retired colleague, the always dependable Marian Awwad, spent some time recently in Vienna to be with her whole family, commemorating the passing of her husband. Her son Farris was with her. She will return back to her home in Florida early April. Her former colleagues hope she'll make a visit to her beloved Big Apple at least to enjoy new Broadway productions.


"A foreign correspondent is someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks that the most interesting thing about any story is that he has arrived in town."
Tom Stoppard


A quiet but substantive change in Lebanon: The Patriarch of the Maronite (Catholic) community, a basic pillar of the Lebanese structure for the last 25 years, Patriarch Cardinal Mar Nasrallah Sfeir, has resigned to give way to a new younger leadership. The assembled bishops elected their colleague Bishara Al-Rai as the new Patriarch. A priest from Mount Lebanon renowned for his impressive simplified teachings and his tireless outreach to the poor and marginalized in distant small villages, has been warmly and popularly welcomed. The new Patriarch is also known for his straight talk and his theme of "Partnership and Love;" partnership with others within Lebanon, the Lebanese abroad and in the wider Arab and international context. Having also worked at the Vatican, he has close links with the Holy See.


It is often repeated that a photo is worth a thousand words. It is appropriate sometimes to remind ourselves of the effective work done by the Photo Section, often an overlooked pillar of the Department of Public Information. In addition to personnel talent, new technology has been introduced to trace photos swiftly, place them on diskettes, and circulate them in time for media use. Despite a daunting demand, the task is effectively covered by experienced talented photographers like Evan Schneider and Eskinder Debeba, backed by the tireless and always helpful Freh Bekele at the Photo Library. Regardless of the career/reward which is a management question for their supervisors, we just wanted to let them know that their hard, dedicated work is appreciated. They should be proud of their professional role.


"Addressing global issues through documentaries" is a creative program between the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) and the Independent Filmmaker Project attempting to address global issues through documentaries. Its focus for the year 2011 is on eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. "Envision" is a documentary screening and discussion series that hopes to unite the filmmaking community, civil society organizations, journalists, public policy makers, NGOs, and the general public in the shared goal of hoping for a better world. A special event was held on Friday, 8 April, and Saturday, 9 April, at the Times Centre in mid-town Manhattan. Joanna Piucci, manager of the Creative Community Outreach Initiative at the U.N./DPI played an active role in planning and organizing the event.


In a retrospective review of the Jordanian press statues, a number of old timers in Amman recounted how editorials used to arrive at newspaper editorial offices straight from the Internal Security Service, suggesting the names that would sign them. Some enthusiastic volunteers would get paid, not very well but paid anyway, by the Service, chipping in some information about their other colleagues. One recounted that during a jolly evening when almost everyone got drunk, a reporter uttered sweeping remarks about the government and the whole political set-up. In the morning, he went straight to the Security headquarters and reported his own remarks explaining he wished to make sure they got the accurate version before any of the others present would provide a misleading one.


Asked what she wished as her epitaph, the most experienced reporter in the world, Helen Thomas, 91, who had covered TEN U.S. Presidents from a White House front seat, told Playboy magazine recently: "Why?", adding: "It's always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered...The truth is, I don't hate anybody. I care deeply about people. I care for the poor, the lame, the sick, the harmed, those who've been treated unjustly. I always cared about what happened in the world...we have to care about our fellow man, and we don't. Somehow we've lost that sense. It's become almost sin to care. But we are all God's children. Right?"


Why tell almost everything to a few people when you can say nothing to almost everyone.
Jerry Seinfeld


Those whom I fight I do not hate
Those whom I guard I do not love.
William Butler Yeats


"Stephane Hessel" is a well known name among those with U.N.'s institutional memory. He is an experienced diplomat, effective advocate of the right causes, and was a pillar of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Quai d'Orsay. He regularly came from Paris to attend the U.N. General Assembly sessions, making sure to move around, shaking hands with other delegations, repeating 'Fidel au poste' on the opening day. When he officially retired, Stephane did not give up on his beliefs or his active role in support of freedom and human dignity. Advanced age did not stop him from always finding a platform or venue to speak out. He is persistently very active with civil society and outspoken on every public forum available. His most recent venture, at the age of 93, was an unconventional book with an equally unconventional publisher titled "Indignez-Vous," "Be Indignant." It is a thin, impressionalistic pamphlet urging young people to revive the ideal of resistance by peacefully resisting the 'international dictatorship of the financial market' and defending the 'values of modern democracy.' In particular, Hessel protests France's treatment of illegal immigrants, the influence on the media by the rich, cuts to the social welfare system, French educational reforms, and, most strongly, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Hessel's inspiration for writing the book was an accident, inspired by a speech he gave in 2008 to commemorate the Resistance. "Be Indignant" translated into Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Greek, has sold 1.5 million copies since its publication in October 2010. Editors are planning to translate it into Slovenian, Korean, Japanese, Swedish, and other languages. The books has been criticized, notably by Prime Minister Francois Fillon, for offering no prescription for action. It has also been faulted for being 'anti-Semitic' because of its disapproval of the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Hessel refutes this condemnation by reminding the public he is of Jewish origin and accordingly supports the establishment of a Jewish state. In the Paris suburb, Montreuil, Hessel stated: "My love for Israel is stronger than yours. But I want it to be an honest country." Most recently, Hessel released a spin-off to "Be Indignant" titled "Get Involved." He appeals to his readers to save the environment, embrace the positive, and emphasizes the importance of good luck in life. "Luck can always intervene...I've been tremendously lucky. I went through things that turned out wrong, and I got myself out of them. So I project this luck on to history. History can bring luck: this is what we can call optimism."