15 July 2010


The office of Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri issued a terse statement correcting a statement attributed to U.N. Special Envoy Michael Williams after being received at Government House. Williams reportedly stated that he had Syrian assurances about expected progress in drawing the borders between Lebanon and Syria, it announced. The Prime Minister said that such talk attributed to Mr. Williams could create public confusion on that question. To avoid such confusion, the Prime Minister's office confirmed that Lebanon deals with this question as a matter between two neighbour sisterly countries and that discussing it takes place away from statements to the media with a completely positive approach by the Lebanese and Syrian sides and within the wide level of joint interests between them. That is why it was necessary to issue this clarification? Issuing such a statement is unusual and indicates a blunt message to Mr. Williams, particularly that the Prime Minister's communications office made contacts to ensure the widest distribution.


Among the unnoted sentences by Michael Hastings, author of the Rolling Stones story that led to the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, outgoing commander of US/NATO troops in Afghanistan, was the following description of the General's entourage: "A hand-picked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs." Send in Demistura!


Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's enormous ego must be seething at what General David Patraeus had meant as a compliment. With so many reports circulating about the dismissal of the Special U.S. Envoy for AFPAK, the most influential General responded to a question reassuringly -- that he had a very good relationship with the civilian diplomat in the shadows. Mr. Holbrooke was "my wingman," he stated, and repeated for emphasis. Ouch.


"Esquire" magazine usually attracts readers by having lists of sexiest women or men, most impressive approaches, or most popular comments. This month the magazine listed "27 Women of Summer" from 1985 - 2010. While showing mainly attractive actresses and models, it had one sober -- or perhaps inspired -- moment by listing Hillary Clinton for 2008 "because she was the most powerful woman on Earth that summer when she ran for President and got 18 million votes. More to the point, it added that since then "as Secretary of State, she is still the most powerful woman on earth." Right on.


We know that our dear brother, Professor, Ambassador and Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, has been appointed to Darfur. It was over three months ago. Nothing has been heard of him or about him since. Reports by U.N. outlets, and a trickle of regional media news sometimes mention Envoy Bassoula, or mediation in Doha, Qatar, or even attacks on members of the mission. Not a word about our brilliant friend whose high stature, internationally and in Africa itself, is being eroded while he is sweating it out in El-Fasher. Come back, brother!


A confidential report from Mogadishu indicated that the Presidential guards of Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed Sharif rebelled on Saturday 19 June and closed the roads to Villa Somalia, the official residence. The President controls only that part of Somalia, and even that limited corner became blocked until the interference of African forces from Uganda and Burundi. No politics were involved. The guards had not received their salaries over the last 10 months and they claimed that the flow of funds from abroad is mainly diverted to politicians and that funds initially designated for them were used by the Finance Minister Sharif Hassan to get himself declared as the new Speaker of Parliament.


A curious interjection in The N.Y. Times: "The U.S. has discovered nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan, far beyond any previously known reserves and enough to fundamentally alter the Afghan economy and perhaps the Afghan war itself, according to senior American government officials." What does it mean?


When Demistura, known for using sons and son-in-law to obtain higher posts found his way to Afghanistan, we thought that there were no new tricks he could teach old Afghan warlords. But then he found his angle. After a period of silence about his activities since his appointment, an official communique proclaimed a visit to a worthy Non-Governmental Organization doing commendable work. It turned out to be financed by the Aga Khan, the venerated head of the Ismailya sect whose father used to be offered his weight in gold. His Excellency Karim Aga Khan IV is a generous and highly regarded humanitarian who supports worthy causes including the building of a congregation centre in London's Cromwell Road. He also happens to have a luxurious coastal resort for the jet set and very rich on Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, Italy. The Italian/Swede / Swede/Italian (as the circumstances warrant) will certainly be delighted to have an appreciative response, however private, for his public acknowledgement.


Saudi officials usually don't say much. They certainly don't issue background communiques. Decisions are expressed through a hint, very politely. Like a scheduled visit by Saudi Arab King Abdullah to France on 12 July. After a visit to Washington to join the G-20 meeting, the King went to Morocco, where, like many Saudi Royal, he maintains a private villa since the days of King Hassan. A few days before the appointment, it was announced that the visit will be "postponed," without giving another date. A Paris insider speculated that President Sarkozy may have persuaded King Abdullah that he will be the main guest of honor on France's national day 14 July with the traditional ceremonial parade on the Champs Elysee. However, it transpired that several others will also share that honour. Pissed off, to put it bluntly, the King cancelled, temporarily, until a newspaper close to the French President quoted the King as reportedly saying that two countries were not eligible to survive: Iran and Israel. Suspecting the French Presidential Palace behind the link, King Abdullah let it be known that having just visited Washington "where the real power is," there was no point in visiting Paris.


Former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Marrack Goulding, known generally as Mig passed away in England after a prolonged illness. He had succeeded Brian Urquhart after serving in the U.K. Foreign Office, particularly in the Middle East where he learned Arabic. He was entrusted by Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar with varied tasks in his field, including the establishment of a supervision mission between Iraq and Kuwait (UNIKOM) after the forced withdrawal of Iraqi troops. He accompanied the Secretary General in his political visits, offering valuable advice. Upon his retirement, he became an Oxford Don. His book "Peacemonger" about his experience received excellent reviews. May his soul rest in peace.


King Abdullah looked cheerful after a meeting with U.S. President Obama. As he received a group of Saudi expatriates in Washington, D.C., Saudi television showed him almost joking, royally of course, as he said he told his friends to pray "God save its life," adding that after they wondered whose life was wished to be prolonged, he quipped with one word, "Oil." As long as "oil" was alive and well handled within Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom will be in very good shape. Say "Inshallah."


Former Secretary General Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali was taken to a hospital in Paris around the end of June following complications from a dental operation. He was under elaborate examinations for about two weeks and is now back in Cairo to recuperate.


Prince Zeid Bin Raad, who had represented Jordan for a while at U.N. Headquarters, will be returning to New York by the opening of the General Assembly in September. He is currently serving as Jordan Ambassador in Washington, D.C.


A visit by the Prime Minister of Egypt, Dr. Ahmed Nazif, to Lebanon late June led to the signature of several cooperative agreements between the two countries. Relations between officials are at their best at all levels, as was displayed by the warm welcome Dr. Nazif received in Beirut not only by his counterpart bust also by the President of the Republic, the Speaker of Parliament. Lebanese watching television news bulletins noted that an elegant, pleasant, and effectively helpful woman dealt with substantive issues as Egypt's Minister of State for Foreign Economic Relations. She was our former colleague in New York, Fayza Aboulnaga who served Secretary General Dr. Boutros-Ghali with enlightened loyalty.


According to one theory mentioned by the New Yorker, a claim by a recently suspected Russian agent that he was from Quebec, Canada, may not have been a bad choice for a cover accent -- it is a more nasal and flat variety of French than the Parisian accent Americans are used to. It quoted the man's neighbour in Cambridge, Mass., who is a French teacher, saying: "I was thinking, that's strange, because I actually understood this person and I usually don't understand people from Montreal."


Thanks to a Japanese man who attempted to break through a hot dog contest on Coney Island's 4th of July competition, we discovered that there is an official group in New York entitled Eating Big League. You have to sign in to be allowed to compete. Otherwise, a determined outsider could risk being detained and charged with violating state rules. Perhaps someone should alert our Chef de Tandoori!


It may have been a slip of the tongue. Asha Rose Migiro was responding to Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press about candidates for the newly-created USG post on U.N. for Women. A country had proposed a candidate from another, she said, adding like the U.S. proposing her. Most likely she was referring to the current Adviser on Gender questions, Rachel Mayanja, an Ugandan nominated by Gabon. She may also be thinking of her own initial appointment to the post of Deputy Secretary General, which she herself had said on her personal web site had surprised her. Perhaps our friend Matt could double-check with Dr. Condoleezza Rice at her next piano concert in Philadelphia, 27 July.


One of the most popular members of the Lebanese government, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud, sought to show appreciation for a U.N. award offered to his ministry for effective public service, particularly a transparent running of the Parliamentary and municipal elections on time with minimum problems. Prime Minister Hariri and his immediate predecessor, Fuad Seniori, led a group of high-level officials who heard UNDP Resident Representative Martha Ruedas explain the significance of the award to the crowd. One of the youngest cabinet members, Mr. Bernoud truly deserved -- and appreciated -- the award. Ms. Ruedas represented the U.N. system brilliantly.


Opened last year on New York's Fifth Avenue with great fanfare, now the three floors look almost empty -- curious visitors are quickly approached by anxious salesmen or women. Shelves look untouched. The restaurant looks empty and the cafe has a clueless "bar maid" who takes her time to prepare a simple cappuccino. Giorgio Armani, as some may know, is one of those awarded the title of U.N. Ambassador with interest in Afghanistan where stargazer Demistura has finally found a niche. A recent visitor to France's southern beaches reported sighting Signore Armani in a small bikini with an inelegant bulge. We were told he is not feeling well. Perhaps a visit to Kabul may help.


"Why do you sit there like an envelope without any address on it?"
-- Mark Twain


For the second time in one month, thugs in Gaza -- masked armed men -- attacked an UNRWA/summer camp facility. About 250,000 (a quarter of a million) Palestinian children usually find recreation and education in these gatherings. They are a vital breath of fresh air -- and a sense of camaraderie -- amidst agonies of their daily life. However, some criminal bigots insist on destroying what is left of human dignity in Gaza by assaulting innocent helpless children. As Secretary General Ban stated, it is the responsibility of the de-facto authority in that unfairly awarded territory to combat any incitement against U.N. operations and ensure the safety of UNRWA and other U.N. personnel who are serving the most vulnerable people in Gaza. The de-facto authority cannot hide behind Israeli's occupation or siege. Bigots are unlawfully and criminally operating under its authority. It is its responsibility to bring those responsible to justice.


How do you become a charismatic leader? By eating ice cream and falafel. At least that is what Saudi-financed daily Asharq Alawsat described as "popular" acts by Palestinian Administrative Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In a prominent front page headline, a report from Ramallah stated that "Abu Mazen" actually went to "mix with the people" twice; he went to an ice cream shop and joined a crowd in a falafel joint to watch a World Cup game between the U.K. and Algeria. He visibly supported Algeria, the paper added, without regard to diplomatic niceties. Two outings in three years: one for ice cream and another for falafel. Now, that's sure proof of popular leadership.


Under-Secretary General Angela Kane made a successful visit to Lebanon in June. Having earned her rise through the ranks, Angela was very well received by the staff at the U.N. Regional Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and other members of the U.N. system. Staff felt she understood their concerns, having herself been in the field, and managers felt she understood their role, now that she is a senior manager at Headquarters, loyally implementing the Secretary General's guidelines. More importantly, she paid attention to political sensitivities, having held a key post as Assistant Secretary General in the Political Affairs Department. The point is mentioned because some senior visitors from Headquarters do not seem to have a clue about staff concerns or local sensitivities.


Once again, the Sudanese police did it. After arresting our former colleague in Khartoum Information Office for wearing jeans (considered a flagrant violation of police dress code), a group of young Sudanese men and women were arrested end June for arranging a fashion show. Although the costumes were typically Sudanese and very carefully covered the body from shoulder to toe, even a head cover for women, "ethics" police arrested about 20 for having no permission to stay beyond 11pm. Others were locked up merely for not asking permission to go out. Yet nothing was reported in The N.Y. Times nor The Washington Post. It seems the deal with Khartoum is on; Darfur, the Southern province, etc. Like in Myanmar, human rights issues have faded away into the sunset.


From a song at the Eurovision contest held recently in Norway by Baltic singer Aisha:
"I've asked my Uncle Joe
But he can't speak
Why does the wind still blow?
And blood still leak?
So many questions now
With no reply
What for do people live until they die?
Only God knows why
His phone today is out of range."


During a very hot and humid afternoon late June, the man was in full official uniform, dark suit and tie, white shirt, shiny shoes, making his way on Second Avenue. Somehow, he was nodding his head for no apparent reason with a faint smile on his face, possibly by habit of perpetual negotiations. Short-sleeved New Yorkers did not bother to know who he was and what his nowhere plans were as he drifted into 44th Street and disappeared somewhere inside a hotel lobby. Saeb Oreikat has been "Senior Negotiator" for the corruption-ridden Palestinian Administrative Authority for almost two decades. The more he negotiates, the more the Palestinian people suffer. Known amongst the Palestinians as a "buffoon," Oreikat seems to be mainly interested in political tourism: meetings to discuss the venue of the next meeting.


For about two decades, the World Cup was linked to the "Three Tenors." Maestros Luciano Paverotti, Placido Domingo, and Jose Carrera appeared together at the opening or finale closing with operatic opulence. "Vincero, vincero" reverberated all over the stadium, television, and radio stations of the world as teams celebrated victory or were consoled in defeat. This World Cup in South Africa was noted for the VuVuzela, a local plastic instrument popular with crowds from the host country. Many players initially objected that it pierced their ears and distracted their attention. Television viewers could hear its hum along with the referees whistle. In a way, the vuvuzela was South Africa's own "Vincero" in a sense that: "Look, we're here, we're independent, we beat Apartheid, we're free; the whole world has come to us, to recognize that we are one nation, alive and well." Isn't that what "Vincero" was about -- only more popular? Anyway, now that it's on TV, it may be coming soon to a bar near you.


Would you want to get points for being a nut? We got an email promoting a new web site selling nuts. We must have left our address somewhere in a "health nut" shop in Beirut during a visit. Now, a famous nut selling company, Rifai, decided to encourage us to order from its newly established site, aided with the help of Microsoft. The main attraction? If you earn enough "nut points," you will be rewarded by being designated a real nut. Talk about dialogue amongst cultures.


Actress Meryl Streep told female graduates of the selective Barnard College at their ceremony in June that she was known to be an expert in kissing on stage and on screen. Then she went on to elaborate: "One is obliged to do a great deal of kissing in my line of work. Air-kissing, ass-kissing, kissing-ups and, of course, actual kissing. Much like hookers, actors have to do it with people we may not like, or even know. We may have to do it with friends which, believe it or not, is particularly awkward -- for people of my generation, it's awkward."


* Your place or mine?
- Both. I go to my place and you go to yours.

I found nothing really wrong with the autobiography, except poor choice of subject.


French President George Clemancesa about Grand Marshall Jean-Jacques Joffre: "The only time he put up a fight in his life is when we asked him to resign."


Parguayan model Larissa was one of the most vocal supporters of her country's team to the World Cup. Whenever Paraguay played, the delicious brunette, famed for displaying intimate lingerie, would cheer with both arms in the air and full body throttle. After an unexpected victory over Italy, she was rooting for her team to get to the semi-finals. If Uruguay reached the finals, Larissa vowed she would totally undress in public. Alas, we were one game away from beholding the full thrust of Paraguay national treasure.


Some good news about the new book "Sweet Dates of Basra," by our creative and talented colleague Jessica Jiji. The first print which had two signing events is about sold out; the publisher put in a second printing. An Italian publisher has bought the rights and will publish it soon. There is interest from various publishers in Turkey, France, Germany, Croatia and Spain. The "Dates" seem to be bearing fruit.


After Nigeria was eliminated from the World Cup, a story circulated that the Nigerian goalkeeper has personally offered to refund all the expenses of fans who travelled to South Africa. He just needed to have their bank account details together with their PIN numbers the complete the transaction!


That's supposedly an "inside joke" by Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony and a pushy money seeker in her own right. It stands for Non-Resident Indian, a title she volunteered to take, as she accompanied a rich Indian businessman, Ray Loomba, to U.N. Headquarters. Like a number of individuals who now feel they could use their money to buy off U.N. related action, Loomba would like to commemorate the day of his father's death on 23 June 1954 (yes, 1954), by having it declared as International Widows Day. For that purpose, he brought along Cherie to lobby delegates. They have been dropping by various missions, apparently with some success. Bored diplomats duirng the slow month of June would be delighted to meet a woman with an impressive British accent, particularly that she sounds more flirtatious than she actually is.


When Nicolas Hayek introduced Swatch in 1983, the colourful lightweight watch spread world-wide. Born in Beirut, he moved to Switzerland as a young man and like many of his compatriots abroad, had to struggle his own way, by himself, to success. A down-to-earth businessman and instinctive promoter, he would carry three to four Swatches on each hand. Described by The N.Y. Times as a flamboyant figure with a roguish sense of humour, Nicolas Hayek was credited with reviving the Swiss watch industry when big names were threatened with bankruptcy. During the U.N. 50th Anniversary celebration, he volunteered a special Swatch issue. He bought a majority in a reorganized group: Societe de Microelectronique et d'Horlogerie, known as S.M.H. and turned it into a profitable venture, often joking that the initials stand for "Sa Majeste Hayek." He passed away in June. Condolences to his son, Nicolas Jr., his daughter Nayla, and the Hayek family.


When Portuguese writer Jose Saramago won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1998, he was credited with reviving international recognition of the Portuguese language. Brazilian writers like Jorge Amado considered it a victory for literary justice. The writer who developed his own narrative style selected his characters from his country's collective memory and from the realities of daily life. His first novel was in fact a reflection of his personal life: a young painter who abandoned his talent to face life's many challenges and became a writer. His fame came a bit late, while he reached his sixties. In his novel, "The Year Ricardo Reyes Died," he dwells on the nuanced history of his beloved city of Lisbon, particularly the impact of civil war in neighbouring Spain. Somehow, the inter-linkage between those two close yet different countries was part of his instinctive perception. He actually retired on the Spanish island of Lanzarote where he died last month.