15 July 2012


Now that it transpired that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was having sex parties in Paris, London, and Washington, D.C. when he was Executive Director of the World Bank Group, the question arises who knew about those events, when and where? A repeated accusation indicates that he referred to participating women as "equipment" in his correspondence but that will certainly not cover up what was happening in hotel rooms while the man was entrusted to handle a deteriorating financial crisis. What will be of interest, then, is to know who decided to out the shameless DSK and why? It is not only merely a question relating to French presidential politics. Some sources certainly knew the vulnerability of the man when he was selected as the financial leader of the international community. Was a vulnerable person purposely appointed in order to keep him under control or otherwise expose him when he becomes an inconvenient nuisance? Are there other examples elsewhere within the U.N. Galaxy?!


Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson and Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman were "sworn in" by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday 29 June so that they could take over officially as of 1 July. The former General Assembly President and Swedish Foreign Minister who is very familiar with New York, has already found his residence a block away. The U.S. diplomat with Middle East connections is exploring potential locations. Both are fairly experienced personalities, with enough baggage to spread around a few controversies; but that may make life very interesting for some Asians advocating a "new culture" -- whatever that means -- like Mr. Kim, who is likely to find out how "interesting" the new few years will turn out to be. As the Chinese saying goes..."You live in interesting times."


After five months in his post as Special U.N. Coordinator for Lebanon, Sir Derek Plumbly gave a wide-ranging interview to diplomatic reporter of Beirut daily As-Safir, Marlene Khalifeh. He spoke in Arabic, which he had learned as an aspiring diplomat at the Lebanese mountainous school Shemlan. His accent is naturally affected by his marriage to an Egyptian intellectual whom he had met during his earlier posting as a British diplomat in Cairo. Responding credibly to politically delicate questions at a very difficult period, he highlighted respect for Lebanon's sovereignty as a U.N. priority, the success of the Lebanese army in performing its constitutional role guarding the integrity of the country, and the interest of the U.N. in averting illegal flow of arms. He indicated that the U.N. was assisting the Ministry of the Interior in preparing for the forthcoming Parliamentary elections. He reflected an interest by the International Community to protect Lebanon from repercussions of neighbouring conflicts and support ongoing dialogue proposed by the President of the Republic. He had met all components of the national political scene, including Hezbollah representatives, with the same advice: productive collaboration and a dialogue process. Asked about U.N. reports on UNIFIL role, Sir Derek spoke of a continued effort to maintain a generally stable situation in the South and productive efforts to have positive co-ordinating meetings, while carefully watching the situation to avoid potential threats. On the recent visit by former Secretary-General Annan to Beirut, he indicated its purpose was not to make specific requests from Lebanon, but to give an indication of the current situation. No one wanted to see instability in that country, he said, but recent sectarian clashes, especially in the North, call for serious handling to avoid potentially serious risks. The interview was well-received as indicated by the newspaper, listing it among the most popular items by readers of that day, Wednesday, 13 May. That was a welcome move by a U.N. senior envoy, particularly as his unpopular predecessor hardly bothered to deal with local media.


Montenegro National Day on Wednesday, 11 July, was a welcome occasion for diplomats still hanging around New York to have a cool drink and salute others in the same corner. It seemed different for those from newly-created states that fragmented from former Yugoslavia. Delegates from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia, et al, seemed to gather together remembering the good old days when as a unified group they commanded the attention of the rest of member states. They were speaking the same language. All that was missing was a joint drunken song, which would have been forthcoming if the party extended further.


"You shouldn't allow the Euro crisis to turn into exclusively Greek drama" or drachma, as that nation's currently was formerly known. While other countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal are ? as similarly vulnerable, Lord Byron's most favoured Isles seem to capture the dramatic financial headlines. One side controversy involved the always elegant and often eloquent Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She was overheard admonishing wealthy Greeks to stop evading taxes and pay their dues. A number of Hellenic enthusiasts were very offended. So were some very poor Athenians, mainly as a question of honour and reputation. Anyway, spearheading the assault on the French lady was the point that while Ms. Lagarde urged others to pay taxes, she -- as head of IMF -- did not pay anything on her $551,700 annual salary.


Even in worst times, Egyptians were always ready to create jokes about their situation. "We were told that if any of the two Presidential candidates win, he'll send the other to jail. Let's hope both win!" On the close relations between candidate Ahmed Shafik as Air Force General like the former President, they commented: "We dazzled the world by kicking Mubarak out the door; we'll dazzle the world by bringing him back through the window." Another wondered: "Why did Mubarak have to fabricate the elections; the people are doing precisely what he wants." On the Moslem Brotherhood candidate, if he won, his oath of office will be: "I swear by Almighty God to respect the Constitution (if available), maintain the Republic regime (when there is a regime), and look after the interests of the people (as long as it did not conflict with those of Moslem Brotherhood)." Another would have the "General Guide" of the Brotherhood faxing the Egyptian people: "Thanks to your collaborative understanding and obvious stupidity." It was also commented that the Brotherhood Presidential campaign team prevented their candidate Morsi, who totally lacks any charisma, from watching himself on TV; otherwise, he'd vote for the competitor. A young attractive woman wearing a tight T-shirt has an imprint on her ample chest saying: "We'll never see those anymore."



Former U.N. General Assembly President Ali Treki, who was a long-time Qaddafi envoy and sometime Foreign Minister, told Al-Hayat that when his boss threw out the U.N. Charter from the rostrum, he hid his face in shame. In five installments, Treki claimed he never knew Qaddifi's family well, except Saif El-Islam, and that he never delivered full texts of Qaddafi messages to heads of state that informed them he thought they were agents and imperialist lackeys. On the King of Kings of Africa, Treki said the idea was proposed by a visitor from Cote d'Ivoire. He recounted a story about Central Africa's dictator Bokassa, who imprisoned a U.N. statistical expert when he told him his country's population was 3 million; he insisted on ten million to release the expert. Treki recounts a meeting with Kenya's leader Jomo Kenyatta, who had been denied drinking water for six months during his captivity as a liberation fighter; he was offered nothing but whisky and liquor to turn him into an alcoholic. While meeting him as President of Kenya, Treki arrived in a small private plane, which his host, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Odinga wanted to take. "We'll give you an airline ticket, but leave your plane here," the Minister instructed. Treki got out of it by suggesting that he needs to travel to other African countries but will send it to Nairobi after his tour.


All of us knew her as Joe. She would have been shocked if you called her Josephine. She was the Personnel and Budget expert in the Executive Office of the U.N. Department of Public Information. But there was more to her than meets the documents. She was at her best when offering help. Down to earth, practical, semi-conspiratorial help. Joe Chenier was our professional friend. Ask Joe and she would first size you up, think a bit, smile a bit -- then tell it like it is. For years she had consecutive Executive Officers; they came and left, she stayed. She worked well with all of them -- discreet, respectful, and professional. She kept her private life to herself, but she was available to give advice to anyone who would ask. While doing very serious work, Joe Chenier gave the clear impression that she had a warm heart. And she had that winning smile. That made all the difference. May her soul rest in peace.


One of the happiest moments is when you note successful progress of someone who had once worked with you as a young aspiring international civil servant advance to take a senior post. It is with special pride that we report that Wolfgang Weisbrod-Weber who came from Germany 28 years ago to start his U.N. career was appointed as of Friday, 15 June, as the Special Rep of the Secretary General and head of the U.N. Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Having worked in Peacekeeping and Political Affairs, both at Headquarters and in field operations, he is certainly qualified for his new assignment. He will no doubt handle it with the same dedication and effectiveness that he did his previous assignment. Bravo and Good Luck.


One of the most expensive villas in the Los Angeles, California region belongs to Gabriel Nguema Obiang, son of long-serving President of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, who almost bought an international award from UNESCO. His garage alone, with all sorts of very expense cars, from Rolls Royce to Maserati, was worth a display on several websites. His income was reported to be from his salary as Minister of Tourism and Forestry in his country, though he spent much of his time on the U.S. West Coast. That huge income from selling concessions to cut down trees is likely to increase much more now that favourite son Gabriel was just appointed minister of Oil, Mines and Energy. Some California oil companies most likely would look after one or two more Lamborghinis, and a couple of Rolls -- all in a business day's work. That may also entail an extension from the Malibu villa to either Beverly Hills or Santa Monica, depending on his sunset of preference.


When former Cote d'Ivoire President (and his wife Simone) refused to leave the official residence for newly-elected -- and internationally recognized -- Alassane Ouattara, his actions at the time led to placing him for trial at the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Usually well-informed African diplomats are saying that there were ongoing negotiations with President Luis Moreno-Ocampo, which may result in having him released on bail in return for some required information. If so, he would reportedly take temporary residence in Uganda. How would its President, Museveni, handle the situation -- or use his new guest -- remains to be seen.


People in tragic conditions habitually find some relief in farcical comments. Since the start of the Syrian bloody conflict, the name of Rami Makhlouf, President Bashar Al-Assad's cousin and main business beneficiary, became a lightening rod not only for rebellious groups pointing at corruption, but potential supporters who felt that the young man who used to accept limited donations has turned too greedy to accept anything less than millions of $$. Those who feel that President Bashar and his wife Asma are as much victims as the rest of those living in Damascus point to the thugs determined to run the regime to a total breakdown, like the Makhloufs, Bashar's brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, and younger brother Maher. The popular comment by middle class Syrians is that everyone by now is either a "Makhlouf" or "Mukhalef," a word play meaning opponent.


-- From Al Hayat


There was that famous scene in "When Harry Met Sally" at a delicatessen when Meg Ryan loudly fakes an orgasm and an elderly lady customer tells the waiter: "I'll have what she's having." There was also a memorable scene in "Sleepless in Seattle" when Tom Hanks was trying to make his way to the top of the Empire State Building in time to meet his mysterious date. Nora Ephron was a talented New Yorker who combined humour with down-to-earth daily life. An intellectual and pragmatist, she was a perceptive woman whose courage in confronting her own problems gained her friends and admirers, not only for her talented work, but also for her gracious elegant way of life. She managed to turn a potentially humiliating affair between her then-husband, Carl Berstein, and the wife of a British Ambassador in Washington into a romantic commentary; played by Jack Nicolson, the cheating husband seemed pathetic without being degraded, and the wife smelled like roses. Nora Ephron died 26 June at age 71. Her outstanding talent and warm intelligent personality will be missed, particularly by fellow New Yorkers.


European soccer championship on Sunday, 1 July, was decided by most sports commentators, from BBC to ESPN, as the best ever. David Silva's super goal displayed the outstanding teamwork of superb players. While Italian players deserved to leave with their heads held high, precision triangles by those wearing Spain's colours were almost impossible to resist. Sometimes passes were intercepted, but repeated regularly over 94 minutes, those triangles carried the spirit of a closely bonded group of individuals, who not only played well but lived up to their sports collaborative effort. Teamwork won again. Spain won again, for the third time in a row. Europeans everywhere from Kiev to Warsaw to Athens and, of course, Rome and Madrid, skipped almost everything to watch. Even in New York, with the time difference, a number of families walked up Third Avenue draped in Spain's flag. What a great honour.


Those watching closely the soccer match between Portugal and Spain noted how upset Ronaldo was at his team's loss at the penalty hits. Apparently, he had hoped to be the fifth striker but that was ? as the formidable Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas, better known as Saint Iker in Madrid, managed to defend his nets against the previous four. The Portuguese star was seen muttering to himself. Would that explain his detour in Kiev airport from the rest of his team to enjoy a "Cinnabon" -- a U.S. syndicated sticky dessert loaded with cinnamon and honey? His coach did not realize the absence until the plane took off. Ronaldo, who, like Casillas, plays for Real Madrid and has a gorgeous Spanish girlfriend, took his time waiting for another flight to Lisbon. Incidentally, after winning the European Championship against Italy, Spain's Casillas gave a special interview immediately to reporter Sara Carbonero, then sealed it with a loving kiss. She's his girlfriend.


During these turbulent times in the Arab region, helpless innocent people resort to comparative sarcasm. What is the difference between Heaven and Hell? Heaven is having a Lebanese meal, UAE citizenship, Jordanian security, Egyptian tourism, a Palestinian neighbour, Saudi taxation (zero), and a Qatari salary. Hell is having a UAE meal, Lebanese passport, Palestinian security, Qatari tourism, a Saudi neighbor, Jordanian taxation (maximum) and a Syrian salary.


"Democracy is like a street car. When you reach your stop, you get off."
-- Recep Tayyip Erdogan


After instinctively going for the Arabic sound of the French Prime Minister's name, we noted another similarity in English, only on a different level. Perhaps because of the financial crisis, it was an opportunity for one paper to point out that "Ayro" -- as pronounced in French -- could sound like "A Euro." Let's hope he has more strength and better staying prospects.


An honourary degree given recently by the American University of Beirut to U.S./Lebanese educator Donna Shalala, starting a controversy amongst some alumni and faculty. Their objection is based on a claim that Ms. Shalala, now President of the University of Miami, Florida, habitually ignored her roots and catered more to influential pro-Israeli power groups in America. Beirut daily Al-Akhar reflected that position with a rhetorical question: "Can AUB find only those complicit with Zionism to honour?" The University President Peter Dorman, who was born in Beirut, responded with a message to all alumni, listing among former honorees prominent supporters of the Palestinian cause like Professor Edward Said, Professor Walid Khalidi, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Helen Thomas, Anthony Shadid, Mary Robinson, among others. "Our campus is a precious and protected space where differences of opinion do and must exist in a context of mutual respect," he said, adding that he will be meeting with a delegation of faculty members who will be presenting a petition of disagreement. He also indicated that the Board of Trustees was asked to review the process of vetting candidates for honorary degrees. Ms. Shalala, whose family originally came from the Lebanese mountainous region of Beqaa, did not respond to the controversy. If anything, the former Clinton Secretary for Higher Education may find in the controversy in Beirut what may help her in Miami Beach.


How do you make a hamburger? The old traditional way is out. Gimmicks are in. It started with a $35 burger in a New York brasserie, which became the most popular amongst visitors from Westchester, Greenwich, and beyond. The difference, we were told, was in the special way it was barbequed and -- more to the price -- the foie gras added to give it a European -- say French -- angle. Also, the French fries were said to be -- well -- French, that is, with a touch of garlic and herbs. Now a new problem is facing the "high-level" burger. The state of California will be banning foie gras by August. Not to worry. The newer new angle is more organic. The cows have been appropriately massaged, some actually in Kobe, Japan, to allow for an uncontested outcome. Would you think that stopped persistent reservations?


As it is impossible to persuade a Finance Ministry that a residence in the Hamptons would recharge diplomatic batteries, many delegates started looking into their telephone lists to explore any friends they may have with any Hamptons' connection. Some retired Secretariat colleagues who bought pristine homes there are being refreshed by phone calls enquiring about their health. One advantage a diplomat has compared to any other friend, is the definite availability of transport, and a plate to show around. Otherwise, the Hampton Jitney or Luxury Hampton, or even the Long Island Railroad would do. Others who prefer to stay in HHH New York would claim they like it that way because the emptied city belongs to them.


"The cook keeps yelling throughout the morning, while the eggs are actually delivered by the chicken."
-- Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister


For those in the stock market, it would stand for Food. In street-smart talk it may mean otherwise. But for anyone with knowledge of cars, it would indicate a design by a master: Sergio Pininfarina, or Farina, for short. You would notice it if you ever looked at a Lamborghini, Ferrari, or Maserati, or one of those classic Alfa Romeos. He did one design for the U.S. Cadillac in 1991, Allante, and that was it. He combined sleek elegance and functional performance. When he died at age 85 in July, mourners at his factory in Cambiano, Italy, commemorated his life by displaying the best of his designs.