1 July 2013


(Yes, The New Yorker)


When Iraq's Permanent Representative Hamid Al-Bayati received instructions in May to return to Baghdad without delay, he swiftly surveyed the list of available posts listed at un.org on vacancy announcements by the Office of Human Resources Management. We were reliably told that he focused on one particular vacancy: the post of Assistant Secretary General in charge of Terrorism in collaboration with the Security Council. The post is under the overall supervision of the Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, a Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and former Ambassador to Lebanon. While Bayati may have worked closely with U.S. and other permanent members of the Council, anyone familiar with the Middle East knows very well Bayati's real background...and underground!


Egyptians continue to deal with their current political crisis by sarcasm. The target remains President Mohammed Morsi. After he once hinted that he had worked for NASA in the U.S., youth groups went around collecting signatures on a petition to elect President Morsi as the first Egyptian to rocket to outer space. The most recent logo carrying a photo of President Morsi had one repeated word: "Mafish" -- in Egyptian, it means "Not Available" -- Mafish Benzine; Mafish work; Mafish Guy; Mafish production; Mafish finance. It concluded by greeting "the first Mafish civilian President of Egypt."


During the Taksim Square protest in Istanbul, the Turkish media was generally subdued while foreign correspondents had a field day reporting from varied angles. Except, apparently CNN, that was accused by the opposition of repeating Prime Minister Erdogan's position. "CNN penguins" was the shouted accusation. Yet CNN was accused by Mr. Erdogan in a speech as part of a conspiracy to agitate against him. Reuters and The Guardian were also accused, as about 60 reporters were imprisoned according to Reporters Without Borders. Guess which mainstream international daily was exceptionally well-treated by the emerging Sultan with utmost deference, and why?


The famous song by John Lennon has been fully exploited for a long while by artists, speakers and politicians, even business groups. This year at the Cannes Film Festival, a food catering company used it to highlight its artistic link. Yet unsure of the identity of its potential customers, whether British/American visitors or French hosts, the company opted for a safe edge. It added a "z" in a different colour as it paraded through the Croisette, with a driver from Liverpool assisted by a woman from Asia whose "Flench" needed some polish.


"During two days at the Cannes Film Festival, you bump into everyone you had tried to avoid all year."
-- Sir Peter Ustinov


"Mosques are our barracks,
Minarets are our bayonets
True believers are our army."
-- Recep Tayyip Erdogan



"Sunnis could count on America;
Shiites could count on Russia;
Atheists have no one but God!"
-- Lebanese satirical artist Ziad Rahbani


When the Members of the Security Council close business, anyone wanting anything from the cafeteria is out of luck if the meeting ends after 4pm. Isn't the cafeteria supposedly there to service the staff whose work, at least officially, extends till 5pm while often way beyond? Why is this new "greener" United Nations depending on vending machines - all disposable junk. What about the Delegates Lounge? What will their policy be? More on that later...


"This much of His will make black white; foul fair; wrong right; base noble; old young; coward valiant."
-- William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens


Hebrews it!


Albert (known as "Bert") Koenders (Netherlands), who was at Cote d'Ivoire for two years, was moved as a Special Envoy to the newly-established mission in Mali (Multi-dimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali -- to be known briefly as MINUSMA!). He was succeeded by Ms. Achafou Mindoudou Sovleymane of Niger (Mali's neighbour) who was serving as Deputy Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Sudan (known briefly as UNAMID). Haile Menkarious (an Eritrean with a South African passport), who is currently Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, will additionally be the new head of the U.N. office to the African Union (UNOAU). The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on...


(Barrons 20 May 2013)


When a number of diplomats were invited by the Ambassador of the Netherlands a couple of months ago to a test bike ride between the U.N. compound and his residence, most participants thought it was just for fun. By mid-May, however, there were bike stations not only around 1st Avenue but throughout Manhattan. While a number of bicycle enthusiasts and green revolutionaries thought it was an appropriate wake-up call, some diplomats did not take it as cheerfully, particularly that most of them are of a "certain age" and by now are accustomed to travelling in their limos accompanied by Security. More to the point is that the imposed bike stations were previously allocated for diplomatic parking. For example, two buildings on 47th Street and Second Avenue have been surrounded by these new stations. Upset diplomats, however, need not count on sympathy from New Yorkers who have a different perspective. It's a process in progress. Let's see who blinks first. At issue are certain practices to which everyone must adapt - cyclists have to adhere to traffic lights and car drivers will need to respect designated bike lanes. Both have to be cautious when opening doors or trying to beat traffic or cut corners.


Former colleague Marian Awwad is now moving between her retirement base in Orlando, Florida; to Denver, where her younger son Lawrence is newly-located; and New Jersey. Marian was instrumental when at the Department of Public Information in highlighting issues like Human Rights, Women's Day, and human development. She wrote much of the literature which became publicly available at the time. We keep nudging Marian to write again on "issues." Let's hope she does, sometime soon.


It is unusual to have a former underground fighter become a U.N. staffer, but that was the case of Raymond Aubrac, who passed away this April. Most of his U.N. colleagues attending intra-agency meetings did not realize that the courteous thoughtful Raymond Aubrac of FAO was an effective underground fighter in France during the German occupation during World War II. Only when he retired did he and his wife receive the honors and recognition they deserved. He never bragged about his heroic role, including an armed escape from a German prison arranged by his wife and other resistance. Aubrac was his assumed family name. He was born Raymond Samuel in Vesoul, France, studied engineering and law and continued his studies at MIT and Harvard. His wife Lucie Bernard joined him in the resistance, settled in Lyon and founded Liberation Sud, an underground network of resistance fighters operating in southern France. They also founded the underground newspaper, "Liberation" . His parents died in Auschwitz. As an indication of his stature, North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Min stayed at his home in France during the negotiations for independence. There was talk about Mr. Aubrac playing a mediating role between the United States and the North Vietnamese. His proposed framework eventually paved the way for peace talks.


Former UNFPA Executive Director Ms. Thoraya Obaid was awarded the Medallion of King Abdul Aziz by Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, head of the National Guard on behalf of King Abdullah. Ms. Obaid was the first Saudi woman to hold a senior U.N. appointment, having risen through the ranks from Populations Officer (P-4) at ESCUA in Beirut to Under-Secretary General in charge of the Population Fund Activities in New York. The Prince indicated that honouring Ms. Obaid indicated a determination to recognize creative intellectuals of the country "that does not forget its accomplished citizens." Ms. Obaid, who is a member of the Advisory Council, received the award during an annual cultural event, Al-Janadriyah, attended by a number of pan-Arab writers and intellectuals.


While Hillary Rodham Clinton was recuperating from her relentless travel as U.S. Secretary of State, her husband Bill Clinton was having a wonderful reception in Paris. One of his dinner hosts was France's defacto First Lady Valerie Trierweiler, who invited a number of senior male and female government officials and between desserts and coffee called her companion President Francis Hollande, then handed the cellphone to the U.S. former President for about 15 minutes of what he does best, chatting up political egos. Hubba was thrilled; so were his new Francophone friends.


A main gossip topic in Paris was the re-appearance of the politically isolated Dominique Strauss-Kahn at the Cannes Film Festival. He appeared to pass the rope on the way to social events accompanied by his new companion Miriam. A somewhat unmerciful remark was that the Red Carpet at the Cannes Festival, however limited in scope, was a great improvement over the stained carpet of the Sofitel Hotel in New York.


Wherever there is action, Qatar has to show up. Obviously there were no actors, producers, or movies from Qatar in Cannes. But at the entrance of the main hotels, there were sharply colourful, originally shaped cars with a Qatar license. One was an elongated sports Mercedes special; another was a strangely painted sports car with a very noisy engine that kept circulating on the Croisette around dinner time, presumably to attract attention but actually annoying most diners who had had enough during a busy day. The cars attracted the attention of visiting tourists and photographers more than some dispersed social events. In addition to almost flying cars, there were a number of yachts around the harbour, some too large to dock inside. At least one of them also reportedly belonged to your friend in Doha.


When it comes to imbibing champagne, Nigeria is the second country in the world, according to Euromonitor International, "Boko Haram" notwithstanding, it was reported that $59 million was spent on the bubbly during 2012, with an average of 750,000 bottles between 2006 and 2011. It's not just any champagne, but the more expensive, like Cristal and Dom Perignon. It comes just after France, way ahead the U.S. or the U.K, let alone the emerging BRICS. While Nigeria is an oil rich country, over 60% of its 162 million people live on less than one dollar a day while drinking water is scarce.


In Europe, however, it was jeans that mattered. Last year alone, 455 million pants were bought by Europeans for the amount of Euro 3.5 billion, and $5 billion U.S. Apparently, during the financial crisis, those who lost their shirts in the falling market needed to at least cover their wawas.


"The information you have is not what you want; the information you want is not want you need; the information you need is not what can be obtained; the information you can obtain costs more than you want to pay. What you are willing to pay will get you exactly the information you already have."
-- (From a letter to the editor of The Financial Times by R. Beska of Seattle, Washington)


Our favourite Marichu, the Spanish Basque restaurant, once across the street from the U.N. compound is back, though under a different, yet familiar name: Alcala. Teresa Barrenechea was a successful Press Officer for the Mission of Spain to the U.N. in the early 1990s with an interest to join the Department of Public Information, when she decided to open a tiny restaurant, naming it after her grandmother who had taught her how to cook -- deliciously. Her husband, Raymond von Samson, joined in and the couple managed to welcome an appreciative flow of U.N. Secretariat staff and diplomats from all ranks. The corner of 46th Street and 1st Avenue became a welcome -- and welcoming -- lunch/dinner meeting place. Suddenly, Marichu disappeared, replaced by Alcala, run by one of the former workers. Earlier this year Alcala also disappeared for a while until a keen diplomat spotted it on 44th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Surprised customers discovered that Teresa and Raymond are actually running it. Welcome back.


"My Liberty. I offered you all I got; changed countries, lost friends to gain your confidence." Georges Moustaki sang for freedom and struggling freedom fighters everywhere. "He fell like a dry oak treet; he could be anyone." A nostalgic Alexandrian whose parents moved to France, where he started writing songs for Edith Piaf. His and Her "Milord" was a classic hit. But, he was always a Mediterranean, refreshing like its wind, ever-changing like its moves. A "Meleque" -- as his earliest song declared -- of "Greque" parentage -- with his long grey hair flowing he relished the adulation of young women. He knew where he came from. "To you, grandfather, I play for you. The rest of the world listens, but then, you understand me." With a shy smile and easy voice, he almost always had the crowd joining along. His loyal crowd was a signature of his performance. Georges Moustaki, our gentle inspired Mediterranean brother, passed away in May.


At the end of a main story on the fall of a strategic town in Syria, Al-Qusayr, a list of contributors was mentioned (perhaps to give it more credibility or distribute credit accordingly), including "an employee of The N.Y. Times in Daba'a"! Anyone familiar with the area knows that Daba'a (literally meaning "hyena") is a Godforsaken land strip with a local airport and a few hundred inhabitants. It is within earshot (or gunshot, to use today's lingo) from Al-Qusayr, which -- by the way -- had a sizable Christian population that was terrorized out by incoming foreign subsidized fighters from North Africa who in turn were kicked out by another foreign group from Lebanon (Hezbollah). That New York's Gray Lady found time to employ someone from Daba'a (when the literary level, particularly in English, is quite limited) is quite unique -- if not very far-fetched.


Accredited correspondents who returned to the third floor of the renovated U.N. Secretariat building are finding out that there is a new configuration, not only to do with cubicles or separations but also the extent of allocated space. Apparently the impression is that priority has been given to television, while print media is getting "less respect" than they had in the past. It is a delicate task for the DPI staff directly dealing with this issue.


Silent Disco, which was introduced last summer, will return to Lincoln Center, New York, in July. One of its enthusiasts described it with gusto: "The idea is that when we reach our curfew and have to turn the sound system off, people don't have to stop dancing. We distribute wireless headphones to all our ticket buyers. The DJs continue to spin with a signal going directly to the headphones. If you're standing on the sidelines, it looks like a bunch of crazy people jumping around! But that has been an enticement to join in. People wearing the earphones tend to sing out loud, like they do in the shower. It's a great communal experience, and it crosses generations."


"I consider it the duty of anyone who sees a flaw in the plan not to hesitate to say so. I will not have any sympathy with anyone, whatever his stature, who will not brook criticism."
-- General Dwight Eisenhower upon presenting his strategic plan for Normandy


When Canadian clothing company Lulumelon, very popular amongst New York's Gym and Yoga practitioners, withdrew its Luon outfits for being too transparent, it became more popular. After all, showing off is an integral part of working out -- or as New Yorkers would say, making out. The company's financial report in June indicated a profitable income beyond $7 million. The lower you stretch, the higher you rise. Transparency pays, but not for everyone. Meanwhile, keep breathing.


Miles (there is really someone with that name) was very unhappy that we reproduced "Miles To Go," a poem quoted by former U.S. President JFK, no less, in his inaugural address. If we really wanted to expose him, we could have brought up his numerous attempts to stab his colleagues in the back -- those who extended a hand to help when his other half was in real trouble. It may be about time to remind both of them. Meanwhile, "Miles To Go" was reportedly unhappy with a driver paid by the mission where his wife works; the hard-working driver was fired!


Former Chef de Kebab was seen recently huddled with former Chef de Tandoori, who is now experimenting in Far Eastern Asian cuisine. Both speak the same language of meaningful gazes and deliberately mumbled words. Both have been enjoying U.N. Biryani for a long while, thanks to services rendered to those who render tender. Yet no matter how long they keep hanging on, they remain limited to backburner kitchen with nothing more to offer than outdated kebab.



The new President of the forthcoming General Assembly Session will be Ambassador John Ashe of Antigua and Bermuda. The rotating post goes to the Caribbean member who agreed in a consensus on Ambassador Ashe, who is known for his active role since 2002 when he led negotiations on contentious issues at the World Summit on Sustainable Development and more recently played a visible role in the Rio+20 conference on Environmental questions. He will take over officially in September from Serbia's Vuk Jeremic.


Addressing Harvard graduates, prominent media communicator Oprah Winfrey said: "Failure is life trying to move us in another direction."


Ben Bernanke, U.S. Federal Chairman, had his own take on meritocracy, an elevated reference to bureaucracy, during his address to Princeton University graduates. He said: "A meritocracy is a system in which the people who are the luckiest in their health and genetic endowment; luckiest in terms of family support, encouragement and, probably, income; luckiest in their educational and career opportunities; and luckiest in so many other ways difficult to enumerate -- these are the folks who reap the largest rewards. The only way for even a putative meritocracy to hope to pass ethical muster, to be considered fair, is if those who are the luckiest in all of those respects also have the greatest responsibility to work hard, to contribute to the betterment of the world and to share their luck with others."


U.N. Secretariat staff returning to their offices -- not exactly the old ones but a semblance of it! -- noted a new view across the Hudson River. First is the modern monument at the edge of Roosevelt Island next to where the ancient looking buildings stood. The other more systematic one is the growth of several high rise towers in Queens. For the first 50 years, there was no building taller than the Coca-Cola sign. Ten years ago, there was one, then two buildings, an office compound -- to which the U.N. Library was temporarily placed and a residential one with a strange yellow light at the top. Over the last couple of years, several glass towers started filling the horizon. Oh; the advertising for Coke remains, despite its somewhat crumbling surroundings.


An additional new life for a man loaded with accomplished ones. Professor, Ambassador, Foreign Minister, Special Envoy, and Distinguished Visiting Fellow Ibrahim Gambari has been formally installed as the pioneer Chancellor of the University of his home state of Kwara, Nigeria. An impressive ceremony was held together with the graduation of the first set of students by that University. Meanwhile, he continues his special visiting fellowship at Singapore's School of International Studies until July when he will return home to take over his new function as Chancellor. However, don't expect a very busy highly-regarded internationalist like Ibrahim Gambari to remain within the boundaries of Kwara.


Hillary Rodham Clinton started her own Twitter account on 10 June by describing herself in the following order: wife, mom, lawyer, women and kids advocate, FLOAR (First Lady of Arkansas), FLOTUS, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD...Presumably, To Be Decided refers to her potential presidential run in 2016. To be, or not 2B. There's no question.


I loved you, and I probably still do,
And for a while the feeling may remain...
But let my love no longer trouble you,
I do not wish to cause you any pain.
I loved you; and the hopelessness I knew,
The jealousy, the shyness -- though in vain --
Made up a love so tender and so true
As may God grant you to be loved again.
-- by Alexander Pushkin