15 March 2011


The Libyan Chief of Protocol for many years who took refuge in Paris, told a number of friends at a hotel that when the Libyan ruler sought to be crowned King of Kings of Africa, some African chiefs did not agree. To the rescue Signor Silvio Berlesconi, Italy's Prime Minister and pronounced friend and ally (since separated). Two female hostesses were sent to successfully persuade the reluctant chiefs. Hence a reference in Italian media to "Bunga Bunga." What is it? You better find out elsewhere.


The Ambassador of Yemen in Cairo, Abdel Wali Shumairy, submitted a claim to the Egyptian authorities that an armed group stopped him on his way to the city of Asyout and robbed him of 3.5 million Egyptian Pounds, the equivalent of $600,000. The question is: Why would an ambassador of one of the poorest countries in the world carry $600,000 in CASH, where did he get it from, and what was he intending to do with it?!


When Qaddafi made his rambling speech from a bunker, he kept making threatening and abusive words against his own people, repeating his determination to "clean them" house to house, street to street, lane to lane, using the Libyan term "Zanga Zanga," "Zqaq Lizqaq." It happened that an Israeli of North African origin picked it up and made repetitious rhythmic music to it. It pictured the Libyan dictator showing his fist, hitting his head, and shouting Zanga Zanga. The musical video became one of the most popular on YouTube for those following the latest antics of the Qaddafi mafia.


It was considered a significant strategic gesture when an Israel Navy Submarine crossed the Suez Canal 2009 to conduct an exercise in the Red Sea with the tacit approval of the Egyptian authority. It was a special message to Iran which was within range of the sailing vessel; moving with Egyptian and Israeli collaboration. In February, 2011, an Iranian vessel asked to pass through the Suez Canal within range of Israeli South port of Eilat on its way to Syria. It was quietly authorized by the new Egyptian authority.


The resignation of the Egyptian Government headed by former Air Force General Ahmed Shafiq was announced on Facebook on the eve of the Friday, 4 March demonstration seeking his change. It came after a controversial television show, not usual in earlier times, in which prominent reporters questioned the Prime Minister about the usefulness of his cabinet. The former General seemed ready to announce his resignation at the TV station to the point that technicians unanimously cheered him a farewell as he left the building. A new director general for Egypt's powerful Radio and Television Union was recently appointed. Dr. Sami Cherif was Dean of Media College at the Modern Technology University who had repeatedly called for free and varied press, particularly using the Internet. The newly-appointed Prime Minister of Egypt, Issam Sharaf, had led his students of the School of Engineering in the recent demonstrations at Liberation Square. A 59 year old graduate of universities of Cairo and Bordeaux (France), he had served briefly as a Minister of Transportation in July 2004, but resigned a year later in disagreement with the Prime Minister over his insistence on investigating a tragic derailing of a train in the town of Kalyoud. He is a member of several scientific civil organizations, including "Misr El-Ilm" (Enlightened Egypt), which he had formed and includes Nobel Laureate Mohammed El-Baradei and Ahmed Zovel as honorary members.


It's good to note that recent Arab awakening has also revived long-dormant CNN. Some of its excellent reporters like Hala Gorani, Ben Wedeman, and Anderson Cooper were on top of events. When its team was the first to enter Benghazi from the Egyptian border, they were welcomed as liberators, with crowds shouting "CNN, CNN." It was also refreshing to see its experienced U.N. Chief Correspondent Richard Roth coming on the screen with his informed insights. Now that they have regained an original role, let's hope they continue to make every effort -- and give due prominence to capable creative team members -- to keep it out front.


It was a pleasant surprise to the delegations of Brazil and Portugal at the Security Council to hear the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Indian, S.M. Krishna, express from the outset of his maiden speech great satisfaction regarding the happy coincidence of having two members of the Portuguese speaking countries. Actually, it turned out that he was mistakenly reading the speech of Portugal's Foreign Minister Luis Amado, which had been circulated in advance as a courtesy to all Council members. When S.M. was called upon to speak, he just picked up the paper in front of him and started reading until he got to the Portuguese part. He then hesitated and looked around. Swiftly, the experienced and efficient Permanent Representative of India, Hardeep Singh Puri, pointed to the right text. As if continuing the speech, the Foreign Minister suddenly shifted to a quotation of Mahatma Gandhi.


Former Assistant-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, Robert Muller (1923-2010) was honoured on Friday March 11, 2011, at 12:30 p.m. at the Church Center for the U.N. and at an event sponsored by U.N. Foundation Chairman Ted Turner. Mr. Muller began his career with the U.N. in 1947 as an intern and retired 40 years later as an ASG. He was born in Belgium in 1923, raised in the Alsace-Lorraine region in France, and experienced constant political and cultural turmoil during his youth. Dr. Muller devoted the next 40 years of his life behind the scenes at the United Nations, focusing his energies on world peace. He rose through the ranks of the Organization to the position of Assistant-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs from which he retired in 1985. A "deeply spiritual person," he has been called "the 'Philosopher' and an 'internationalist advocate of Hope.'" He created a "World Core Curriculum" taught at 29 Robert Muller schools, which earned him the UNESCO Peace Education Prize in 1989. In active "retirement," Dr. Muller was Chancellor of the University for Peace created by the United Nations in Costa Rica -- a country which decided to abolish its military in 1949. He was also the recipient of the Albert Schweitzer International prize for the Humanities and the Eleanor Roosevelt Man of Vision Award. Dr. Muller lived most of the time at his small farm overlooking the University of Peace, on a sacred indigeneous hill, Mr. Rasur, from which, according to indigenous prophecy, a civilization of peace would extend to the entire world. In addition to his duties at the University, he devoted time to his writings and was an internationally acclaimed, multi-lingual speaker and author of fourteen books published in various languages. "We will truly miss his harmonica and his famous rendition of the Ode to Joy." says his family who encourage readers to visit the websites showcasing his works www.robertmuller.org and www.goodmorningworld.org". A selection of his books are available at the U.N. bookstore.


In Libyan local dialect, "Tawa" means now. Increasing number of demonstrators, especially in the Eastern capital of Benghazi, use local sarcasm in addressing Qaddafi. One chant went as follows: "Ya Muammar Ya Bouchafshoufa Al-Chaab El-Liby Tawa Tshoufe" (Muammar with your fluffy hair, could you now see the Libyan People).


A diplomat leaving Egypt after the revolution vehemently objected to being searched at Cairo airport. He invoked diplomatic immunity in vain as customs agents were adamantly instructed to stop the smuggling of cash, artifacts, or other valuables through diplomatic pouch. When they found a piece of artistic history they took it to a back office for a value check. After a while, they returned the piece allowing the diplomat to travel with it because it was fake. The diplomat fainted.


If the new "Arab awakening" has its "Facebook" pillar, then Arab Facebook stalwarts have their popular broadcaster. Al-Jazeera's Leila Sheikhali, a Hillary Clinton type, self-confident announcer, happened to broadcast the first news about the fleeing of Tunisian dictator Bin Ali, and similarly was the one who happened to announce Egyptian President Mubarak's departure. With a violent Libyan stalemate, an increasing number of young Arabs on Facebook are requesting Al-Jazeera to assign the broadcasting of Libyan news to the articulate Iraqi expatriate in the hope she would be the good omen who would broadcast the great news.


When you open up the cupboard and the cookie isn't there, I don't say, "Gee, there's no cookie;" I say, "I wonder where it is!"
-- Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Congressman


"We have to ascertain whether death is male or female. If it is male, we'll have to fight it to the end; if its a female, we'll give up!"
-- Muammar Ghaddafi in his book on "Death"


Playwright Harold Pinter disliked Britain's Conservation Party so much that he turned a Lordship proposed by Tory government. A year after his death, his wife Lady Antonia Fraser was "very very happy" to have received a Damehood proposed by new Tory government. Furthermore, she recently agreed to sell a memoir of their personal relationship -- which he would have particularly disliked -- to a paper which he passionately hated, The Daily Mail.


"What we have seen here (at the Security Council) is that there is an international community. The world is changing, for the better. And I guess the Security Council has to be at this rendezvous with history."
-- Gerard Araud, Permanent Representative of France, after a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote on Libya


Sorry to hear that our distinguished economist, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, is having difficulties in his own country, Bangladesh. The innovator of microfinance loans, dubbed banker of the poor, is being attacked by President Hasina, daughter of the slain founder of the Republic. Although most borrowers are still loyal to Yunus, the government has appointed a new head of the Grameen bank he had founded decades ago as the first successful experiment in trusting in the creativity and determination of poor entrepreneurs, especially women. His creative vision brought him not only deserved gratitude from borrowers, but international acclaim. Yunus, like his outstanding compatriot Mahbub El-Haq, brought a shining edge to the international image of Bangladesh. Sheikha Hasina should draw from the example of her revered father that patriots like Muhammad Yunus should be dearly valued, and particularly so as he reaches the age of 80.


New Yorkers love roses -- even refrigerated, wrapped, or made of stone. A beautiful new display on Park Avenue in the Sixties streets depicts huge roses with many colours, lit night and day to highlight their shining presence. In mid-town traffic, A Rose, in whatever form, shade, or shape, is a rose.


The launch of U.N. Women on 24 February witnessed the presence of important civil society members at the General Assembly Hall. The event was scheduled to be moderated by TV presenter Christiane Amanpour. However, the Iranian-British-American reporter was unavailable. The reason given for her absence was an unforeseen assignment. However, someone with knowledge of personal sensitivities within the media may decipher the actual reason to be based on the presence of another overwhelming character, Ted Turner, CNN founder and former boss of Ms. Amanpour. At a TV summit a decade ago, in which CNN field correspondent Amanpour, and U.N. Peacekeeping Chief, Kofi Annan, discussed media coverage of U.N. operations, Mr. Turner and his wife at the time, Jane Fonda, suddenly appeared, interrupting and taking command of the meeting. This was not well received by Ms. Amanpour nor Mr. Annan, who a year later was only glad to forgive and forget after a billion dollar pledge. Ms. Amanpour now has a special program on ABC.


The American University in Cairo is maintaining its additional annual lecture devoted to the memory of our colleague, Nadia Younis, previous Deputy Head of the U.N. Mission in Baghdad, killed by terrorist bombing of its headquarters at the Canal hotel. The lecture this year will be held on 28 March by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization.


The International Monetary Fund seems to like the term "macroeconomic performance," which, as recently transpired, it throws around somewhat casually. Just before the fall of the Tunisian government, IMF experts praised the country's "prudent macroeconomic management." As of lately, just before Libya exploded, the IMF likewise welcomed Libya's "strong macroeconomic performance and enhanced role of the private sector." As we mentioned in the last issue, self-proclaimed governance expert and British-Sudanese millionaire, Mo Ibrahim, produced his own index, which demonstrated Tunis as the best example of governance. With expert advice from Bono, Mo sometimes gives out one million dollar prizes to African leaders who supposedly excel in governance. Yet, with the downfall of his favorite regime, Mo seems to be at a loss to find a winner this year.


For a couple of days in February, a wild rumor circulated that outgoing Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, was enjoying a welcome stay in the United Arab Emirates, although Egyptian news reports indicated he was in Sharm el-Sheikh, refusing to take his medicine. The Abu Dhabi rumor persisted until it transpired that there was confusion on identity. An Egyptian, by the name of Hosni Mubarak, appeared before a judge in Abu Dhabi after leading a drinking party. The judge dismissed the accused with a jolly smile.


When a Libyan plane was turned down from Beirut, another was refused permission to land in Malta. The name given to authorities there was that of Aisha Qaddafi, the dictator's daughter, who reportedly has a better reputation than her brothers. Yet, she is a member of Qaddafi's family and faced the same popular outrage. With the Libyan leadership's mentality that the situation should be handled by the men of the family, it was decided that the women should leave the country. However, the Malta episode was counter-productive; it drew attention to the fact that Aisha Qaddafi was a Special Envoy for the U.N. Development Programme. Suddenly, questions were raised by U.N. correspondents in New York. The following day, an announcement was made that in accordance to certain rules and regulation, Ms. Qaddafi was no longer on the honors list.


Vanessa Paradis is mainly known in New York social circles as actor Johnny Depp's other half. They had been living together in a beautiful villa overlooking Saint Tropez where they are often visited by other couples like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, and George Clooney and his girlfriend of the season. Miss Paradis was once a popular singing heart-throb in France in the Cote d'azur. Any visitor to the French Riviera was unable to avoid hearing her song, "Joe le Taxi" blurted out of every cab driver's radio from Nice to St. Tropez. She was their favourite, especially since she mentioned la boutaillage (traffic jams), which are predominant, particularly in the summer. Also, Ms. Paradis sang with a vulnerable voice, making her sound sexy to lonely cab drivers waiting outside hotels and airports for potential customers. After years of silence, Ms. Paradis showed up at Town Hall Theatre in mid-February. It was a mostly Franco-phone crowd who took their time going into the theatre, with the certainty that Ms. Paradis would not show up on time, at 8 o'clock. Indeed, she started at 9. Meantime, ticket holders took their time chatting, checking gossip and exchanging "bisous, bisous." At the beginning, Ms. Paradis was trying to move her body in a sexy manner to show that she still "had it." Eventually, skeptics recognized that she is still sexy, indeed very sexy. As a bonus. Ms. Paradis sang a few basic American songs, such as "Don't Know Much About Geography," most likely encouraged by her American partner, Mr. Depp. She also sang "Hallelujah," a song popular among Chelsea New Yorkers. The crowd came around so well that Ms. Paradis had to reappear three times after the curtain came down to increasing applause. While on entering, someone commented on how lucky Vanessa was to marry Johnny Depp, on leaving, all thought Johnny Depp was lucky to have his Paradis.


A week into the popular uprising in Libya, a plane carrying Aline Skaff, wife of Qaddafi's son, Hanibal, was stopped from landing at the Beirut airport. The Lebanese Minister of Aviation refused to grant it permission. Aline, who was born in the north Lebanon region of Akkar, near Syria, had met Hanibal while working in Paris as a model. The pair was discreetly married in Copenhagen and have had several infamous incidents since. The first took place in Geneva where Hanibal assaulted two waiters in a hotel and was arrested by Geneva authorities. This in turn, caused a crisis in which Libya cut off Switzerland's oil supply for two years. Another notorious report was Hanibal's beating Aline in a hotel. Hanibal was taken to court but averted his sentence when Aline withdrew charges. Hanibal's only consequence was to pay $5,000 EU for breaking hotel furniture. Aline regularly visited Akkar since marrying Hanibal, but always traveled with a group of body-guard, on her husband's advice. Hanibal feared Hezbollah would take revenge on the disappearance of their Imam, Mousa Sadr. Likewise, he was distrustful of Lebanese Christians because of their dislike of Qaddafi for providing arms to their adversaries during the Lebanese civil war. While the Lebanese Minister of Aviation prevented Aline's plane from landing, she could have easily come across Lebanon's land borders with Syria by car. As a citizen of Lebanon, no one could stop her from entering her country.


Watching an interview on Al-Jazeera with Jose-Luis Zapatero, one wonders how come the intelligent and enlightened people of Spain elected him as Prime Minister. Perhaps he was in a vulnerable mood or lacking adequate sleep, but he seemed unable to respond to elementary questions for Khadija Bin Qenna, a formidably experienced broadcaster from Algeria. Why was Spain surprised by the popular outbursts in neighbouring North h African Mediterranean countries? He looked totally puzzled, then mumbled an answer that such matters required study. Why did he wait until the dominance of the people was absolutely clear before announcing support for new regimes? Totally puzzled again. Well, we had to wait and respect the people's wishes; once we knew where they were clearly going, we extended support? Were you influenced to remain quiet by financial interests of some Spanish commercial ventures in Egypt, Tunis, and Libya? Long pause. Smile. Smile again. He then took the high road. The price of freedom is most important! His interview mentioned that British Prime Minister had openly said Qaddafi should go, so did the U.S. Secretary of State; what would Senor Zapatero say? Would he ask Qaddafi to go? Reaching for breath, Zapatero continued that civil war was a problem, no need for bloodshed, perhaps some reform proposals could be reached...Ms. Bin Qenna pressed on: Would you agree that he should go? Eyes darting in several directions, he eventually mumbled a "definitive" or something like it. Throughout the interview, he vainly attempted to charm with a focused smile on his female interviewer. It didn't work.


"Abasement, degradation is simply the manner of life of a man who has refused to be what it is his duty to be."
-- Spanish Philosopher Jose Ortega Y Gasset


24 February commemorated the day Kuwait was liberated from Saddam Hussein's occupation twenty years ago. Its Permanent Representative in New York, Ambassador Mansour Al-Otaibi proposed a full-day program not merely to revive the past, but to draw lessons for the future. An experienced diplomat who had served in his country's mission to the U.N. in an earlier posting, Ambassador Al-Otaibi initiated an in-depth seminar with the International Peace Institute, moderated by Warren Hoge -- former New York Times U.N. Correspondent, now the Institute's Vice President for External Relations. Giandomenico Picco, former U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, and an active dynamic force in efforts to release hostages and mediate in conflict, made a profound presentation about the role of the U.N. then and now, stressing that the universal intervention in Kuwait was perhaps the last positive action taken by the U.N. before fading into the sidelines. A Kuwaiti evening at its 44th Street mission gathered a galaxy of diplomats, intellectuals, U.N. senior officials, and friends. It was also an occasion to demonstrate the unity of Kuwait and indicate the difference made by a knowledgeable, competent, and open-minded Permanent Representative.


El Coronel was unpleasantly surprised with the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions on sanctions and crimes against humanity. He had thought all was well, having chatted up its members a couple of years ago and more to the point, having pompously presided over the Assembly, pronouncing a ponderous speech (toying with the Charter) under the nervous yet obedient gaze of his citizen appointee, then Assembly President Triki. Hence his decision to send "Ali Abdelsalam" as he repeatedly called him, to sort things out. The former Libyan Foreign Minister and Special Envoy had always had a testy, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, relationship with the "brother leader." He is very experienced in handling delicate situations, including Qaddafi's tantrums. He is expected to draw on his weight as a former General Assembly President, especially with Third World Countries. What will he do when, upon arrival in New York, he discovers that the train has left the station. Most likely, he will not show up until he finds out the next stop.


"No tiene quien le eseriba." No One Writes to the Colonel, a masterpiece novel by master Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, comes to mind as Colonel Qaddafi keeps screaming from his bunker in Aziziyeh, Tripoli, that everyone has betrayed him. His people still love him and will even die for him to rambles, but somehow they haven't got the time to send a clear message. Or at least he can't hear it. Or wouldn't. Keep waiting. Godot is coming.


Qatar Permanent Representative was elected as the next rotating President of the U.N. General Assembly. He had competed with the Permanent Representative of Napal for that normally ceremonial post.


Among the "great thoughts" that Moammar Qaddafi placed in his Green book was the suggestion that women are different than men because women have a monthly period while men don't! Also the discovery that those who came from Egypt were call Egyptians and those who came from Iraq were called Iraqis. That's why those who come from Libya are called...Libyans!


* All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
* Life is sexually transmitted.
* Give a person a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks.