15 May 2011


Time is up for "Frere Jacques" Diouf as head of the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome. A very poor record after we all had placed high hopes on the Senegalese official who did not even help his own country -- indeed, he got into its internal politics. Anyway, one of the determined candidates is Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, who has started discreet visits to certain countries as a prelude to an open campaign. Very well known in the Middle East since his days as Europe's Special Envoy there, Moratinos has just concluded a visit to Beirut where he met the President and asked for support. Spain is a very popular country that has cultural, historic and geographical links not only to Europe, but with Latin America and Mediterranean countries. The only question would be on geographic balance amongst senior officials of the U.N. system.


While some security police in the Arab countries were trying to cope with thousands of demonstrators, security officials in the Jordanian town of Irbid spent valuable time to trap and arrest a prostitute and her young client. During official investigation, the man admitted paying money for sex but requested police intervention to get a refund. He had paid 50 Jordanian dinars while the woman's regular charge, he found out, was only 30 dinars. He wanted 20 back. The police promised to mediate. Meanwhile, young demonstrators were marching in the streets of Jordan's capital Amman with varied demands, none included refunds.


Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar is now 91 years old, yet he carries himself with impressive confidence and vital grace. He stopped in New York last month and met with his successor Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He still has what Latinos would call "Porte," that charming entry and winning smile. He was on his way from Lima to Paris where he maintains a dual residence. There was concern last year after the serious knee operation for someone his age. He needed time to deal with the repercussions. Yet his faith, high spirits, and the overwhelming affection he inspires amongst those who were fortunate to know him, helped in a speedy recovery. May God bless him always.

Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras


Former Prime Minister of Lebanon Fuad Seniora passed through New York on his way to Washington, D.C., where he gave lectures on new developments in the Arab world. A former Professor of Economics at the American University of Beirut and long-time Finance Minister under slain Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, Seniora impressed the international community and particularly U.N. Security Council members in the astute manner he handled a war by Israel in 2006 and internal conflict that followed. As a member of Parliament from his hometown of Saida, capital of the Southern region, he heads the "Future" parliamentary group. U.N. officials in New York would certainly have benefited from his perspective. It is known that U.S. President Bush, who was very fond of the then Lebanese Prime Minister, was amused that a serious-looking man was called Seniora, a term reserved in Texas only for women. The background goes back to an oriental sweets shop that Fuad's father, Haj Abdel Basit had in central Saida, where one of the popular creations was a dish called seniora.


"We went up the tree together.
"Then he went down and took the ladder."
-- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on U.S. President Obama


Her name is Phillipa. She hates being called Pippa. Yet, everyone at the Royal Wedding referred to Kate Middleton's younger sister with the pet name. By most accounts, she -- like Prince Harry -- was a superstar behind the scene, preparing for parties and looking after every detail to the point of carrying the bride's wedding gown train. Reportedly, she lost a boyfriend in the process of devoting so much time for her sister's crucial event. Yet she gained so many admirers to the point that an outspoken British blogger at the Daily Beast claimed that actually the main event we were admirably watching was "Pippa's arse".


"Man who catch bee wit chopstick accomplish nothing."
-- From The Karate Kid


When Anus El-Faki used to introduce himself pompously as Egypt's Minister of Information to British, Australian, or American reporters, he was puzzled why weren't they tremendously impressed and why were they trying to suppress a smile. Now there is another El-Faki, though his first name is Ahmed or Muhammed, depending who's reporting it. He was Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee in the imposed "House of People," supposedly the Parliament of the overthrown regime. Now he wants to become the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. Rebelling young Arabs, obviously fed-up with too many Fakis imposed on them by their despots are already expressing displeasure -- with the man, of course, regardless of his strange-sounding name to Anglophones. Perhaps Egypt, the central Arab country, will eventually produce a more impressive -- and acceptable -- candidate.


During weeks of revolutionary change in Egypt, we tried in vain to reach our former colleague Fayza Aboulnaga, the most helpful and always pleasant Special Assistant to Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali. We are now very pleased to note that she is a cabinet member of the new government. During a visit by the Emir of Qatar to Cairo, she appeared in the photo coverage -- with her usual smile and a slight hint of gracious gray. She is the Minister for International Co-operation.

Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras


"If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle."
-- Hillary Clinton


"El Coronel" official television in Libya broadcast an interview with an elderly woman introduced as the disappointed mother of Libya's U.N. Representative A.R. Shalgam, who resigned against the brutal treatment of his people by his old friend Muammar Abu Mynier. She expressed astonishment that her son would have opinions on politics, let alone being against the greatest leader since creation and disowned him forever. Very emotional indeed, except for the fact that Ambassador Shalgam's mother had died over ten years ago. Whose mother was the women interviewed?


"All those responsible for publications are banned from publishing anything contradicting Islamic Sharia law; anything inciting disruption of state security or public order or anything serving foreign interests that contradict national interests," stated a decree circulated by the Saudi Press Agency, which added that a royal order "banned the infringement of the reputation or dignity, the slander or the personal offence of the Grand Mufti or any of the country's senior clerics or statements." The decree, carried by Reuters, was reported around the same time as World Press Freedom Day.


A bird hopped at my window
It was trembling, its feathers plucked
"Please Hide me, Noora," it chirped
"Please Hide me."
"What are you afraid of?" I wondered.
"From the Cage," it explained.
"Where did you come from?" I asked.
"I come from open skies.
"A jailer tried to fetter me," it said
"I was born free."

I wondered what happened to its feathers
"It withered with daily submission"
A tear drop fell as he explained
"Now I can't even walk"
I hugged it; touched its wounds
"Look at the sun," I said, "it's already shining"
Wings will be growing.
They will break the jailer's cage.

That song, by Lebanese artist Marcel Khalife, was prevented by Bin Ali regime in Tunis. It was originally made for Lebanese and Palestinians in Israeli prisons, but once sung at Carthage Festival next door to the despot's palace, the crowd roared with support and the singer was never invited again.


If my voice is taken, your throats will sing.
My eyes are on tomorrow; my heart is with you,
If the singer is taken away, the song remains
It assembles the hearts of those
Suffering and broken.
-- Singer Shereen Abon Khodr


"His Excellency Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, God bless and nurture him as we all will defend him with our blood and soul, is by now recognized worldwide like the sun that shines on every region regardless of ethnic, religious or regional consideration. The son of the Founder, Sheikh Zayed, may God forgive him Inshallah, has built on the accomplishments of his father to extend his generous hands with generous goodwill..." Leading item in Abu Dhabi "news" brought the two first weeks of May.


Hans Corell, former U.N. Under Secretary General for Legal, was expected in New York last month to attend some Board meetings. Friends and colleagues were looking forward to seeing him and his charming wife Inger. Unfortunately, they could not make it this year. Instead, Hans was in Ramallah where he was invited by Professor Sari Nusseibeh to discuss how to strengthen legal programs of the University. Let's look forward to next year.


"U.S. intelligence officers have been interviewing Osama bin Laden's three widows," sources told CNN, one of whom was shot during the raid on the Pakistani compound. The women were reported as "hostile towards their interrogators."


The formidable Al-Jazeera Beirut correspondent Ghassen Bin Jiddo has resigned in disappointment over its recent coverage of certain Arab events. In his view, lack of extensive reporting on discontent in Bahrain while highlighting protests in Syria transformed the TV station from a credible media source into an "operations room" for incitements; it had abandoned journalistic objectivity. The Tunisian reporter will not seek a political future in his home country, as initially thought. He will be abandoning the media field altogether at this stage. "I have a family to feed," he told his colleagues at a farewell party and most likely will open a cafe in Beirut -- perhaps in the Southern district where he is particularly popular -- in the hope of making some money. Selling Falafel may prove more profitable than trying to decipher the latest twists of panicked politicians.


A photo of French self-declared Philosopher Bernard Henry Levy with an amazed Libyan opposition leader Mustapha Abdel Jalil, was spread all over European media, together with his reportedly cellular telephone call on the spot to France's President Sarkozy, who immediately ordered French troops into action. Parisian literatti salons were overwhelmed by soiree chatter about "BHL's" newly gained influence over making Foreign policy. Some recalled that the current Madame Sarkozy, Carla Bruni, was for a while closely linked to the "philosopher's" family, particularly to his son. Whatever the real connection, some intellectuals were flattered that one of them, however pretentious, could claim the ability to get NATO troops involved in an arena where once only Marshalls Montgomery and Rommel dared to tread; never Plato.


Czech President Vaclav Klaus was shown on YouTube pocketing a valuable pen during a ceremonial event with the President of Chile. It is not unusual for participants to receive complimentary signatory pens. But the way the visiting dignitary handled it looked more suspicious, even embarrassingly funny. He casually toyed with the pen, which reportedly had semi-precious stones, hid it in his hand, slowly pushed it to his left pocket, not the inner upside where pens are usually held. He seemed unusually tense, then after pocketing his prize, started smiling and blinking happily. Meanwhile, his Chilean host, President Sebastian Pinera, pretended not to notice, continuing to talk about very promising relations while keeping an eye on his own pen. In defense of Mr. Klaus, some said he at least took a fancy pen, unlike some other presidents who steal billions without blinking.


"The bird let loose in Eastern skies
Returning fondly home
Ne'er stoops to earth her wings, nor flies
Where idle warblers roam.
But high she shoots through air and light
Above all low delay
Where nothing earthly bounds her flight
Nor shadow dims her way."
-- Thomas Moore


Despite eight out of eleven Real Madrid players blocking him, Barcelona's Lionel Messi dribbled the football magically, bypassing them one by one and then drawing the goal keeper out, scoring his second goal. The game between the two competing Spanish teams with multi-million dollar international players draw soccer fans, interrupting their everyday work to watch. Whatever team you supported, there was a consensus that the young Argentinean with number 10 shirt is actually number one in the game's magic. Besides, with all the world applause and prize money, he seems to behave like a very decent, pleasant human being; no arguments and no rough tactics -- pure creative magic, a pleasure to watch.


The list of guests to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton is drawing the usual attention, not for the names included but also those overlooked. Incidentally, we noted a name that neither you nor us would know but has an absolutely British sound. How about: Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe. Now, repeat after me quickly for fifteen times: "I'm not a pheasant plucker; I'm a pheasant plucker's son." By God, you've got it.


For the first time, the 2600 anniversary of Buddha's Enlightenment will be celebrated with the International Day of Vesak on Monday 16 May. Ambassador Pelitha Kahuna, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the U.N., who formerly worked at the U.N. Legal Affairs Department, sent out invitations to participate in that event which will start with a special meeting at the U.N. General Assembly in the morning and on Interfaith dialogue in the afternoon, to be followed by an exhibition of Buddhist Arts and Artifacts.


Everyone is entitled to be stupid for a minute.


A general meeting for the Association of Former International Civil Servants (AFICS) will be held on 2 June in Henry Labouisse Hall at UNICEF House (44th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues). One of the main items is to elect new members of the Governing Board for the years 2011 - 2014. A ballot has been mailed to all AFICS members to select 6 candidates. Other business will also be conducted -- including the usual statements by "officials" at such an occasion.


"A number of new conspiracy theories are surfacing claiming that Osama bin Laden is not really dead. Which means Barack Obama will go down in history as the first black person ever to have to prove that he killed someone."
-- "Saturday Night Live" TV show in New York


No one (except John "What's 'isnyme" Burns) bothered with complaints by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair that neither he nor his greedy wife Cherie were invited to the Royal Wedding. A popular consensus that the young couple's joyous celebration injected the Monarchy with renewed strength was confirmed by hundreds of thousands happily following instructions of the unarmed royal guards and their thrilled cheers as Prince William and Kate Middleton made their way from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. Cheering the Queen reached unprecedented heights. For the first time in decades, Her Majesty was photographed with a genuinely happy smile surrounded by her genuinely happily subjects. As to Mr. Sleaze, a private chat among some veteran observers indicated that when the Monarchy was having a very fragile status immediately after the death of Princess Diana, Cherie Blair in particular reportedly made anti-Monarchist "Republican" remarks, which gave the impression that her husband, then Prime Minister, may have considered himself the real number one in the country. Anyway, the youthful wedding was an occasion for genuine joy with the young couple, not for fake posturing by two ego-trippers.


Park Avenue, New York, is now loaded with tulips. After a string of sculptured roses rising in the middle of the road, beautiful live tulips are adorning the space in between. Even hurried taxi drivers harassed in mid-traffic are taking notice. Whoever was behind that idea has helped transform a nervously jammed area, particularly when the President is visiting town, as he did three times last month. Others areas of Manhattan obviously need similar treatment, except that the areas on Second Avenue with regular construction for the ? subway stations will be hapless. Too much noise; too many traffic delays. However, First Avenue around the U.N. neighbourhood may need the flower treatment, at least to welcome our guests next September.


A new attraction at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, the park area on 47th Street, is a dispersed yet well spread sculpture of human bodies. Throughout the space between 1st and 2nd Avenues next to street light poles, trees and steps, even seated on benches -- there are figures almost welcoming you to join along. With spring weather on sunny New York afternoons, there are people sharing their benches, having their lunch nearby, or just saying hello. Incidentally, on a pleasant afternoon near the outdoor cafe of 1st Avenue, an elderly gentleman kept approaching people gathered in couples and more and asking: "Are you Turkish?" Perhaps because the Turkish house is nearby or he was just homesick. More bodies may help.