15 November 2012


When informed of an article by a Rwandan scholar on Kofi Annan's "short memory" that appeared in Jeune Afriques, we searched the website with no apparent result except one reference which when clicked yielded a jumble of figures. Several attempts during the following days yielded similar results. It appears that some fairly savvy hand had just wished it away. But who's hand?


"Any journalist who asks questions about former President Nino Vieira's assassination will not leave this barrack alive. I will kill him"!

Says Guinea-Bissau's Army Chief of Staff -- who also described U.N. Special Envoy Mutaboba in an interview with The New York Times as "bandito." The General also challenged anyone who thinks that he has opened the country to drug smugglers should present documented proof. He and soldiers around him were seen laughing.


- Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

U.N. DAY?:

Did the U.N. really celebrate U.N. Day this year? It didn't seem like it. There was a very short message by the Secretary General but little else. A traditional concert on 24 October, which in more glorious days used to be memorable worldwide, passed totally unnoticed. Records -- for those still interested -- show that one of the most impressive statements by Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold was made at a U.N. concert -- as he exquisitely interpreted Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But, as today's U.N. leadership would coolly say: those days were different. Today we are celebrating it with Gangnam Psy. Psy!


A very special award was given during a dinner at New York's Palace Hotel. His Beatitude Ignatius IV bestowed the highest honour of the Greek Orthodox Church, The Order (Al-Wishah al-Akbar) of Saints Peter and Paul, Founders of the Patriarchate of Antioch to His Excellency Issam Fares, former Prime Minister of Lebanon and a prominent innovator in supporting creative humanitarian causes -- unlike the negative reputation of many Lebanese politicians. The Master of Ceremonies was Archbishop Philip Saliba who in explaining his very short introduction told a brief story: There was once a priest in a Lebanese village who was known for his very long speeches. He would prepare them in writing, placing each page carefully on a sofa the eve of the sermon. It happened that his dog took away the papers one Sunday morning, so the priest had to apologize for his very brief comments. While bidding his usual farewell to members of the parish at the end of mass, an elderly lady innocently commented that she wished all priests in the neighborhood had active dogs.


Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu hit former British Prime Minister Tony Blair where it hurts most -- his vain belief that he is the most popular man in the world. Apparently fed up with Blair's sleazy commercial operations while preaching morality and divine faith, the South African Bishop has refused to attend a dinner when he learned that Blair would attend. Adding insult to injury, the refusal was made public.


Overheard on Third Avenue, New York:
"Change your cell phone, or change your contacts."


Less than two weeks after the autobiography of former Secretary General Annan came out, it became discounted almost by half. The original issue was for $36.00; a copy ordered end September was for $18.00. What a disappointment after as many press and television interviews, from fiction to commentary ?. It isn't yet clear how many were sold, even at that half-off price. Perhaps FOK (Friends of Kofi) could help inspire other friends and various supporting groups to "add their shoulders to the wheel" as he was fond of saying. After getting hold of a hard copy (for old time's sake), we could not find anything new or informative. The cover photo looks like a commercial for Brioni. Even the smile looks condescending -- a far cry from Kofi Annan's authentic captivating grin. No inside information on the inside. Merely prolonged essays sprinkled with references to his new "friends" Tony Blair (symbol of international sleaze!) and George W. Bush (who will be pleasantly surprised!). Annan's indication that he may have had differences of opinion seems farcical. He was certainly not reputed for disagreeing with any influential head of state anywhere at any time. One of the few bright spots is that he finally showed his beautiful daughter Ama, an intelligent, sensitive young woman, which would certainly counter the negative impression created by his son Kojo on Food for Oil. We had looked forward to an interesting book, particularly after leaving his Syrian mission (at what price?!). But there was very little to learn, even about Annan himself. No wonder the book was substantially discounted.


Mistakes happen. Misjudgments occur. Sometimes the right idea gets the wrong treatment. Sometimes the wrong idea gets even worse treatment. Your expectations may turn out to be wrong. Your presentation messed up. Apparently matters suddenly started floating without anyone trying, caring, or able to settle anything anywhere. That's why there is a very blunt American expression. It's, excuse me, as follows: "F...d Up Beyond All Recognition." For short: FUBAR. Have a great day!


A follow-up on a report in the last issue about a Lebanese Arabic singer who was reportedly brought along by a distinguished Gulf participant at the U.N. General Debate mid-September in return for a tempting reward. We read in Arab media a brief announcement by singer Haifa Wehbe and her Egyptian husband that they have decided to divorce after 4 years of announced marriage. Let's hope that the very hard work claimed by the distinguished delegate as a reason for not meeting at length with his colleagues in New York had nothing to do with that divorce.


The Permanent Representative Tunis Othman Jerandi made a farewell call on the Secretary General. He will be leaving his post in New York. A new Islamist party majority in the government may be tempted to send a non-professional diplomat, which would certainly be a pity. Despite internal political circumstances, Tunis had managed to send some of the most competent and highly-regarded diplomats. Let's hope the new government keeps tradition. Those doing their homework on Permanent Missions to the U.N. will find out that one of the favourite ambassadors to Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold was Tunisian delegate Mongi Slim. There have been outstanding Tunisian international civil servants; we could mention here Hedi Annabi, who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the earthquake in Haiti. Let's hope an incoming representative would help uphold that image.


A book by former Arab League official Cecil Hourani, who befriended Tunisian Independence leader and President Habib Bourguiba, recounted that the Tunisian freedom fighter was penniless while trying to mobilize support for his quest. Yet he relentlessly traveled anywhere he could to gain support. When the Tunisian leader visited Beirut he asked his friend to take him to the vegetable market, one of the poorest spots in the Lebanese capital. There Bourguiba approached a vendor and hugged him. "Labas Si Khalifa" he yelled. Khalifa, it turned out, was a Tunisian exile. They embraced and laughed, cried and exchanged memories, while the market's customers wondered what was going on, then cheered a leader who did not forget his old friends.


A speech by Egypt's former leader Nasser in the 1960s is making popular inroads in a widely circulated video. It is not about foreign policy or the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is about his relations with leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood. He had tried to work out an arrangement with its leader (called General Guider) at the time whose first condition was that Nasser instruct all women to wear veils. Why don't we just advise them and let them choose to wear a veil, rather than force them, Nasser suggested. No, the General Guider reported. You as the ruler should force them to wear it. Nasser then noted that the Brotherhood leader's daughter was a university student who did not wear a veil. "You could not persuade your own daughter to cover her face and you want me to force ten million Egyptian women to do what you could not accomplish at home?!"


A conference on "contemporary women" at Qasim University in Saudi Arabia:

-- From The Angry Arab News Service


Joint Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has decided to set up his headquarters in Cairo while maintaining a presence in Syria through Moroccan / Canadian aide Ambassador Mukhtar Lamani. Another new aide in Cairo will be Professor Ghassan Salameh, former Lebanese Minister of Education who worked briefly with our beloved Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed during a terrorist bombing of U.N. Headquarters in Baghdad. Salameh, who formed a successful international institute in Paris, has always collaborated with Brahimi. He did much of the drafting during the Algerian-mediated negotiations preparing the "Taif" (Saudi) accord over Lebanon. As we reported in an earlier issue, Spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, who is Egyptian, has decided to end his own role and rejoin his family in the Netherlands.


An exceedingly sensitive European diplomat at a dinner after a concert waxing romantic about the exquisite beauty of a French organ...A perplexed Herr lost in the U.N. garage area while trying a short cut underground between the Assembly and Secretariat buildings...A number of senior staff outside DC II building ostensibly discussing issues but actually smoking which is now prohibited inside the building...An unshaven Security Council member with his wife waiting in a long line at the Whole Foods checkout counter...Cooking diva Martha Stewart seeking a take-out cappuccino at a "hole in the wall" Italian Cafe on 73rd Street.



Hard-working New York taxi drivers, mostly subdued patient Asians, had their moment of glory at the aftermath of the hurricane. Potential passengers were instructed to share; fuel shortage drove owners to use unavailable public transport; subways were out of service; buses were initially unavailable then gradually offered for free -- entailing long waiting times and full loads with standing room only. As taxis resorted to off-duty lights, its drivers suddenly became "masters of the universe" for harried, harassed, and needy seekers. It was their moment to shine. And, to their credit, those Asian drivers who had endured so much dismissive, inconsiderate passengers over the years behaved in a gracious and kind manner, making their Asian origins proud. It is such difficult times that proves individual's worth and most of them passed with flying colours. Shukrya.


Les Marseilleuse, who arrived in New York to run in the New York Marathon, were not totally disappointed when it was cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. They understood the feeling of New Yorkers and set out to enjoy unlimited bus rides across Manhattan. Upon taking the 104 from 86th Street and Broadway, they pleasantly bumped into a Francophone Manhattanite, asking him for information on where to go and what to do. Another lady passenger joined in, then a couple of ?others, until a French expatriate came on board and started giving everyone -- including her very grown-up son -- instructions. By the time the bus reached Lincoln Centre, the whole bus sounded like a French Cafe du Poste. By the time they got to Columbus Circle they were ready to burst into the Marseillaise!


We already noted that our distinguished Secretary General is a keen rapper. He had Jay-Z around for a song and dance and tried some lyrics of his own -- though with limited success. On 23 October, Ban Ki-moon added another feather to his fur cap. He invited Korean singer Psy to U.N. Headquarters where both jointly displayed their dancing talent. Psy has acquired sudden fame for a "gangnam" style performance that circulated worldwide on Youtube. Both seem to enjoy the visit; wider popularity for Mr. Ban in Korea and a recognition of Psy's psy at the international headquarters. Hence the jolly giggles and the insider Korean jokes. The real name of Psy is Park Jae-sang . The fat man did, indeed, sing. But the Fat Lady didn't...yet!

-- Allison Joyce/Getty Images


Another visiting newly famous Korean, though not to be confused with Psy, was the President of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge Sang-Hyun Song, who presented his report to the General Assembly on 1 November. He also met with the world's most famous Korean, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. When presenting Psy, Mr. Ban said that he had no problem with surging competition from the popular Youtube dancer / singer, and Psy nicely added that "we're in the same building." The third is not yet as popular and despite his promising name, he did not sing even "Hyun" song. Perhaps he's waiting for the fat lady. Or at least for his Special Prosecutor. Fetimato!


Once more Lebanese Mexican businessman Carlos Helu Slim was listed as the richest man in the world valued at $75.9 billion with no serious competition from the number two Bill Gates, who trailed way behind at $66 billion. Omaha's Warren Buffett came fourth at a measly $46 billion! Despite having spent our childhood summer next door to Slim's family home in Jezzine Mount Lebanon, and played around the same nearby waterfall, Shalouf, we only shared religious icons and prayers in addition to having him once attend a U.N. Day celebration in Mexico City. We remain proud of his outstanding accomplishment from a son of a penniless immigrant to the world's wealthiest man, which he accomplished with dedicated disciplined hard work and devotion to family values. Admittedly, however, we are better and more often entertained, indeed enchanted, by the moves and music of another Mount Lebanon achiever, Shakira Mebarak!


-- from Barron's


She is a remarkable example of a creative, talented woman who struggled her way up in New York's competitive world, counting only on herself -- her determination to keep going no matter what challenges faced her. Reem Acra came to New York as a young woman from war-torn Beirut. She started anywhere she found her chance, maintaining her self-respect and dignity -- keeping her warm smile. She found her talent and focused on it: Wedding dresses. Reem Acra became the most admired name among aspiring brides. We were so thrilled to see in October a notice in The New York Times by Saks Fifth Avenue that "Haute Couture Meets Amber Allure," a new perfume by her. She may spread sprays of Amber but Reem Acra is made of pure gold.


Diplomatic whispers about the newly-formed Southern Sudan indicate that President Silva Kir may be in trouble. Bad economic conditions and internal conflicts created tension within the recently organized army of former rebel fighters. There is talk of a forthcoming street protest to be followed by an army coup takeover. These are not just rumours. They were mentioned in more than one confidential diplomatic message.


The controversial awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union was to honour "the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe," said former Norwegian PM, Thorbjorn Jagland, chair of the Nobel prize committee, as he lauded the unlikely winner. "Could that be the same Thorbjorn Jagland who is also secretary general of the desperately cash-strapped Council of Europe -- not itself an EU institution but currently pleading for additional EU funds to cope with the growing costs of the European Court of Human Rights? Yes, it could." The question was raised by British satirical magazine Private Eye in its 1 November issue. We would add another question: Could it be the same Thorbjorn Jagland whom another Norwegian, Terje Roed Larsen knows fairly well and maybe -- just maybe -- using that relationship to hint to outgoing as well as incoming U.N. Secretaries General about his possible ability to help them get the Nobel Peace Prize award if they kept him within range? Perchance it could.


The Armenian Cathedral on the 2nd Avenue corner of 34th Street is a familiar landmark for U.N. staff and diplomats and New York Passengers taking the Mid-Town Tunnel. Patriarch Torkom Manoogian, who passed away mid-October in Jerusalem, was for a long while the main priest of that New York church. Born in Mesopotamia (Iraq), he started by serving as a parish priest in Haifa (then Palestine under the British Mandate), then left for New York in 1946 when he founded the Armenian Society of Choice. He was anointed to the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the St. James Brotherhood. In his long, productive life, the Patriarch actively affected the lives of his compatriots wherever he went. A gracious man of faith, he was gracious and dedicated to his parish, particularly that he knew persecution first hand, having survived the massacres in Van. He left an outstanding legacy.


Chocolate bars with Ahtisaari's face did not help Finland. Australia's sense of humour and Luxembourg's discreet diplomacy won the European Security Council's non-permanent seats. "Happiness" as a motto did not do much good for Bhutan. Korea won. No intervention by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon; only "in his head" he was for it -- as Korean diplomats explained. Rwanda took the African seat and Argentina the Latin American. The new set up should be good news for the Secretary General as he proceeds in his second term. For two years at least, he will have not only Korea, but Argentina -- the home country of his Chef de Cabinet Susana Malcorra, Australia -- whose former Foreign Minister is his Envoy to Cypress, and Rwanda -- whom he visited early on to make amends for the shortcomings of his predecessor. Luxembourg is not likely to raise undue problems unless in case of a European joint decision. So, quietly, discreetly, a smoother path may lie ahead in dealing with the Council -- unless the staff around the Secretary General bungles it!


One of the most highly-regarded diplomats in Africa, Ibrahim Gambari, the outgoing U.N./A.U. Joint Envoy for Darfur, has just been nominated to receive South Africa's highest award: The Order of Companions of Oliver Tambo. It is awarded to a select number of non-South Africans "in recognition of their contributions and support in the fight against apartheid and for freedom of South Africa." A letter from the government of South African stated that Gambari, who was Nigeria's Minister of Foreign Affairs and its Permanent Representative to the U.N. for a long period, "made an enormous contribution personally as well as on behalf of his country, in the struggle for human rights, freedom, and justice -- including, in particular, the fight against Apartheid."


Hans Corell, former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, addressed an Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting in Quebec on U.N. Day, 24 October, in a special video on the Guide for Politicians on the Rule of Law. He is continuing a special effort to make the Rule of Law an implemented factual reality. Otherwise, the famous declaration adopted by the General Assembly at a "high-level" meeting on 24 September risks becoming lip service only.


The Beards are back.


Passengers on a 49-50th Street cross-town bus were irritated by a young man in the back who was shouting into his cell phone. Someone noticed that the language was Arabic and the accent was heavily Yemeni, most likely from the South. The Yemeni Mission is a couple of blocks away on 51st off First. Several attempts to quiet him down failed. He arrogantly responded by asking them to keep quiet so he could carry on his conversation! Suddenly, a passenger stood up, went straight to the young Yemeni who was obviously a junior member of his country's Mission, and told him in clear Arabic: If he doesn't shut up immediately, he will phone his Permanent Representative and drag him to the police precinct. The stunned young diplomat quickly pocketed his phone and hurried out at the next stop.


Long time no hear! Mo must have lost his popularity with self-promoters. Perhaps when he withheld his million dollar prize, they withheld their awesome awe. No Mauritius Island meditation retreat? No Pro Bono Bono? No Angelique Kidjo leading a penthouse rhythmic march on "Chez Mamma, Chez Mamma Africa?" No reference to his "index of good governance." No prize for an outgoing President of Ghana? No Kofi Annan for his Select Committee Board. The Sudanese British engineer who made millions in Africa's telecommunications business seems to be counting his beans these days. No million-dollar-prize this year. Nothing in 2009 or 2010. The literati and glitterati of Development awards are becoming restless. No prizes means no praise. As the neighbourhood Chinese Cleaners usually cautions: "No ticket, no laundry."


The Kenyan capital is apparently unsafe for sleeping in small hotels, particularly after secret sex encounters. A distinguished politician who is in regular touch with U.N. visiting teams recently discovered that -- to his obvious discomfort. The married member of Parliament took a young woman to an obscure hotel where, following an exceptional effort, he surrendered to deep sleep. The woman -- the age of his daughter -- found it opportune to grab everything around -- including His Excellency's CCCs: Clothes, Cash, and Cell phone. Unpleasantly surprised upon awakening, and completely nude, he tried unsuccessfully to get some clothes from hotel staff who demanded unavailable money in return. After reluctantly introducing himself to another similarly embarrassed yet still clothed customer, he borrowed a cell phone to call his personal driver -- who rushed to the rescue. His Excellency was certainly well-dressed for the next "high-level" mediation meeting convened by our freelance rocky "rock star!"


Our Moslem brothers celebrated the holiday of Sacrifice -- Eid Al-Adha, commemorating the willingness of our Paternal Father Abraham to sacrifice his son to please the Lord. Despite current agonies, we all share a faith in God's mercy and respect for human dignity. We pray that the agonies endured these days by innocent decent people will end with a peaceful outcome where common sense will prevail, when all negative options fail. May God, the Greatest, the Mightiest and the most Compassionate, grant us peace.