1 September 2004
MABROUK PRINCESS RYM:
Early September Rym Brahimi will become officially a Princess of Jordan. She will be wed to Prince
Ali, brother of King Abdullah II. Rym, who became a CNN media star during the first stages of the war
in Iraq met the Prince while in Amman. She had made her way in journalism, including a stint at U.N.
Headquarters, under her own steam. One of her impressive feature projects was about the Moslem Haj
season where she combined her normal Westernized surroundings with her deeply felt roots. No more
journalism for her now. But she did make her mark as a reporter, a friend and a person. It is rare
that such a princess of a woman becomes a real princess. Mabrouk Rym.
FROM ALPHABET TO CARTHAGE:
Mediterranean women navigators are initiating a competition covering one of the oldest routes in
history. The Phoenicians, who carried the alphabet to the world were the first sailors. When one of
their queens, Elisar, had to navigate for her life as her greedy brother killed her husband and
uncle, she sailed 1450 miles from the Lebanese port of Tyre arriving in the North African port of
Carthage, now near Tunis. Under the banner of "peace and development through sports," a pioneer
group of Arab and European women will be racing across the Mediterranean to replicate that trip.
History regards Elisar as a creative survivor. Upon arrival in a distant lonely land, she was
authorized by the neighbouring King of Lybia to run a territory "as wide as a cow's hyde." She
picked up some hyde, chipped it into tiny pieces and spread them over a wide range of land known
today as Tunisia. No wonder many Lebanese and Tunisians look alike!
"FAT MAT" FOOD FOR OIL DEALS:
During a visit to Beirut, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was asked about an expanded list of
those who had received oil coupons or other food for oil deals from the former regime. An initial
list of Arab and international individuals was reported by Baghdad daily "Al-Mada" and carried by the
media worldwide. Also, Ahmed Chalabi had stated in his prime time role that he had elaborate
documents with facts and figures. The Iraqi government had started a wide investigation based on
seized documents, particularly at the ministry of oil. Hence the special interest by Lebanese
media in finding out at least some partial results. Interestingly, Mr. Allawi responded briefly
and swiftly in Arabic: "Fat Mat," literally "what is past is dead," let bygones be bygones. Or the
deal is done!
WE TAKE QAZI YOU TAKE SEVAN:
With the absence of any impact by the newly appointed Special Representative for Iraq, some are
wondering whether naming him was part of an understanding already reached about accommodation over
Iraq in return for no embarrassment over Food-For-Oil. The Pakistani ambassador took his time taking
over his post, went hesitantly to Baghdad, agreed with everything -- in fact heaped praise on a
process he hardly witnessed -- got out just before someone else brokered a peace in Najaf and is likely
to stay some time in New York for briefing, de-briefing, re-briefing, etc., then possibly collecting
his "stuff" in Washington. His next trip to Iraq may take a while. What substantive role would he
have in the forthcoming elections next January (four months time) is unclear. But then, the fate of
these elections is unclear. Remember the statements about their possible postponement -- by the
Interim Prime Minister and the Secretary General in Bangkok? They know more than we do -- or more
than Gazi knows for that matter. Meanwhile, Benon Sevan, former Food-For-Oil Director is awaiting a
Volcker "inquiry" and double-checking whether he should get a lawyer as he entertains friends at the
It seems that the Chef de Cabab had not enjoyed that secret Victoria recipe for a while. Since
Thanksgiving, the basic ingredients were unavailable, stashed in a Latin American location; no special
effort was made to bring it back to Headquarters. Meanwhile, the Chef has reportedly experimented --
discreetly of course -- with some African dishes. A totally different gender, however, remains
in the Asia category -- with mainly Indian spice.
MARIE AND THE BELGIAN DIPLOMAT:
It is not only senior Annan-appointed officials who get into public controversies these days. Most
recently, a picketing group drew traffic snarls on Manhattan's 57th Street. They were carrying placards
against demanding fair and just treatment for "Marie." The francophone African young woman claimed that
she was mistreated and cheated of her pay by her employer, a Belgian diplomat whose name was plastered on
nearby cardboards. It was not long before some politicians rushed to exploit the crowd. One
representative started a speech by shouting "Kofi Annan: take action now." A passerby who attempted
to explain Annan's innocence in this particular case, was told off by a woman walking her poodle on
a Park Avenue corner. She thought the Secretary General needed to provide further proof that he was
pro-American: rush to rescue Marie.
NIGERIA FLAG BACK:
The Nigerian flag is proudly flying again on top of the Nigeria House on 2nd Avenue and 45th Street.
After we reported that the flag was torn by the wind, it is with pleasure that we report that the
mission took the right action. Nigeria is not only one of the most powerful and resourceful countries
in Africa, but it is home of some outstanding individuals who represented their country -- and
Africa -- with distinction. Hence, our special affection for that great country and our special care
that its flag remains intact, proper and proud.
Newly appointed U.N. envoy to Iraq Ashraf Qazi is described by most of those who know him as an
experienced diplomat, who is somewhat familiar to the region in which he is designated to serve.
He may require some better advice on what he tells the media. Local media should be no problem -- they
are so interested that they wil be impressed whatever he says or does. Arab media will most likely
overlook certain shortcomings in their keen desire to have a special U.N. role in Iraq. What he says
to the international media will have to be less glib and more substance. For example, during the
National Conference meeting while fighting was going on in Najaf, he responded to a foreign
correspondent by saying: "There is light at the end of the tunnel even if the end of the tunnel
is not exactly visible immediately!" Giggles all around. Stick to the point, you are already more
in trouble than you know.
HUMAN VOICE OF MUSIC:
As fighting spreads in many flashpoints of the Arab world, a majority of television viewers have
taken refuge in music. A competition for a superstar singer drew viewers from Ramallah to
Benghazi. When a Jordanian woman won last year, she was encouraged by King Abdallah and Queen
Rania. As two finalists -- a Palestinian and Lybian -- were selected out of thousands of aspirants,
destitute crowds found in them some ray of hope. To those militants who irrationally claimed that
interest in a Palestinian artist would take away from the "real" struggle (!), the singer Ammar
Hassan said: "I want to reflect the human face of my people, that despite all the difficulties we
face, we exist, that there are people like me and that creativity is our weapon." The young artist
continued: "The occupation is not afraid of kids throwing stones. The occupation is afraid of
scientists, intellectuals and musicians who reflect their humanity and express the message of
their people. Do you think throwing stones will lead to victory? There is no victory with
ignorance. Let's educate our children and plant the seeds of hope and humanity in their hearts."
CONFUSION OVER SPOKESMAN FOR IRAQ:
When Ashraf Qazi was about to go to Iraq, the U.N. Press Officer in Beirut Nejib Friji was asked to
lend a hand -- temporarily. Instead, Friji announced officially to the Lebanese and Arab media
that "Secretary General Kofi Annan has appointed Najib Friji as Spokesman for the S.G.S.R. in
Iraq." While in Baghdad, he also managed to have some news reports in Beirut papers mainly promoting
himself rather than his immediate boss -- a habit practiced earlier on two ESCWA Executive Secretaries,
both of whom wrote officially to Headquarters asking for a replacement. It did not take too long
for matters to be clarified. Ayman Safadi, director general of Jordan Radio and Television
Corporation was just appointed as full-time Spokesman for that mission. Safadi, 42, had worked as
Editor-in-Chief of Jordan Times and served as director of the press department at the
Royal Court as well as press adviser to HRH Prince Hassan. While the U.N. mission is a new
experience, his professional background and political connections are likely to come in
handy. A Jordanian is an appropriate choice. Besides, he can read and write Arabic.
Every now and then more funds from Oil-for-Food seemed to be unaccounted for, yet no one really raises
further questions. Most recently, British engineering firm Weir Group announced that it was
unlikely to track down about $7.8 million in irregular payments it made while working for the program
in Iraq. You can bet your jolly good you-know-what that if that money had gone to politically
unprotected pockets it would have been already presented for eventual leakage to the press.
LUBBERS CASE CONTINUED:
Despite a decision by Secretary General Kofi Annan to close a sexual harassment case against UNHCR
Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, the case may not be totally closed. At least one of the women involved
is asking where is the report on which Annan based his decision. Could she look at it? As Annan
would know since his days as head of Personnel, these cases don't just go away. Why is he trying
so much to accommodate Lubbers will remain an open question.
PRIVATE PLANE PHOTOS:
A correspondent of Al-Jazeera who accompanied the Secretary General on his visit to Darfur
produced a feature mainly taken during flights between Doha, Sudan and Nairobi. Qatar has a tradition
of offering a U.N. Secretary General a private plane as he would start a trip from there to hotspots not
easily connected by commercial airlines. With a lack of substance, the feature dealt with a wider
question of dealing with conflicts. It concluded that present day U.N. seems helpless and unable to
play its designated role. But there were lots of photos.
CARRY ON, QAZI:
If it was not catastrophic, it would have been truly comic. The New Special Representative in Iraq,
Ashraf Qazi, either has no sense of timing or is being misled into a ludicrous situation. The day when
Najaf was caught in the fierce fighting and Sadr's district of Baghdad an open battlefield, Qazi, who
had done nothing to help, met the Minister of Planning in Baghdad "to discuss the U.N. role in
assisting Iraqi authorities in the reconstruction efforts of cities like Najaf and Thawra City" (the
term used by Saddam Hussein's regime for Baghdad's renamed Sadr City). How dim and insensitive can you
get. It reminds one of a famous British farce entitled "Carry On." It was mainly about bunglers.
It was noted that photos of Benon Sevan published with stories on Oil-for-Food show him either
during a visit to Baghdad next to a photo of Saddam Hussein or looking like a deer caught in the
headlights. A proposal to approach the newspapers concerned was turned down. It was also noted that a
one-page story on the Volcker investigation had almost no reference to the current Secretary General
but carried on the top a photo of his predecessor Dr. Boutrous-Ghali signing the agreement. Could that
be an indication of a new spin?
SPINNING THE MARCH:
A staff demonstration in New York around the Secretariat fountain carried several placards as witnessed
by media representations. However, a press release limited their text to: "We Shall Never Forget" or
"Never Again." Actually, most placards demanded a fuller investigation, a refusal of the "collective
accountability" approach which picked on lower staff and averted senior ones with political backing.
Someone may have figured that what mattered was not the facts but the widely circulating more
controlled version. But word of mouth goes round quicker particularly when it relates to dearly beloved
NOW TURKISH CYPRIOTS ARE UNHAPPY:
It is now the turn of the Turkish Cypriots to complain about Kofi Annan. After an angry Greek majority
denounced him by using his name in every imaginable way, the Turkish minority found out that little
of the promised rewards are coming their way. A European diplomat heard from a disgruntled Turk that
the U.N. Secretary General did not seem to be fully aware of the details or implications of his own
plan (which in fact was not actually his -- that's the point!). Reportedly, Annan was startled when
told by Turkish Cypriot leader Dr. Denktash that the proposed plan would displace about 80,000 people.
Annan turned to one of his main aides and wondered if that was true. The answer was affirmative.
However, the "compassionate" senior official explained, the number may be slightly less -- like
60,000. Anyway, they are dispensable Cypriots, not valuable members of the brainstorming team.
Greece surprised common wisdom that it could not conduct a modern day Olympic. The country to invent
the marathons and Olympics seemed lagging behind for all arrangements, until the last few weeks to zero
hour. Then suddenly, as only Greeks could do, all the stops were pulled and events went on without a
hitch with fun, music and emotions habitual to a Big Fat Greek Olympic wedding.
One of the longest serving ambassadors to the U.N. Abdullah Al-Ashtal of Yemen just died. He had
arrived in New York during the seventies, representing Democratic South Yemen and then, after a unity
with the North, the Republic of Yemen. He served admirably in the Security Council, keeping open bridges
with his fiercest adversaries. A man of principle and dignity, Al-Ashtal was highly regarded by all
Secretaries General he worked with including Kofi Annan who knew him well. His private dinners,
co-hosted with his charming and brilliant wife Vivian were a who's who of international power brokers
and decision makers. He will always be fondly remembered. May his soul rest in peace.
ARNOLD ON MADISON:
The California Governor took time off the Republic National Convention to stroll on upper
Madison Avenue. It was about lunchtime and typically star-gazing socialites in outdoor cafes like
Nello, like Galoue, pretended not to watch but several made pretences to step off and follow his
pace. The bodybuilder turned politician was accompanied by "Happy" Rockefeller, wife of the late
New York Governor. The evening before the Republican Arnold who is married to a Kennedy, had
addressed the convention giving an opening to the vivacious Bush daughters who followed to quip
coyly "thanks to him, if one of us gets married to a Democrat, it should be no problem."