1 September 2013


(Al-Hayat, 10 August 2013 Cartoon by Habib Haddal)


You don't mess with an angry Egyptian public, as Presidents Mubarak and Morsi already discovered. They turn their wrath into jokes -- personal ones; often funny. After a brief hint at U.S. Ambassador Patterson, now kicked up higher in the State Department, and awaiting Ambassador-designate Ford, who is already receiving hints of what's coming, U.S. President Obama has become a general target for his presumed support for the Muslim Brotherhood. His photos of his face shifted in odd directions on YouTube, and on posters: A widely-circulated song by a dancing woman Mona El-Masry first addresses Mr. Obama in Egyptian Arabic: "Abuk, Ummak," referring to his father and mother, telling him he knows nothing about Egyptians and should not mess with their lives. For further clarity, she then moves to English (with a heavy Egyptian accent, pronouncing the name like Ubahmah) again bringing in his parents if he messed up further with "Masr" (Egypt) -- Mother of the World.


Speculation about a Presidential interest by Hillary Rodham Clinton was brought up by TV entertainer Jay Leno with President Obama who visited the Tonight Show in Burbank, California. Referring to a recent lunch at the White House with the outgoing Secretary of State, Leno asked whether the President noticed her measuring the drapes. She doesn't need to measure them, came the answer. She had lived there before.


Where did you get those boots?!


On a recent Wednesday afternoon groups of young men and women gathered around three city blocks on 2nd Avenue, a few blocks away from U.N. Headquarters. They looked like an international gathering of varied backgrounds, from Asian to Afro-American to Latino and were chatting together in an ordinary queue. Some neighbours wondered whether it had to do with any U.N. event and they found out that the main attraction was $1 beer every Wednesday in August. We're glad it will not extend to September when some delegates may find a lively alternative to the General Debate.


Beware of those who walk under a cloudy sky.


"Millions poured into the streets. Inside Mr. Morsi's office, Mr. Morsi's team checked the official crowd count, sent its own observers, monitored the gathering on Google Earth, and even compared the numbers of mobile phone signals in various public squares, one adviser said, and mistakenly concluded that the pro-Morsi rally in Cairo outnumbered the protests against him. "We felt a sense of relief," the adviser said."! That was the day he was popularly dismissed.


"Britain should not worry about sending weapons to Syrian rebels because they promised to give them back when they are no longer needed."
-- British Minister Alistair Burt in the House of Commons


When the U.N. Secretary General's car was driving openly and widely in Manhattan -- that is, with no increasing Security worries -- there was open competition between companies to have him ride one of theirs. When "What's good for General Motors was good for the U.S." and by extension for the U.N., there was pressure to use one of their signature limos. When Volvo of Sweden came into its own as a "Yuppie" symbol, a car was arranged for Secretary General Annan whose reciprocated affection for everything Swede is beyond dispute. While Ban Ki-moon kept or brought other cars and occasionally toyed with brief rides in electric or mixed engines, he now had to accommodate Southern Korean business. Recently, he has been seen moving around with a specially-designed Hyundai. He rode in it to Harlem for an event at the Apollo Theatre. Perhaps our resident rapper could persuade Jay Z to get one too.


When Korean Asiana flight 214 tragically crashed in San Francisco airport in July, there was enormous genuine sympathy with the victim passengers. There were also reports of possible pilot error. A recent crack by a summer intern at the National Transportation Board made its way on serious live television before it was withdrawn with an apology. It wrongly reported the pilots names to be "Sum Ting Wong," "Wi Tu Lo," and "Ho Lee Fuk." The Board indicated it took appropriate action that such a serious error will not be repeated.


Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.
-- Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister


The Guardian website announced a review of the role of the Internet in everyone's life in a "five minute video debate"!


When a headline in Pan Arab Suadi-owned daily Ashar Al Awsat reported an important meeting in Djeddah between the Saudi Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Abdel Aziz Bin Abdallah, that is the son of the King, with "the Representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs," we read the item with interest. Who would that envoy be, we wondered? We discovered that his name is Abdallah Matouk Al Matouk. Apparently there was a prolonged discussion attended by the "accompanying delegation." Admittedly, we have no idea who Matouk Matouk is or what he does. Anyone with any information will be appreciated.


A survey by the Reputation Institute, after surveying 27,000 people from G-8 industrial countries, has found that Canada has the number one reputation. The worse, regrettably, is current day Iraq at number 50. The U.S. came in at 22. China is 44. Nothing about today's U.N.; perhaps its reputation has been greatly improved this year after Deputy Secretary General Eliasson inaugurated his leadership proposals at International Toilet Day.


Former DPI Press Officer Jessica Jiji, a professional journalist and author, is now a member of the Secretary General's team. With an office -- actually a new cubicle -- on the 37th floor overlooking the East River, she mainly is involved in speech writing, together with another capable former DPI colleague Richard Amdor. The positive presence of such experienced and dedicated staff is a valuable addition to the Secretary General's office. In particular, it would help evade unnecessary forced errors, and -- at the same time -- introduce newcomers to the inner workings of the Secretariat.


  • You are unique -- like everybody else
  • Sometimes you're the pigeon; sometimes you're the statue
  • If you want to do something good, you can always find a way; if you don't, you can always find an excuse


Violence has been so much a part of daily life in the Arab world these days that people witnessing fire exchanges and booby-trapped cars resorted to black humour. Recently, Beirut daily As-Safir published a photo of a car in the middle of a traffic jam in the Southern suburb and written on its rear window: "Don't follow me; I'm booby trapped." Usually, some young women wishing to attract attention would write on the window: "Don't follow; I am engaged." Also, with so many explosions by mobile phones, the overall advice is do not respond to any unfamiliar call; you may be inadvertently next.


A ceremony at U.N. Headquarters commemorating 10 years of the U.N. office bombing in Baghdad would have gone as a formal though solemn and sad event, were it not for the talented presentation of former Spokesman and Media Director Ahmad Fawzi. His eloquent choice of words, an impressive blend of poetry and fact, his touching voice and commitment to the cause for which our fallen colleagues gave the ultimate sacrifice made an impressive difference. It's a pity that his talent, proven record and experienced knowledge of the Arab region is not used more frequently by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.


Iran's new Minister of Foreign Affairs Jawad Zarif had served for decades in New York, first as Deputy Permanent Representative of his country to the U.N., then at the top spot. He speaks excellent English with a ready smile and wide knowledge of both issues that separate U.S. and Iran and issues that join them to work often discreetly together, from Afghanistan to the Caspian basin to the rescue of Western hostages in Lebanon at a certain period when the U.N. was able to produce results. If anyone can maintain a dialogue through an open or discreet channel, it is Jawad Zarif. Let's hope his appointment opens a way to ease tense relations, and -- similarly -- to a positively helpful role by the U.N. To begin with, he could assist in re-establishing relations which were cut between U.N. Envoy Brahimi and the Syrian government as a prelude to a possible Geneva II conference.


If you want stability you must be kind. If you want strength you must protect the weak. Practice humility and accept human fraility that you may be strong.
-- Lao tse


Mark Malloch-Brown, former U.N. Deputy Secretary General, or de-facto Secretary General during the last year of Mr. Annan's term, wrote an article in The Financial Times commenting on the recent re-elections in Zimbabwe under the title "The Art of Healing Elections, Mugabe-style." Lord Mark or Lord Malloch-Brown, depending on your side of the Atlantic, is fairly knowledgeable about Zimbabwe, as he headed the U.N. Development Programme, and as a former UK Minister for Africa, before he resigned from Gordon Brown's cabinet sought to negotiate a land reform settlement in Zimbabwe. In the article he points out an ongoing debate in Africa that inexplicably pits development, or stability against democracy and human rights. Zimbabwe is one front of that argument; so was Kenya's election last March. However, he added, those two visions of Africa need an accommodation: disciplined growth and democracy are not mutually exclusive.


Maria Cristina Perceval, Argentina's capable Permanent Representative, spoke at the ceremony commemorating our fallen colleagues in Baghdad ten years ago. She was very well-attired for the occasion, had the right demeanor as she moved from the wreath laying ceremony to the gathering at the reconstructed Trusteeship Chambers. The only problem was her low voice. Her prepared text, in English, was one of the best, but -- regrettably -- very few could hear it in that large conference room. At such a public occasion, Ambassador Perceval had, so to speak, a problem of perceival. One of her aides, or someone from the organizational team, should have brought the microphone closer to her -- or vice versa. By the time the problem was "perceived," the speech was over. Incidentally, regardless of the Presidency of the Security Council, Argentina is directly relevant to the tragedy. A close partner of our beloved Sergio, Carolina Larriera, was Argentinean.


U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Maura Conelly, who succeeded current U.N. Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, has concluded her term and was replaced by a new Ambassador. As she was bidding farewell to well wishes at Beirut airport, Ms. Conelly started to cry. A previous U.S. Ambassador actually got married and settled there. Even U.S.G. Feltman keeps in touch with Lebanese politicians, including apparently the Speaker of Parliament, leader of Shiite Amal movement Nabih Berri, to whom he just sent a phone message congratulating him at the end of Ramadan "Eid." Speaker Berri responded that he had received a more eloquent greeting from President Obama.


As if by a consensus instruction, young women in New York suddenly decided to welcome their summer with a short front dress which has a somewhat longer tail. It may have started with some newspaper report, but by end July varied shapes appeared in varied colours in all locations: from Fifth Avenue shoppers, to Central Park strollers to West Side outdoor cafe diners. Very tempting for those who got a front to brag about and very helpful to those who would need to cover their behind.


A widely circulated story a couple of years ago about a foreign diplomat who took his family to a concert of Wagner's music in Germany. While the orchestra was getting ready and the visitor exchanged a few amusing words with his wife, a man turned to him and said in very polite yet firm language: "Sir. We are not here to enjoy ourselves. We are here to listen to Wagner"! Now, whether you hate Wagner but love his music or the other way round, you are bound to listen to him repeatedly in September wherever you are -- as his centenary will be celebrated -- from Ker Fliegende Hollander to Tann hauser to the Ring Cycle. Any New Yorker passing by Lincoln Center will have to make a quick decision whether amused or not amused.


Alas. A re-opened refurbished U.N. Delegates' Lounge is a pathetic cross between a classroom and a (Dutch) doctor's reception lounge. On one side there are lounge chairs placed next to one another, on the far side there are long tables -- like at school -- where supposedly different delegates will be seated together. An information booth is probably helpful although its attendant looked lonely indeed. The worse deterioration is in the coffee service. The Delegates' Lounge was famous for having one of the best espressos or cappuccinos in New York. It was nicely served in porcelain cups. The new corner towards the edge serves coffee ONLY IN PLASTIC cups. Some respect, please. If not for the coffee, at least for the "delegates."


A prolonged report in The New York Times on a rich Brazilian businessman who once bragged that his fortune was approaching one hundred billion dollars, which would have made him the richest in the world. Two reporters described the sudden changes in Brazil's economy liking it to the status of Eika Batista, who was photographed with open hands, as if pleading for support, explain a sudden reversal of fortune. It turned out that he went down from $34.5 billion in March last year to a mere $4.8 billion this year. A sob story indeed. One more billion lost and he may have to sell that expensive rug over his head.


No. It is not one more take-off on the declining status of the once formidable Francophonie. It is a popular cultural event full of joy and talent. The festival initiated in Le Rochelle, France, with hundreds of thousands participating and will offer a performance in New York for the first time on 19 September. It will be devoted to the music of the formidable Edith Piaf on the 50th Anniversary of her passing. Participants will include Harry Connick Jr., Marianne Faithfull, Patricia Kaas, Angelique Kidjo, Julian Clerc, Zaz, Coeur de Pirate, and filmed for France 5. Charles Aznavour, who once sang with the Great Lady, will preside.


It's a man, it's a jewel, it's a promise? Whatever. A highly regarded newspaper placed a headline in its economic section advising its intellectual leaders that "Chow Too Fook" was expecting good times ahead. Upon closer, more sober reading, we found out the paper's great enthusiasm was about some improved improvised market for jewelry in Asia. Good Luck, Chow Fook!


Edith Gormezano worked as a translator at the U.N. before becoming Eydie Gorme -- a popular singer in New York shows in duo with her husband, Steve Lawrence. Born in the Bronx, where her father was a tailor immigrant from Sicily and her mother from Turkey, she was fluent in languages and loved music. When auditioning for Steve Allen's Tonight show, she was taken for a week, but stayed on for years. She knew over 2,000 songs. She refused to adapt to pop music and preferred old style delivery. "If we came out with jeans and sneakers, we'd look ridiculous," she said, "we're stuck with what we are." She was 84 when she died in Las Vegas.


The outpouring of sympathy on the passing away of Dona Marcela Perez de Cuellar displayed the extent of affection she had gained amongst so many people worldwide and the number of gracious friends who contacted the family in Lima. Amongst those who wrote was our distinguished Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, the longest-serving U.N. Representative who had worked closely with our former Secretary General, particularly as Under-Secretary General for General Assembly Affairs.