Remembering a master diplomat: Al-Ahram marks Boutros Ghaly's 100th birthday

Ahram Online , Thursday 1 Dec 2022

‏Marking the hundredth anniversary of the late Egyptian politician and diplomat Boutros Ghaly’s birth, Al-Ahram newspaper, in cooperation with “Kemet Boutros Ghaly establishment for Peace and Knowledge”, has organized a roundtable on the active role played by Ghaly as a prominent figure in the history of Egyptian diplomacy and journalism.

Al-Ahram marks Boutros Ghaly s 100th birthday
Al-Ahram marks Boutros Ghaly s 100th birthday


Many remember Ghaly (14 November 1922 –  16 February 2016)  as an icon of Egyptian diplomacy.

His long and brilliant career spans academia, politics, and journalism.

He was a  professor of international law and the state minister of foreign affairs.

He was also the editor of International Politics quarterly and of  Egypt’s weekly the Economist.

However, to the layman, he will always be remembered as the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Secretary-General of La Francophonie.

Ghaly's integrity, courage, erudition and strong commitment to facts impacted his role as a diplomat.

Therefore, he never shirked from releasing the UN report on the massacre of Qana (which took place in Lebanon at the hands of Israeli troops) despite knowing the heavy price he would have to pay.

By releasing that report, he was defying American attempts to threaten and silence him – the Americans would later get back at him when they refused to reappoint him as UN secretary general.

Al-Ahram's Roundtable   


The participants at the roundtable were among Ghaly’s closest friends and  colleagues.

Some of the participants had been among Ghaly's disciples, whether at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or in the media.

During the roundtable, Ahram editor-in-chief, Alaa Thabet, said that Ghaly is one of the great builders of this nation. He described Ghaly as a pioneer of eastern – western relations.

He also pointed out to Ghaly's engagement with issues pertaining to Africa, and especially to the Nile basin countries.

Thabet maintained that Ghaly's achievements in this respect remain  unsurpassed and his efforts unequalled.

Recognising early on the importance of western culture, Ghaly launched two highly specialised publications – the International Affairs and Al Ahram  Economist.

According to Thabet, by launching these publications, Ghaly proved yet again that he was a pioneer who thought ahead. These publications were launched long before local Egyptian media had any inkling of the importance of having such publications, Thabet said.

Fifteen years later, when Ghaly was elected as the UN Secretary- General, a leading Ahram columnist –  Salama Ahmed Salama –  wrote that Ghaly was not only the first Arab-African to hold this post, but also the first Egyptian Copt married to a Jewish lady; and the first  renowned professor of law; and the first politician coming from the Third World at the end of the Cold war, to hold that position.

Mamdouh Abbas, President of “Kemet Boutros Ghaly” said that organising such a meeting at Al-Ahram means so much to the people entrusted with this organisation.

It was this newspaper that first introduced Ghaly to the public. As editor of two of the most successful publications, he always took account of the reader and managed to make information, which is otherwise highly academic and too obscure for non-specialists, accessible to a wider audience.  

Abbas said that Al-Ahram had opened up a new horizon for Ghaly and that it enabled him to contribute to the revival of Egypt’s intellectual spheres.

According to Abbas, there are four main stages in Ghaly's career.

The first is his tenure as professor of international law who had written many books and research papers.

The second is his position as an editor of two highly specialised publications.

The third stage began when he took an active part in Egypt- Israel peace negotiations, thus demonstrating his capabilities as a politician and a diplomat.

The last stage came in the wake of his nomination by African heads of states -- with whom he had such close relations – to the post of the UN secretary- general. 

Against all odds, Ghaly managed to present two major working papers that still outline the UN activities until now—the Agenda for Peace and  “Agenda for Development”, Abbas pointed out.

The connection he made between peace and development is what we currently call sustainable development, he added.

Amr Mousa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Former Arab League Secretary- general, said that Ghaly is a very special figure who laid the basis for modernizing the ministry’s performance.

Ghaly, Mousa said, also urged many of his colleagues and students at the ministry to become more fully aware of the importance of powers emerging in the eastern parts of the world.

Ghaly, due to his academic background, has always managed to be precise, going straight to the point despite  being so tactful as a diplomat, Mousa said, adding that he has learned a lot from Ghaly, especially when it comes to being committed to national and Arab interests.

Ahram leading writer and former Editor of Ahram Hebdo, Mohamed Salmawy, pointed to the one characteristic of Ghaly’s which would help anyone understand his achievements.

According to Salmawy, Ghaly remained a university professor to the last minute of his life.

He had a scholar's work ethic, and while abiding by the rules of scientific research, he always undertook his mission with humility. Salmawy said he had asked Ghaly , who went on after leaving the UN to establish Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, about the reason why he accepted the position of Secretary- General of La Francophonie. In response to Salmay's question, Ghaly simply said "because they needed my effort."

Former Minister of Trade and Industry, Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour; a close friend of Ghaly, said that despite Ghaly’s  belonging to the Egyptian aristocracy –  a class that was deprived, following the 1952 revolution, of much of its privileges and properties – Ghaly sided with the revolution. As an academic and a scholar, Ghaly understood the need for change.

Moreover, Abdel-Nour believes that Ghaly was among a very small number of politicians who were able to speak for Egypt's interests eloquently and in a language that western foreign policy can respond to.

Abdel-Nour went on to say that Ghaly believed two historical events to be inevitable (although many disagreed with him).

The first is that the 1952 regime will continue to rule Egypt for a long time.

The second is that Israel is here to stay.

Nabil Abdel-Fattah, Consultant at Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies, said that Ghaly has always been associated with the concept of Egyptian nationalism.

According to Abdel-Fattah, Ghaly's nationalism was fostered by his uncle Merit Ghaly.

For Abdel-Fattah, Ghaly is an embodiment of a political realist who managed to be part of the political community when the mainstream ideology was socialism and later when Egypt embraced capitalism.

Moustafa Al Feiqy, who headed the information office of former President Hosny Mubarak, said that Ghaly is known among his friends for his sarcasm.

He recalls Ghaly demanding three things of the president who refused him the first two but accepted the third (to endorse his nomination to the UN).

Ghaly remarked in jest that Mubarak granted him the most unattainable among his three wishes.

Al- Feiqy pointed out that Ghaly considered himself a journalist and that he benefited a lot from being around media professionals. His mingling with them helped him deal well with the media throughout his career, Al-Feiqy argued.

However, Ahmed El-Gamal, veteran writer and journalist, said that Ghaly’s writings have always echoed the pain of someone who has not been fairly treated.

Throughout his career, El-Gamal went on to say, Ghaly’s sighs and moaning of injustice were reflected in his writings.

As an intellectual who could only find a voice through official channels, Ghaly’s disappointment was clearly justified as one who has not been appreciated enough by the regime.

Ambassador Raouf Saad said that Ghaly has always contributed significantly to any position he held.

He stated that Ghaly had always been an intellectual and an academic who certainly left his mark wherever he worked, and who thus managed to expand the horizon of both his colleagues and his students.


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