Turtle Bay

Egypt to U.N.: stop picking on Mubarak!

Egypt’s influential U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, rebuked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for repeatedly scolding Hosni Mubarak‘s government for its handling of the country’s mass protests, an Egyptian official told Turtle Bay. "The secretary general has basically raised the bar in his comments about events in Egypt, well above the remarks made by other member ...

Egypt’s influential U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, rebuked U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for repeatedly scolding Hosni Mubarak‘s government for its handling of the country’s mass protests, an Egyptian official told Turtle Bay.

"The secretary general has basically raised the bar in his comments about events in Egypt, well above the remarks made by other member states, including those critics of Egypt," Nihal Saad, spokeswoman for the Egyptian mission to the U.N. said in an interview. "He doesn’t miss a chance to criticize what has been going on in Egypt."

Adelaziz conveyed the official complaint in a phone call this week to Ban’s chief of staff Vijay Nambiar, a former Indian diplomat. Abdelaziz is expected to meet with Ban after the secretary general returns from a weeklong trip on Monday. Egypt’s complaint, which was first reported by Reuters, came on a day when Ban reiterated his public criticism of the Egyptian government, urging an end to attacks on reporters and calling for an acceleration of the country’s political transition.

"We have seen too much violence [over] the last few days and also bloodshed," Ban said at a press conference in Berlin with German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle. "Now is the time for Egyptians to begin a process of peaceful and orderly transition leading to free and fair elections respecting the genuine will of the Egyptian people expressed so far through their demonstrations."

The U.N.’s human rights advocate, Navi Pillay, also took as swipe at Mubarak on Friday, challenging the Egyptian president’s claim that he needs to remain in power to prevent his his country from descending into chaos. "In the last two days we have seen chaos in central Cairo, and one of the prime drivers of this chaos seems to have been the actions of Egypt’s security and intelligence services," Pillay said. "Stability depends on the development of human rights and democracy."

Pillay called for an investigation to determine who was behind the attacks on protesters in Tahrir Square earlier this week, and called for the immediate release of journalists and human rights activists. "We now see there is an intense hunger for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa — and of course in other countries in other regions," she said. "Governments who ignore these extremely loud and clear warning signals, are doing so at their own peril."

Saad, spokeswoman for the Egyptian U.N. Delegation, said it was particularly galling than Ban has been hammering away at the Egyptian government every day in his public comments. She said that although she wouldn’t characterize Abdelaziz’s criticism of the U.N. chief as a formal protest, she said her boss "complained about the language that the secretary general has used, especially the fact that it was repetitive. He was repeating it over and over."

The Egyptian may have also been dismayed to hear that the U.N. has newly resumed broadcasting Al Jazeera English, which has provided extensive coverage of the protests, on its internal television circuit. The feed had been cut last year when the U.N. press corps moved their bureaus to make way for a major renovation of the U.N.’s landmark headquarters. Al Jazeera’s engineers restored the connection Friday.

The sharp public rebukes contrasted sharply with the inaction of the U.N. Security Council. Council diplomats said there was virtually no appetite for any discussion of Egypt in the council, and that the United States, which is intimately involved in helping to fashion a transitional government in Egypt, has no interest in involving the council. Washington’s European allies have concurred, noting that China and Russia view the turmoil in Egypt as a purely domestic dispute and would almost certainly block any effort by the U.N. to force Mubarak from power.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, told reporters Friday that the U.N.’s mandate "does not include advice to political leaders." "There are some extremely delicate domestic political matters, and I think that should be left for the sovereign states to deal with," Churkin added.

Critics said the council’s failure to condemn the apparent government-sponsored violence made it complicit in the abuses. "There is no preordained rule that says the Council cannot discuss internal issues," said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who serves as Executive Director of Independent Diplomat, a New York based organization that provides diplomatic advice to independence movements. "It has discussed other ‘domestic’ issues before — in Burma for instance. It has frequently proclaimed its intent that civilians be protected."

But others wondered whether it made sense to address the Egyptian crisis. "In an ideal world, we would want the Security Council to unequivocally warn Egyptian authorities that violence against peaceful demonstrators will not be tolerated, but we are painfully aware that it’s not the way it would play out," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. " Veto powers like Russia and China have time and again opposed taking up massive abuses in the Council like those in Sri Lanka or Zimbabwe, in part because they want to avoid scrutiny of their own abusive records."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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