Dr. Osama Al Baz, one of Egypt’s most senior diplomats and the longtime adviser to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, died Saturday at the age of 82 after a long illness. He was buried later that day.
Al Baz had been actively involved in the peace talks between Israel and Egypt and was one of the drafters of the 1979 Camp David Accords. For years Al Baz was the Egyptian government official responsible for Palestinian-Israeli relations, and he was a central figure in all Egyptian diplomatic relations for decades.
Al Baz studied law at Cairo University and earned his doctorate in law at Harvard. He entered the diplomatic arena toward the end of Anwar Sadat’s term as president of Egypt and helped lay the groundwork for Sadat’s historic visit to Israel in November 1977. Friends say he was a firm believer in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and in cooperating with Jordan and the Palestinians. After Sadat’s assassination in 1981, his successor, Mubarak, appointed Al Baz as his special diplomatic adviser.
Former minister Yossi Beilin, a close friend of Al Baz, told Haaretz that they had met dozens of times, often far from media scrutiny. Al Baz was an Egyptian nationalist who regarded cooperation with Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians as a supreme Egyptian interest, Beilin said.
“He was a courageous man,” Beilin said. “This emerged when he decided to prepare for Sadat’s visit when he was the adviser to then-Foreign Minister Ismail Fahimi, even though Fahimi himself resigned when the planned visit was announced. Moreover, he kept in close touch with the so-called Israeli peace camp and we always met to consult.”
Beilin said that some of their secret meetings took place in London. “I would come on a direct flight from Israel and he’d come from Cairo. We’d meet in a hotel for a few hours and come right back, without going into the city.”
Beilin describes Al Baz as very modest, funny, and slightly scatterbrained man who didn’t like the limelight.
“When I’d visit his office everything was a mess, piles upon piles of paper, and I would always ask him how he’d be able to read all of it. He would laugh without answering. When meeting close friends he would take off his jacket, tie and shoes, and sit in his socks – he was very informal. I once spoke to him after I’d heard his name mentioned as a possible successor to Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. He laughed dismissively. ‘Do I look like the type to go to cocktail parties,’ he asked.”
How close Al Baz was to Mubarak and his degree of influence on the former president is not totally clear. Beilin recalls an incident in June 2000, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak sent Beilin to Mubarak to get him to pressure Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to sign an agreement.
“I went to Cairo on a special plane and Osama met me at the airport. We got to the palace and when we went in to Mubarak, he asked [Al Baz] to wait outside. It was an embarrassing moment because he was my friend and Mubarak knew it,” Beilin recalled.
After Al Baz retired, his successor was not a diplomatic figure but former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was responsible for Israeli-Palestinian relations until Mubarak was deposed in 2011.
Although Al Baz was part of Mubarak’s inner circle and closely identified with his regime, the office of Egyptian President Adly Mansour and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued special obituary notices upon his death. Al Baz was described as “the dean of Egyptian diplomacy. He was a fair man and a great scholar, who worked for decades on behalf of the Egyptian homeland.”
Hundreds of people, including senior Egyptian diplomats and other public figures, attended Al Baz’s funeral. He is survived by his wife, television presenter Omaima Tamam. His brother, Dr. Farouk Al Baz, is a leading American geologist who worked at NASA for many years.
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