Former UN Chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Who Played Key Role in Israel-Egypt Peace, Dies at 93

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Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. May 1997.
Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. May 1997.Credit: AP

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, whose diplomatic career began with Israel's Camp David accords with Egypt, and was later marked by war in the former Yugoslavia, and famine and genocide in Africa, died on Tuesday. He was 93.

An Egyptian, Boutros-Ghali served as UN chief from 1992 to 1996. He died at Al Salam Hospital in Cairo on Tuesday, an official at the hospital said, and the UN Security Council observed a minute's silence after the death was announced.

As an Egyptian, he was able to claim to be both Arab and African. He also was a Coptic Christian from a mainly Muslim country and married an Egyptian Jew, who converted to his religion.  

Boutros-Ghali came from a wealthy family and his grandfather was Egypt's prime minister until his assassination in 1910. Before the United Nations, he had worked in the administrations of Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. 

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with Israel's Moshe Dayan and Egyptian presidents Anwar Sadat at Camp David.Credit: AFP

He accompanied Sadat on the historic 1977 visit to Jerusalem and played a prominent role in the subsequent Camp David accords on the Middle East. 

In 1977, when Egypt’s foreign minister resigned in protest of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem and the possibility of normalizing relations with Israel, Sadat named Boutros-Ghali acting foreign minister and minister of state for foreign affairs, though he had never held public office. In those positions, Boutros-Ghali played a pivotal role in negotiating the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt in March 1979, which also returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, a key Sadat goal.

Israel’s government saw Boutros-Ghali as an ally in reaching the 1978 Camp David Accords. He was key in backing Sadat’s determination to forge the peace deal, even in the face of the hostility of other Arab nations.

Boutros-Ghali had argued unsuccessfully during the negotiations for a Palestinian state and a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to The New York Times.

As the United Nations' first secretary-general from Africa, Boutros-Ghali associated himself with the famine in Somalia and organized the first massive UN relief operation in the Horn of Africa nation. 

Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali with PLO's Yasser Arafat. January 11, 1996.Credit: AP

But success eluded him there and elsewhere as the United Nations tottered in an increasingly disorderly post-communist world, with the world body and the big Security Council powers underestimating the deep animosity behind many conflicts. 

Boutros-Ghali headed the United Nations as the body was redefining itself. He was the first secretary-general in the post-Cold War era and at a time when it was taking on more international peacekeeping work, operations that often were criticized for doing too much or too little.

Under Mubarak, Boutros-Ghali was the architect of Egypt's return to the center of affairs in the Organization of African Unity, the Nonaligned Movement and the Islamic Conference Organization. 

In the UN job, Boutros-Ghali was criticized for its failure to act during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and for not pushing hard enough for UN intervention to end Angola's civil war, which at the time was one of the longest running conflicts in the world. 

Boutros-Ghali found himself jeered in Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Addis Ababa. His style was to wade into crowds and confront protesters when security guards permitted. "I am used to fundamentalists in Egypt arguing with me," he told Reuters. 

He shocked many in Sarajevo when he said he was not trying to belittle the horrors in Bosnia but that there were other countries where the "total dead was greater than here." 

He told Somali warlords and clan leaders to stop accusing the United Nations and him of colonialism, adding that Somalis should be worried that former colonial powers would ignore their plight if they continued to fight. 

"The Cold War is finished," he said. "Nobody is interested in the poor countries in Africa or anywhere in the world. They can easily forget Somalia in 24 hours." 

Boutros-Ghali, who had a reputation for being proud and prickly, also took on the daunting task of reorganizing the UN bureaucracy by slashing posts and demoting officials at a pace that earned him the nickname "the pharaoh." 

But Washington had wanted him to do more to reform the body and the U.S. Congress would not pay more than $1 billion in back dues while he remained at the helm. 

Many diplomats suggested he was jettisoned by U.S. President Bill Clinton's Democratic administration during an election year to pre-empt criticism from Republicans deeply hostile to Boutros-Ghali and the United Nations. 

Ali G Interviews Boutros Boutros Ghali

In 1996, 10 Security Council members led by African states sponsored a resolution backing him for a second five-year term but the United States vetoed Boutros-Ghali when his reappointment came up for a vote. 

He was passionate about the works of French painter Henri Matisse, whom he knew when he studied in Paris, smoked an occasional cigar and drank Scotch with water - a taste he said he acquired "after 70 years of British occupation" of Egypt. 

Boutros-Ghali later served as secretary-general of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie, an organization of French-speaking nations, and as director of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights.  

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