Boutros Boutros-Ghali has died at the age of 93. The Egyptian politician was the Secretary-General of the U.N. from 1992 until 1996. His passing was first reported by the Associated Press on the morning of February 16. Boutros-Ghali had been admitted to a Cairo hospital on February 11 after he broke his leg, according to Egyptian news agency Ahram Online.
After his death was announced, the U.N. Security Council observed a minute’s silence. He was the first Arab to hold the top job at the United Nations. When Boutros-Ghali took on the role, the United Nations was arguably at its most powerful following the success of the coalition army in the first Gulf War in 1991. His rise in the U.N. was attributed to his role in peace negotiations between Arab nations and Israel, culminating in the Camp David Accords.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. His Grandfather Was Assassinated While Serving as Prime Minister of Egypt
Boutros-Ghali was born into a Coptic Christian family in Cairo in 1922. His grandfather, Boutros Ghali, had been the Prime Minister of Egypt, but was assassinated while in office in 1910.
Boutros-Ghali studied at Cairo University as well as the Pantheon-Sorbonne in Paris. Later, Boutros-Ghali was Fulbright scholar at Columbia Unviersity. Following his graduation, Boutros-Ghali worked as a professor of international law at Cairo University before he ascended into the role of foreign minister in Anwar al-Sadat’s government in 1977. In his later political career, Boutros-Ghali served as the director of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights.
Following his passing, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement saying:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the death of my predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
The late Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, was a respected statesman in the service of his country, Egypt. He was a well-known scholar of international law and brought formidable experience and intellectual power to the task of piloting the United Nations through one of the most tumultuous and challenging periods in its history, and guiding the Organization of the Francophonie in subsequent years.
As Secretary-General, he presided over a dramatic rise in UN peacekeeping. He also presided over a time when the world increasingly turned to the United Nations for solutions to its problems, in the immediate aftermath of the cold war.
Boutros Boutros-Ghali did much to shape the Organization’s response to this new era, in particular through his landmark report “An Agenda for Peace” and the subsequent agendas for development and democratization.
He showed courage in posing difficult questions to the Member States, and rightly insisted on the independence of his office and of the Secretariat as a whole. His commitment to the United Nations – its mission and its staff — was unmistakable, and the mark he has left on the Organization is indelible.
I extend my deepest condolences to Mrs. Boutros-Ghali, as well as to the rest of the family, to the Egyptian people, and to the late Secretary-General’s many friends and admirers around the world.
The United Nations community will mourn a memorable leader who rendered invaluable services to world peace and international order.
2. Boutros-Ghali & His Wife Were Multi-Lingual; They Argued in Arabic & Spoke Cordially to Each Other in French
Boutros-Ghali is survived by his wife, Leia Maria Boutros-Ghali. In a 1995 New York Times feature, Boutros-Ghali, while noting that he and his wife were multi-lingual, said, “When I have tense relations with my wife, we speak in Arabic. When we talk business, then we speak English. When our relationship is better, then we talk French.” She was raised Jewish in the Egyptian city of Alexandria but converted to Catholicism in her teenage years. The couple had no children together.
His nephew Youssef Boutros-Ghali was Egypt’s Minister of Finance until the 2011 Egyptian protests. At the time he was also the chairman of the International Monetary and Financial Committee. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison in absentia in a quick trial in 2011. Youssef and his family now live in the United Kingdom, where they have political asylum.
3. He Signed Off on the Sale of Weapons to the Rwandan Government — Weapons That Were Used in the Tutsi Genocide
Investigative journalist Linda Melvern discovered that in 1990, while Boutros-Ghali was a member of the Egyptian government’s foreign ministry, he signed off on a $26 million sale of guns to Rwanda. In 1994, the Hutu regime in Rwanda would massacre 800,000 Tutsi people. According to Melvern, when she asked Boutros-Ghali about the sale in 1999, he replied, “Oh, a few thousand guns would not have changed the situation.”
4. Boutros-Ghali Failed to Be Re-Elected as Secretary General Because the Clinton Administration Viewed Him as a ‘Subversive’
Boutros-Ghali was voted out of his position as Secretary General of the U.N. after the United States and the United Kingdom refused to support him. Egyptian writer Eric Rouleau said in 1996 that the Clinton administration thought Boutros-Ghali was an “obstacle to reform.” Rouleau noted that Washington, D.C., seemed to view Boutros-Ghali as a “subversive,” while in his homeland and in the Arab world Boutros-Ghali was a conservative from an establishment, wealthy family.
U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke wrote in his 1999 book To End a War that Washington had wanted to oust Boutros-Ghali because of his reluctance to sign off on a NATO bombing operation in Bosnia — an operation that was supported by Boutros-Ghali’s successor, the U.S.-backed Kofi Annan. The plan to oust Boutros-Ghali was code named Operation Orient Express and was detailed in the 2004 book Against All Enemies.
5. He Was Famously Referenced in an Episode of ‘Seinfeld’
Arguably his most famous work was An Agenda for Peace, a book that talked about the United Nations’ potential to end violent conflict in the world. Despite his outstanding political and intellectual achievements, many will remember Boutros-Ghali for his mention in the Seinfeld episode “The Hamptons” from Season 5.
In his later career, Ghali was also interviewed by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen in his Ali-G persona. Cohen was interviewed by the New York Times in 2004 and said that he felt Ghali was seeking Ali-G’s approval. The comedian said, “Boutros Boutros-Ghali kept on telling me he used to be a bit of a bully in school, and he used to muck around. [Interview subjects] want Ali G’s approval.”