The world mourned the departure of Boutros Boutros-Ghali, famous especially as the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992 – 1996, who passed away on Tuesday 16 February. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on behalf of the UN General Assembly, said that as the first post-Cold War secretary general, Dr Boutros-Ghali “helped the UN find its footing in a new global landscape at a tumultuous time…consistently giving voice to the poorest and least powerful members of the human family”. Mr Ki-Moon said Dr Boutros-Ghali never attempted to endear himself to everybody, valuing his independence as head of the UN above all else.
The UN Flag was flown at half-mast on Thursday 18 February, and a book of condolence was opened to Permanent Missions, UN Staff, and the public on Thursday and Friday in the Visitors’ Lobby.
Pope Francis called in person from Mexico where he is on a State visit to ask Egypt’s ambassador to the Vatican Hatem Seif al-Nasr to extend his condolences to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian government and people for the loss of Dr Boutros-Ghali. He said the world had lost a national and international figure whose valuable contribution in spreading and rooting the common human values of justice and peace had global outreach.
Military and church funerals
Egypt paid Dr Boutros-Ghali her last respects on Thursday 18 February. The great man was given a military funeral with President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi leading the procession of mourners.
This was followed with a funeral service at the church of St Peter and St Paul in Abbasiya, Cairo. The church was built by the Boutros-Ghali family at the outset of the 20th century and is known as al-Boutrossiya church. Pope Tawadros II presided over the funeral.
Attending the service were Director-General of UNESCO Irina Bukova representing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Egypt’s former Foreign Minister and former Secretary-General of the Arab League Amr Moussa; Secretary-General of La Francophonie Michaëlle Jean; as well as State and international officials and public figures.
Youssef Boutros-Ghali, a nephew of Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali who lives outside Egypt, called his uncle’s family to offer condolences. Dr Youssef Boutros-Ghali was Egyptian Finance Minister during 2004 – 2011, won international accolades for his reformative financial policies, was elected in 2008 to chair of the IMF’s policy-setting committee. In the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011 and the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Dr Youssef Boutros-Ghali was handed prison sentences absentia, and left Egypt. He sounded grieved when he called for condolence, a family source said, and expressed that he cared very much to have attended the funeral but, under the circumstances, this was an impossibility.
Compassionate, yet solid
Mr Moussa eulogised Dr Boutros-Ghali, saying that no matter how emotionally difficult this task was for him, it was a duty he owed to the great departed. He said Dr Boutros-Ghali was unique in that he introduced cultural, enlightenment, and documentation dimensions to diplomatic work, recounting a long list of his great achievements. “I had the privilege to be close to this great man,” Mr Moussa said, “and learned a lot from him. He never allowed to lend his ears to rumours or petty disputes; he was noble in character, courteous, compassionate, and had a great sense of humour. Yet he was also serious and solid as a rock when public or patriotic interest called for it.” Mr Moussa looked at Leia Boutros-Ghali and said: “Leia, please accept my deep condolences. We will remain around you; we knew you together and loved the two of you. We will go on loving you.”
Ms Bukova remembered Dr Boutros-Ghali as a “true humanist, who believed in the inherent rights and dignity of every woman and man, as members of a single humanity.” She expressed her deep condolences and recalled the veteran diplomat as someone who embodied the values of a true global citizen. Boutros-Ghali was also a great friend of UNESCO, she said, and contributed to the Organisation’s global mission to promote peace and sustainable development. He served as Vice-President of the Permanent Forum of Arab-African Dialogue for Democracy and Human Rights, created with UNESCO, and as Chair of UNESCO’s International Panel on Democracy and Development, established in 1998.
A role model
For Ms Jean of La Francophonie, Dr Boutros-Ghali was a man who worked tirelessly for world peace, democracy, and rights and freedoms. “We cannot highlight enough his academic, political and diplomatic input for the promotion and respect of these universal values,” she said. “Today, the Francophonie family mourns the loss of a great activist on its part, and a father for institutional and political Francophonie.”
Pope Tawadros praised Dr Boutros-Ghali as “a fine example in Egyptian life and Egyptian history” and said that he [the Pope] consulted him on several issues. He said the great diplomat who attained the topmost positions in the world of diplomacy never tired of defending the downtrodden, and was a role model of dedication and sacrifice for the sake of what he believed in.
Boutros-Ghali was laid to rest with his ancestors in the crypt of al-Boutrossiya church.
The Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s (BA) Ismail Serageldin announced that the venerable Alexandria library had made an agreement with Dr Boutros-Ghali before his death to document his life and intellectual, scientific, and political works through the BA’s Memory of Modern Egypt programme. The BA had already documented the history of the Boutros-Ghali family since and its contribution to Egypt through the countless ancestors who made invaluable input to Egypt.
Photos by Nasser Sobhy
19 February 2016