23 - 29 September 1999
Issue No. 448
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Pack of CardsBy Madame Sosostris
* I was busy watching Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi giving out his Africa Awards to the 54 African heads of state and government when, out of the blue, I heard Gaddafi call Gamal Nkrumah, who when in mufti is editor of the Weekly's International page, to the presidential podium. Well, Gamal held his head so high I was afraid his nose would start bleeding. He walked as if on air and in no time he was next to Gaddafi, being decorated to the applause of African leaders, delegates, media workers and cameramen. It was quite a spectacle.
No sooner had Gaddafi decorated Gamal than he called upon Patrice Lumumba's son, Roland, who was likewise decorated. To my amazement, Gaddafi then marched out of the Ouagadougou Hall at the Sirte Conference Centre clasping the hands of Roland and Gamal amidst more cheering. Tears welled up in my eyes: I was witnessing one of those rare moments when you know that history is truly in the making.
Lumumba, Gaddhafi, Nkrumah
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* My tears dried quickly, however, when I realised that there was much more history still to be made, to which I had to attend urgently. To start with, on Thursday morning I had the honour of being invited to join the environmentally aware to celebrate International Ozone Day. I bet many of you were sitting in your air-conditioned living rooms, just contributing to the damage while I listened to Minister of State for Environmental Affairs Nadia Makram Ebeid's speech at the Federation of Egyptian Industry. I was quite happy to notice that, like me, many very important people are worried about the big hole, and the minister commended various agencies and organisations for their prominent role in supporting the Egyptian Programme for protecting the ozone layer. Among those honoured were the UNDP and its resident representative in Cairo, Edmund Cain, UNIDO and its resident representative William Holoday, GTZ and its representative Werner Gassert, UNEP/UNEP TIE and its representative Mahmoud Youssef, the Federation of Egyptian Industries chief Abdel-Moneim Seoudi, Ambassador Abdel-Ghaffar El-Dib of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, besides many other members of Egyptian officialdom and the media -- the last headed, of course, by Chairman of Al-Ahram Organisation and Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Ibrahim Nafie, as well as our very own editor-in-chief, Hosny Guindy. Last but by no means least, there were those who have contributed directly to the preservation of our environment: prominent environmentalist Mustafa Tolba and Ibrahim Abdel-Gelil, head of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA). According to my dear Nadia, we in Egypt were prompt to recognise dangers to the environment, and have striven to find alternatives to the noxious industrial gases that contribute to damaging the precious layer protecting us from the harmful rays of the sun.
Ozone Day: Amin Mubarak, Mustafa Tolba, Abdel-Moneim Seoudi, Nadia Makram Ebeid, Ibrahim Abdel-Gelil; Ebeid and Hosny Guindy
* Hardly had I finished applauding the minister's speech than I had to rush to a delightful luncheon at the Cairo Capital Club in Garden City. There, professors, officials and alumni of the American University in Cairo listened as the official announcement of the opening of a new campus was made. This is not to say that they are going to abandon the main campus -- perish the thought -- where several generations of Egyptian youngsters were introduced to a liberal education. What the university has in mind is just mega-expansion and keeping up with the increase in population.
AUC's old campus; blueprint of the new campus; Soliman (second left) among AUC staff at the Cairo Capital Club
Among those present at the event were Minister of Housing Mohamed Ibrahim Soliman, Tim Sullivan, the university provost, not to mention a diverse crowd of businessmen, journalists, intellectuals and students. headed by Ali Wali, president of the Students Union. President of AUC John Gerhart was not around, on the other hand, but my dear friend Mo'taz El-Alfi, AUC trustee deputised for him most ably. We were told that John was at that very minute (well, almost) in New York, attending a similar luncheon during which he would make the announcement in person to the board of trustees of the university. The news of the day was therefore that an independent jury had selected the architectural firm Boston Design Collaborative in partnership with the landscape architectural firm of Carol R. Johnson to develop the master plan for AUC's new campus, which will be located in New Cairo City, 309km east of Tahrir Square.
I am of course more attached to the present campus, which includes a palace built in the 1870s by Khedive Ismail, then purchased in 1890 by a Greek businessman to become a tobacco factory and finally bought in 1919 by the trustees of AUC. The new plans look very exciting and up-to-date, but state-of-the-art technology cannot replace the enchanting memories that I have of the old campus.
* Thursday was a day full of exciting events and in the evening, to crown the celebrations, I took myself to another of Cairo's landmarks, one which provided me not with food for thought this time, but with actual delicious tidbits and exotic drinks. This was the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of Chantilly, the Heliopolis branch of the chain of Swiss Restaurants. All the habitués were invited to blow out the 20 candles on the cake and sample some of the delicacies for which Chantilly is so famous. As you may know dears, this restaurant has a very particular place in the hearts of the Heliopolitan community, who wax lyrical not only about the scrumptious fare, but also about the cheerful disposition of the staff, who are headed by my good friend branch manager Latif Labib, and are always ready to do their very best to satisfy their demanding but faithful patrons.
Chantilly's twentieth birthday
* Thursday must have something magical about it this month: this one happens to be prominent political analyst Mohamed Hassanein Heikal's birthday. I am sorry to say that I have not been asked to the celebrations, as I understand that they will be of a very intimate nature, taking place on a fishing boat off the coast of Hurghada and that the only guests will be his grandchildren. We at theWeekly wish him a happy birthday and an abundant catch.
* Don't pore over the picture for too long, though, for there is a very special event this afternoon which only I can attend. In such a lovely venue, the treasured Cairo Capital Club, Moataz Al-Alfi, trustee of the American University in Cairo, will announce the winner of the international architecture design competition, taking place on the occasion of building a new campus for the AUC. And I shan't forget to tell you what I was wearing; just wait till next week.
* Recently I had a chance to brush up on my Spanish when I received an invitation from the Cervantes Institute, the Spanish cultural centre, to attend an intimate little ceremony celebrating the launching of its updated Candil magazine. Alfonso Ourtiez, the Spanish ambassador, did the honours together with Antonio Gil de Carrasco, head of institute in Cairo. In the speech he delivered on the lawn, Ourtiz addressed members of the Spanish community in Egypt, as well as Spanish-speaking Egyptians. He pointed out that Candil aims at promoting a diversity of works by Spanish, Latin American and Arabic writers. Contributors include Mahmoud Makki, professor of Arabic, Federico Corriente of Zaragoza University and Mahmoud El-Sayed, Egypt's cultural counselor in Madrid. A visit to the exhibition on Latin America by Spanish photographer Carlos Diez Polanco, an economist who abandoned the trade world for his obsession with photography, was a fitting conclusion to this pleasant occasion.
* Did you know, dears, that my good friend the young film director Atef Hetata has just returned from the Venice Film Festival having received the special award of Il Circolo non e Rotondo (the circle is not round), attributed by a jury of young people on the fringe of the festival, for his first long film, The Open Doors , starring Mahmoud Hemeida and Manal Afifi? Apparently Atef has managed to square the circle, something many of us have attempted less successfully.