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2 - 8 November 2000
Issue No. 506
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues


Pack of Cards

By Madame Sosostris

*Difficult though it was to tear myself away from such a stimulating venue, the next item on my agenda was equally important. French Ambassador Francois Dopffer was hosting a soirée for the members of the press on the patio of his majestic Giza residence. I made my cameo appearance a little late, but found there was still a large crowd. I spotted French Press Counsellor Julien Chenivesse, and bumped into Nikolaos Papaconstantinou, press counsellor at the Greek Embassy, who regaled me with tales of how young students would celebrate "Ohi Day" -- the day the Greeks said "no" to the Italians -- on 28 October. I chatted with Walid F Khoury, public affairs officer at the Canadian Embassy, who briefed me on the upcoming elections in Ottawa. Other attendees included Khaled Bekir, editor of Le Progrès Egyptien, Neil MacDonald, editor of Business Monthly, as well as journalists Paul Schemm, Steve Negus and his wife Sanna. The event also presented me with an opportunity to catch up with my good friend Tamer Youssef, well-known artist and political cartoonist at Le Progrès Egyptien. Everyone seemed to agree that the idea behind the reception was géniale! There should be more events like these that permit press folk to meet with each other and embassy staff.

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* Sometimes, my precious turtledoves, it is better to do nothing than to do something. This is what I was thinking when, after a lovely walk down Al-Mu'izz Street, accompanied by our wonderful photographer Randa Shaath, we emerged on Al-Azhar Square. For a while we stared, open-mouthed, at the series of missiles directed towards the sky, trying to guess what they represented. Finally a passerby enlightened us. They were metallic parasols meant to protect those praying from the sun. Well, dears, I am sure that there must be a better way to do that. These gadgets, let me tell you, immediately topped my secret list of the ugliest sights in Cairo, firmly taking precedence over the gigantically ugly urns of Midan Al-Tahrir.

*If you are like me, dears, I know you will be counting the days from now until 5 November, on which date you will rush to attend the Book and Author reception celebrating the winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, I Saw Ramallah, written by Mourid Barghouti and translated into English by the incomparable Ahdaf Soueif. Of course, this is an American University in Cairo Press event, hosted by its director, Mark Linz, and it will take place in the garden of the Rare Books and Special Collections Library. As if this was not enough to attract crowds, do you know who the guest of honour will be? None other than the great Edward Said, whose articles we have the privilege of publishing regularly in Al-Ahram Weekly. I only hope that the beautiful garden is large enough to accommodate the throngs that will flock to this exceptional event. And remember, on 9 November, Edward Said will be giving a lecture entitled American Zionism, at Cairo University's Faculty of Economics and Political Science.

* Mohamed Salmawy, our esteemed colleague and editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram Hebdo, our sister publication, will be talking on 7 November at the Egyptian Centre for International Cultural Cooperation about some fascinating aspects of The Egyptian Identity. Hosting the event will be Mohamed Ghoneim, first under-secretary of state for foreign cultural relations.

* Darlings, let me tell you that, even though I have never been to Almaty, I certainly do intend to visit one day, especially after accepting Kazakhstan Ambassador Askar Mussinov's invitation to a reception in celebration of this central Asian republic's national day. Imagine a country made up of over 100 nationalities -- most notably Kazakhs, Russians, Ukrainians, Koreans, Germans and Azerbaijanis -- all living together in perfect harmony. An independent state since 1991, Kazakhstan has ensured the seamless linkage of foreign cultures to that of its indigenous population, mostly Muslim, since the Arab invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries. Kazakhstan is quickly becoming a model for harmonious cohabitation and cultural exchange.

Mussinov, who had selected the Gezira Sheraton's Versailles Hall as the locale, greeted all the guests at the door. By his side, of course, was his radiant velour-clad wife, Zhanar.

As I made my rounds, I noted the presence of Cypriot Ambassador James C Droushiotis, Pakistani Ambassador Anwar Kemal, his stunning wife Yassin, Russian Ambassador Andrey Denisov, and Turkish Ambassador Aykut Cetirge. I chatted briefly with Turkish Counsellor Ibrahim Yagli, as well as Third Secretary Oznur Ozkan, on historical points of dispute. I greeted Tigran Gevorkian from the Armenian Embassy, and Fathi M Khattab from the Palestinian Embassy. Then I had the pleasure of meeting Nikolai Belozerov from the Russian Cultural Centre.

* What to wear, what to wear? French Ambassador Francois Dopffer and his wife Bathilde were hosting a reception in honour of Dr Adel Danish, director-general of Standardata. Danish was awarded the prestigious Insigne du Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mérite by the government of France. The ceremony was held in the foyer of the ambassadorial residence and attended by prominent businesspeople and members of the Francophone community. The presence of US Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer was noted in Dopffer's opening speech, as was that of Communications and Technology Minister Ahmed Nazif. In accepting the Insigne, Danish said "the most sincere speeches are the most eloquent" and so proceeded to speak words he himself had composed, beginning with: "I am very touched..." As he concluded his speech, Environment Minister Nadia Makram Ebeid arrived and took the floor, congratulating the Egyptian awardee and conveying the warm feelings that exist between the peoples of France and Egypt. Once the programme was over, I was able to attend to some socialising. I was delighted to meet once again Aicha Abdel-Ghaffar head of Al-Ahram's diplomatic desk, who had just returned from a trip to China. I exchanged a few words with my dear colleague Tanya Goudsouzian from Al-Ahram Weekly and Isis Zaki, director of public and social relations at the French embassy. Then, I made a discreet exit and toddled off home for a well-deserved bubble bath.

* What a celebration it was, dears, when Ahmed Zuweil, Nobel Prize laureate, and Zahi Hawass, director-general of the Giza Plateau, were each awarded the American Academy of Achievements' Golden Plate, one of the most prestigious international decorations. In recognition of their prominent achievements, which have affected humanity, 30 winners and 200 formally dressed outstanding students from across Europe and the Americas gathered early this week in Hamilton Palace in London. It was an elegant event, at which nine Nobel Prize recipients and 24 pioneers in culture, arts, chemistry, medicine, politics, telecommunications and literature were honoured.

Among them stood Ahmed Zuweil and Zahi Hawass, the only two Egyptians to receive, this year, the Golden Plate Award in recognition, simultaneously, of their scientific and cultural activities..

The Golden Plate Award Council described Zuweil as one of the great people who have changed the scientific world. It said that Zewail's discovery is a scientific revolution that has led to the birth of a new measuring unit, which according to other scientists was a high feat.

As for Hawass, the Council rewarded him for devoting himself and his life to the protection and preservation of Ancient Egyptian monuments. Among his major discoveries -- indeed, perhaps the greatest of all -- is the Valley of Golden Mummies in Bahariya Oasis and the Pyramid builders' cemetery in Giza.

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