Joshua Landis Reflects On His Personal Connection With Boutros Boutros-Ghali

Feb 19, 2016

On Tuesday former United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali died at the age of 93.

“He was an extraordinary man, and he really symbolized his age, the period that he grew up in,” said Joshua Landis, the Director of the Center of Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, who shared his personal memories of interactions with Boutros-Ghali with Rebecca Cruise on KGOU’s World Views.

Landis is the author of the widely-read blog Syria Comment, which Boutros-Ghali read.

“I had a wonderful time exchanging notes with him on Facebook,” Landis said. “He was commenting on the Arab Spring, and so forth, which he was deeply interested in. And he liked a number of my articles and wrote me very nice and kind notes, and we exchanged views.”

Boutros-Ghali, a Coptic Christian Egyptian who grew up in an upper class family and attended law school, was drawn to foreign affairs and believed the Middle East needed to pull itself up. Throughout his career he championed the interests of the developing world.

His strong stance defending Arab interests brought tension with other nations. He often butted heads with the United States, particularly after becoming head of the United Nations in 1992.

During meetings with Madeline Albright, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN at the time, Boutros-Ghali said he needed to be able to criticize America. Landis said that didn’t go over well.

“He described it later as, 'When I said this, they both looked at me as if the fish dinner I had just served them stunk, and was rotten.',” Landis said.

His time at the helm of the United Nations was tumultuous. Boutros-Ghali faced the end of the Cold War and violence in Rwanda, Somalia and the Balkans. He received his share of criticism and some blamed him for the violence in Rwanda in the 1990s.

Eventually, the United States blocked Boutros-Ghali from serving a second term as the head of the United Nations. The U.S. threw its support behind Kofi Annan, a fellow African, and Boutros-Ghali left office in 1996.

Landis said the legacy of Boutros-Ghali lives through the causes he was most passionate about.

“Throughout his life, his long life, he championed the Third World, and a better deal for the poor,” Landis said.

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