Comments by a senior Egyptian official at a United Nations Environmental Assembly meeting in Nairobi last week have sparked a diplomatic furor. It has emerged that when a disagreement arose among the member states over a resolution on Gaza, Egypt’s Deputy Minister for Environment got so worked up he referred to Sub-Saharan Africans as “dogs and slaves” in Arabic.

Diplomatic incident

Details about what is no doubt a full-fledged diplomatic incident only became public after a memo written by Yvonne Khamati, the Chairperson of the African Diplomatic Corps (ADC) Technical Committee, to the Dean of the Africa Diplomatic Corps Ambassador Kelebert Nkomanileaked online. In the memo, Khamati gives a fly-on-the-wall recount of the build up to the disgusting comments from the Egyptian official.

“During the closing session of UNEA-2, 24 resolutions were adopted by member States, which was a triumph for most countries, especially African countries. However, divisions arose when the resolution on Gaza was not adopted due to procedural issues, that is, a lack of quorum because most delegations had left. As a result, a few African delegations consulted with the delegation of Morocco, in their capacity as Chair of the Arab League and Egypt, with the view to dissuade them from nullifying the resolutions that had already been adopted before the issue of quorum was raised.”






“During our consultations with Egypt, the head of the Egyptian delegation and current President of AMCEN dismissed our concerns by informing that they would speak in their sovereign capacity and to that extent, referred to Sub-Saharan Africa as DOGS AND SLAVES, in Arabic.”

Khamati told Kenyan news site Capital FM that though the minister made the comments in Arabic, members of the African delegation who heard them understood the vile reference because they had served in Arab speaking countries. In the memo, the African Diplomatic Corps (ADC) Technical Committee demands that Egypt make an unreserved apology for the comments and also that the country be barred from negotiating or taking any “leadership position on behalf of Africa.”

“Furthermore, we believe that the utterances made by Egypt have the potential to undermine UNEP and Africa as its host. Moreover this shows their lack of loyalty towards Africa.   Africa has lost trust and faith in their leadership and we do not believe that they have the moral standing to represent the interest of Africa….”

 

“During our consultations with Egypt, the head of the Egyptian delegation and current President of AMCEN dismissed our concerns by informing that they would speak in their sovereign capacity and to that extent, referred to Sub-Saharan Africa as DOGS AND SLAVES, in Arabic.”

Confusion cleared up

Online there was some confusion whether it was the Egyptian Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy or his deputy that had made the comments. That has now been cleared up.






A chorus of condemnations

There’s been unanimous condemnation online of the deputy minister’s unsettling comments with prominent Egyptian writer and activist Mona Eltahawy calling them “disgraceful”.


Given the diplomatic protest it has touched off and the outrage online, an apology and announcement of the deputy minister’s sacking – not necessarily in that order – are expected shortly.