April 21, 2015, Cairo – The American University in Cairo (AUC) hosted the 10th anniversary of the Nadia Younes Memorial Lecture and the 70th anniversary of the United Nations yesterday at the New Cairo Campus. Michael Møller, UN under-secretary-general, spoke at the lecture titled, “We the Peoples at 70: The Role of the United Nations in a New Global Landscape.” The lecture was followed by a panel discussion titled, “Is the UN Still Relevant in Today’s World?” The panel featured Ahmad Fawzi, interim director of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva; Ibrahim Awad, professor of global affairs and director of the Center for Migration and Refugee Studies at AUC; and Hisham Wahby ’89, assistant professor of political science at the British University in Egypt. The lecture, which was attended by AUC President Lisa Anderson, members of Younes family, professors and students, is part of the Nadia Younes Memorial Fund, which was established in honor and memory of Nadia Younes, who was tragically killed in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad on August 19, 2003, while she was serving as chief of staff to Sérgio Vieira de Mello. In addition to the annual series, the fund has helped establish the Nadia Younes Conference Room, which serves Cairo International Model United Nations members, and the Nadia Younes Award for Public and Humanitarian Service.“I am very happy to have this opportunity to pay tribute to Nadia Younes: the irreverent, the irrepressible and the irreplaceable Nadia - my close friend and colleague - who touched and inspired so many of us and who is much missed by all of us. I am deeply honoured to have been asked to deliver this 10th anniversary edition of the Memorial Lecture and I thank Nadia’s family for entrusting me with this responsibility. There is no doubt that the American University in Cairo with its emphasis not just on learning but on civic engagement is a most appropriate venue to remember Nadia and reflect on her legacy,” said Møller.
Møller’s remarks was followed by a debate on the relevance of the UN in today’s world. Møller and Fawzi were for the relevance of the organization, while Wahby and Awad were against. In his argument on the relevance of the UN, Møller said, “the work of the United Nations touches every single person on this planet - every single day. Most of us just don’t know it. This is work that goes from the road signs we all saw on the way to the lecture hall this evening, to medical guidelines for checks to be carried out before an operation, to international dialling codes for the phones that we all use, to standards for the food that we eat, capacity-building for developing countries to be able to trade more effectively, to the clearing of millions of landmines to help communities develop, to the millions of children that get vaccinated across the Globe. The list goes on.”
Fawzy highlighted how the UN is a family of agencies and programs that are mandated to relief the suffering of people everywhere, it is not just the General Assembly or the Security Council, and stressed on how the UN has developed norms and standards for governance all around the world.
On the other hand, Wahby pointed out the failings of the UN on a number of occasions throughout its history. “From the very beginning, the UN has suffered from a bloated bureaucracy, inefficient use of resources, inability to make decisions and is accused of indifference to genocide. The UN watched the crisis in Somalia in 1993 and in Rwanda in 1994 where millions were butchered,” he said.
While Awad said that the UN is very much relevant, he asked whether the UN can ensure that we live in a good world, and by definition the UN is supposed to be uniting the nations “but are we united, how can nations forgo their veto and state powers?” he asked. “The UN should be reformed from below, yet we only hope it won’t be too late,” he explained.
Møller pointed out that “despite its failings - and I will be the first to argue that we should not gloss them over - the United Nations remains extremely relevant today. And I will put it to you that in an increasingly complex and inter-connected world, the United Nations will - in fact - become even more relevant in the future. But only if it is given the right support. And only if it is allowed to reform and be restructured so that it can become better at addressing the challenges that matter to all of us.”
He added that the UN needs to work more closely with civil society to integrate the views of the people it serves. “We need to address challenges in a much more holistic - or matrix-like manner - where we bring together security, economic, social and environmental concerns. And, importantly, we need institutional reform or restructuring - of the Security Council and of the organization as a whole - to make our decision-making more representative, more legitimate and more credible,” he said.
He also argued that the UN has accumulated over the years the expertise and experience, throughout the system, to enable it to play its fundamental global role if the right reforms are undertaken. “The human capital that resides within the organization is truly unique. Nadia whom we are honouring today was a shining example of that. Drawing on the knowledge and technical skills that reside within the organization, the United Nations has the potential to serve as a much-needed bridge between old and new governance models, which is so critical as we are going through a transformation at all levels. If we closed it down today, we would have to reinvent it tomorrow. I cannot conceive of a world that does not need a unifying table around which we can all gather to agree on what future we want to shape. And then implement that vision together, he added.
The Nadia Younes Memorial Lecture invites renowned international figures in the fields of politics, international relations and humanitarian affairs to speak at AUC. Past speakers have included Kofi Annan (2005), former secretary-general of the United Nations; Dr. Bernard Kouchner (2006), former foreign minister of France and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières; Mary Robinson (2007), former president of Ireland and the first female to assume that post; Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland (2012), former prime minister of Norway, former director-general of the World Health Organization and founder of the sustainability movement; Nabil Elaraby (2013), secretary-general of the League of Arab States; and Nabil Fahmy (2014); Egypt’s former foreign minister and dean of AUC’s School of Global Affairs and Public Policy; in addition to many other prominent speakers and global leaders.