Obituary: Boutros Boutros-Ghali

The TimesBoutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth secretary-general of the United Nations, was a strong-willed third world intellectual whose brusqueness and plain speaking brought him into frequent conflict with Washington. As a result, the United States vetoed a second term in office, making him the only head of the world body not to be re-elected.

He clashed repeatedly with America, not only over Bosnia and Somalia, but over the leading role that he wanted the UN to play in global politics, with few concessions to the interests of the big powers. During the long Bosnian conflict, he refused to accept the US proposal to bomb the Serbs, and at a time of growing tensions between Europe and America over the break-up of former Yugoslavia, President Clinton lost patience with him.

Boutros-Ghali came to the job with strong credentials. As a senior official in the Egyptian foreign ministry, he had been one of the architects of the Camp David peace accords. He stuck to the proposals amid rising criticism in the Arab world. Yet as a Copt, and especially because his wife Leia (née Adler) was born Jewish, his chances of reaching the top in an overwhelmingly Muslim country were limited. Neither President Anwar Sadat nor his successor Hosni Mubarak appointed him as foreign minister, although he was eventually made a deputy prime minister. Still, Cairo saw the appeal that this cultured former academic had in the West, and, when it was Africa’s turn to nominate a candidate as secretary-general, the Egyptian government promoted his candidacy forcefully.

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