Nadia Younes

'Most diplomatic' UN diplomat
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The Independent Online

Nadia Younes, diplomat: born Cairo 13 June 1946; Chief of Protocol, United Nations 1998-99, 2001-02, Head of Information and Communications, Unmik 1999-2001, Executive Director in charge of External Relations and Governing Bodies, World Health Organisation 2002-2003; Chief of Staff to the UN Special Representative in Iraq 2003; died Baghdad 19 August 2003.

In the autumn of 2001 Nadia Younes, a diplomat with the United Nations, spent many hours working to heal the wounds inflicted on New York by the events of 11 September. Having returned nine months earlier from an 18-month secondment in Kosovo, the Egyptian-born Younes, who was on the board of several charities, was concerned about a backlash against American Muslims as a result of the terrorist attacks.

Despite her busy agenda as the UN Chief of Protocol in charge of the Secretary-General's dealings with heads of states and diplomats, Younes hosted a meeting that October in New Jersey to promote better understanding and encourage Muslims and Middle Eastern minorities to become candidates for political posts.

When the world's eyes were focused on Kosovo in 1998, Younes told journalists that the UN was sending "a clear message that there is a system of justice, and that no one can take the law into their own hands". This deep sense of justice and the supremacy of law stood at the centre of Younes's belief system throughout her 33-year career with the UN. She believed that her mission was to establish justice, eliminate areas of conflict, famine and disease, through progress and education.

She tried this approach as Head of Information and Communications in the UN field mission in Kosovo (Unmik) July 1999-January 2001. And in May this year she jumped at the Secretary-General's suggestion of a secondment from her post as Executive Director of External Relations and Governing Bodies of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which had only begun in August last year, to go to Iraq.

She packed and left for Baghdad in less than two days, depriving the staff of her Geneva office of the chance to organise a goodbye party for their fun-loving, witty boss. In Baghdad she became Chief of Staff for the UN Special Representative in Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.

Born in Cairo in 1946, the middle child of a middle-class family, Younes belonged to a stratum of Egyptian women who, until recently, had dominated the national scene for decades, but have became an endangered species thanks to creeping Islamisation of society: educated, liberated, charismatic women who are also sharp, professional, independent achievers.

Younes graduated with a First in English Literature from King Fuad University in Cairo in 1967, and completed a master's degree in Politics and International Affairs at New York University in 1969 before joining the United Nations in 1970. French- and English-speaking journalists knew her as a quick-witted press officer at the UN Public Information Office in 1974.

In 1979 she became Information Officer for the World Conference of the Decade for Women; from 1980 she was in charge of the Planning, Programme and Evaluation Unit; in 1987 she was spokesperson for the President of the 42nd Session of the General Assembly. She became a deputy spokesperson for the Secretary-General from 1988 until 1993, when she was appointed Director of the United Nations Information Centre in Rome. She returned to New York three years later to assume the post of Director of the Media Division in the Department of Public Information.

Although her colleagues will miss her wit and sense of humour, they also testify to her firm hand and professional toughness in completing her missions. In its coverage of the UN millennium festivities, The Los Angeles Times asked, "Guess who is the toughest character in the UN Building? It is Nadia Younes, who will tell President Clinton where to stand and President Putin what to wear." It also described Younes as the most diplomatic among all the world's diplomats.

Famed for her precision organisation of "power lunches", and "working dinners", Younes devised her own complicated strategy of working out seating plans and handling photo-calls for heads of states, designed to eliminate diplomatic incidents and friction. She studied the personalities of more than 150 heads of state she encountered over the years.

Since her arrival in Iraq in May, Younes felt that the World Health Organisation, by virtue of its working with governments, had an advantage over some other UN agencies. In addition to converting 31 military hospitals with some 1,100 military medical staff for civilian use, she oversaw the completion of training for 125 protection officers to protect Ministry of Health buildings. Ironically, she never thought that there was a need to protect the UN mission against the kind of terror attack that claimed her life.

Adel Darwish