Conference notebook: Don't worry about precautions, darling

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The Independent Online
ALY TEYMOUR is the UN's Assistant Secretary General for Protocol, an Egyptian career diplomat with 22 years in the United Nations. He is the perfect man, you'd think, to help organise a Cairo population conference where equal rights and respect for women would play a pivotal role.

One female reporter was thus a little surprised when, after asking Mr Teymour about the security precautions, she was told: 'Don't worry about it, darling, you'll be safe.' He went on, implausibly, to insist that there was 'no controversy' surrounding the conference.

JANE FONDA, that champion of women's rights and the UN's official 'goodwill ambassador', has at last gone home, complete with a 'cartouche' spelling her name in hieroglyphics. It was a gift from Ahmed Fouad, governor of the upper Egyptian city of Luxor, who made her, of all things, an honorary citizen of the ancient city. Fonda declared Ramses II's temple at Luxor to be 'awesome' and her walk below the night-time ruins 'the most unforgettable experience of my life'. This is what Egypt's Tourist Minister hoped she'd say.

Some reporters in the Middle East recall another, equally awed Jane Fonda, who turned up in East Beirut in 1982 to entertain Israel's invasion troops. She declared her full support for the army shelling west Beirut, whose war killed 17,500 people, most of them Lebanese and Palestinian civilians, many of them in UN-funded camps.

That, of course, was in the company of an earlier husband, a US congressman with a constituency to think of back home. Now the wife of CNN's boss Ted Turner, Fonda understandably made no mention of her earlier goodwill mission. As one of her aides muttered yesterday: 'There are some things an actress likes to forget.'

BUT AT least Jane Fonda turned up. Among those who did not were Mr Turner (recovering from a skin cancer operation on his lip), Jimmy Carter (whose aircraft developed problems in Ethiopia), Tansu Ciller, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Tom Cruise, the film star, and Khalida Zia, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister. Mr Carter did touch down at Cairo airport for an hour yesterday and announced, while his wife Rosalyn bought gold jewellery in the airport shops, that delegates should accept the report of the conference. Had he made it into town, he would have seen the cleanest Cairo in decades, the filthy streets swept by thousands of youths, the lamp posts and kerbstones painted white and the slums discreetly fenced off by advertisement hoardings. The hovels of Bulaq, once the elegant French Nileside suburb of Beau Lac, have been hidden behind giant billboards which announce, to the astonishment of the slum-dwellers, that the area is to be a tourist development project.

It was left to a columnist of the newspaper al-Ahram, Salama Ahmed Salama, to state baldly that the Cairo conference was successful, because 'Egypt has obtained what it wished to obtain, an acknowledgement and a rehabilitation of its image abroad, which in the last two years had been tarnished by terrorist activities.' So that is what it has all been about.