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Post Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1922-2016
Created by John Eipper on 02/18/16 4:00 AM

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Boutros Boutros-Ghali, 1922-2016 (Edward Jajko, USA, 02/18/16 4:00 am)

I note with deep regret the death on February 16th in Cairo, at age 93, of Dr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Dr. Boutros--I will use his first or given name as Egyptians do--was, after a distinguished career as a professor, civil servant, and diplomat in Egypt, Secretary-General of the United Nations, then Secretary-General of La Francophonie.

I met Dr. Boutros in November 1997, when I was sent to Cairo by the Hoover Institution to arrange for the transfer of his personal papers to the Hoover Institution Archives. The taxi driver whom I had hired, and who was no doubt a police informer, wondered who the "Duktur Butrus" was I asked for when I gave my card to the guard at the family compound in Giza. He, and I, had been much impressed by the machine gun that the guard casually displayed under his jacket as he leaned into the taxi.

I was received by Dr. Butrus in his elegant and airy apartment overlooking the Nile and shown the many boxes of personal papers, far more than the amount that had been all too sanguinely suggested to me I would be transporting before I arranged my travel to Cairo. Dr. Butrus was gracious but business-like and with a somewhat sardonic way of speaking. He was curious about me, about how, why, and where I had studied Arabic, and about my two years of study in Cairo in the mid-1960s.

With the help of the taxi driver, whom I had selected because he drove a Peugeot station wagon with a roof rack, I wound up carrying a large number of boxes, some in the back of the car and quite a few piled on top, all conspicuously marked "UN" in big letters. At some point--my memory of the chronology is slipping--the driver and I took the boxes to a DHL office so that I could have their contents sent to the Hoover. There I ran into a problem, because the actual packing into shipping containers was done out of the sight of the consigners, and this is something I did not want. The papers included many Egyptian government documents and their shipment out of the country, by a foreigner, hence a spy, would have caused me no end of grief. So I persuaded the young man who was managing the office to bring his packers and a bunch of boxes up from the basement so that I could supervise the operation.

During the packing, which became chaotic, the manager of the office showed up. He may have received a telephone call from someone who didn't like what I had persuaded the DHL desk man to do. The manager exploded in fury, at him, not me. I apologized profusely to both. The manager was not soothed and drove away in anger. The man at the desk, having taken his punishment, returned to his work. The packing operation had continued throughout, and finally a fairly large number of DHL boxes were consigned for air freight shipment to the Hoover.

I had actually had contact by fax with Dr. Butrus before being sent to Cairo. My boss at the Hoover called me in to his office one day to seek my advice. Dr. Butrus had deposited his diary in the Hoover Institution Archives, on condition that it be translated for publication. I was asked if I could recommend a commercial translator. By chance, in those days, for reasons that I can no longer recall, I was commuting between my home in Cupertino and the Hoover Institution on the Stanford University campus by the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority express bus. Returning home in the lateish evening, on one of the last buses, I was often one of only two or three passengers. I recounted to my boss an incident that had occurred on a recent trip home, when the only other passenger, a pretty young woman, was talking loudly to the bus driver. She told him that her boyfriend was a commercial translator and that he was currently translating a Russian-language book that had been found in the Hoover Institution Archives. She went into some detail about this project. I told all this to my boss and suggested to him that it would be best, given the importance of the author, to keep the translation project in house, and that my assistant and I could do the job.

Having been shown the Arabic typescript--I never saw the MSS--I chose three pages at random and translated them, timing them to see how long the job might take. As it happened, I later found out, once I went through the entire typescript, that I had somehow chosen pages that had Arabic text on only half to two-thirds. That skewed my initial estimate of time for the project.

The typescript consisted of 300 or more pages of Arabic, well-typed and generally without errors that would have thrown us off. I decided to split the book in two, giving half to my assistant and keeping the other half for myself. As we translated, we revised each other's work, often hashing out details of translation. I sometimes missed idiomatic constructions; my assistant, a native of Syria, sometimes missed Egyptian idiom; and there were always historical and personal references that we had to make sure we nailed down. I don't recall how long it took us to produce the translation, which we did in addition to continuing with our regular work. The job was top secret. I assigned it the name "Peter Peter Dear," which was so obvious that it made my assistant laugh, but it worked. "Butrus" is the Arabic for "Peter," and "ghali" as an adjective means "dear" in the sense of "expensive." But the secret held.

The translation we completed was gussied up for commercial publication by an editor who was in house, and the final product came out in 1997 as Egypt's Road to Jerusalem: a Diplomat's Story of the Struggle for Peace in the Middle East (New York: Random House). On the acknowledgments page, Dr. Butrus says:

"My original diary of more than a thousand manuscript pages in Arabic from which this book was drawn has been deposited with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, where, after ten years, anyone may examine it.

"I wish to thank Hoover Institution Director John Raisian and Deputy Director Charles Palm for their invaluable assistance, Africa and Middle East Collection Deputy Curator Edward Jajko and Library Specialist Amal Dalati for their skillful translation, and editor Romayne Ponleithner for her outstanding contribution."

When I met Dr. Butrus in Cairo, he gave me and autographed a copy of the Arabic edition of the book, which, curiously enough, he told me was not an edited version of his original Arabic text but was rather a translation back into Arabic of the English translation that Amal and I had made. He also showed me copies of the French and Chinese editions, which he said were also translations of our English version. The Arabic edition, Tariq Misr ila al-Quds, has an Arabic translation of the acknowledgment I copy above.

Three Butrus-Ghali brothers lived in the stylish apartment house in Giza, which no doubt belongs to the family. I don't recall meeting one of them, but Dr. Butrus introduced me to his younger brother Wacyf, an equally, perhaps even more gracious gentleman. Wacyf was the head of the Societe d'archeologie copte.

I was taken, first by Dr. Butrus, to the family compound at the Coptic Patriarchate in Cairo. The Patriarchate maintains a large walled compound, and part of that compound, walled off from the Patriarchate property, belongs to the Boutros-Ghali family. In that family compound is the tomb of Butrus Ghali Pasha, Dr. Butrus;s grandfather, 1846-1910. In the last two years of his life he served as prime minister and also foreign minister but was assassinated. Dr. Butrus himself has no doubt been buried there as well (burial in Egypt takes place no later than the next day, with mourners coming to grieve with the family over the next few days, with men and women separated; forty days later, the funeral service or Mass is held).

With Wacyf I discussed the possibility of the copying of family archives by the Hoover. My wife and I tried to work on a sample of a dozen or so boxes that we were loaned, but this soon proved impossible. I could not find a copy machine, even at the headquarters offices of the photocopy companies. Cairo is, after all, Cairo. There was a large office machine in the hotel business center, and my wife and I spent a day doing much copying there under the withering stares and comments of the staff, who kept telling us that they were professionals and that we should leave the work to them. But I knew that leaving a box of archival papers that included documents from various government ministries would have my wife and me before the police. So we refused, and hogged the machine. The next day, that machine was gone, having mysteriously been loaned out to someone, replaced by a dinky table-top photocopier that was totally inadequate for our needs. We complained royally and were finally told that the hotel business office had a large copier just like the one that had mysteriously disappeared. We grabbed a couple of boxes of BG archives and got ourselves introduced to the business office. There, the copier was in a separate room. But after a while, business office staff suddenly developed needs to copy things, and kept coming in to interrupt our work and see what we were doing. We were happy to yield, although we often had to be quick to turn over or cover up Foreign Ministry or other documents. Ultimately, we gave up. I talked things over with Wacyf and we decided that a different course of action was needed, and that was ultimately worked out once I got back to the Hoover.

The Boutros-Ghali Collection in the Hoover Institution Archives consists of some 260 boxes, which include his personal papers and copies of documents from the family archives. I am proud of my role in bringing those materials to the Hoover. The Boutros-Ghali family has been one of great importance in the history of modern Egypt.

One final note: my Egyptian book dealer was also a travel agent. In Cairo, I visited him (we are old friends) and he invited my wife and me to have dinner with him and his brother-in-law, a Dutch diplomat. I mentioned my interest in seeing Luxor and the Valley of the Kings once again, and my book dealer arranged a one-day trip toward the end of our stay. We arrived home on a Sunday and the next day, jet lag had not yet kicked in, so I got up bright and early and decided to go in to work. As I drove to the Hoover on my normal route, on I-280, I turned on the news on NPR, and my blood ran cold as I listened to the account of the massacre at the Temple of Hatshepsut. From the description of the places where the killers sought out and murdered the tourists and guides (whom we may have seen), I knew that my wife and I had been in exactly the same places only a day or two before.

JE comments:  The world has lost a titan, and Edward Jajko has memorialized Dr Boutros in a way we'll never forget.  How often does archival work turn into an adventure story to rival the best spy thriller?  (I wish Ed had taken a photo of the Peugeot loaded up with UN boxes.)

Boutros-Ghali was a Coptic Christian, a group which unfortunately has suffered enormous persecution in Egypt in recent years.  Did Dr Boutros publish any writings after the fall of Mubarak in 2011?

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