United Nations Resident Coordinator Speech United Nations Day
24 October 2020
A founding member of the UN, Egypt has a distinguished track record over the past 75 years, as a responsible, substantive and committed multilateral partner.
Venue: Tahrir Palace of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Your Excellency Minister Shoukry,
Excellencies - Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps in Egypt,
Colleagues from the United Nations Family in Egypt,
I am honored to be here today to celebrate with you the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United Nations. It is a tradition for us to mark UN Day with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A tradition we are proud to keep and one that reflects the long-standing partnership between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the United Nations.
As my assignment here in Egypt draws to an end, allow me to begin by thanking our Egyptian hosts for their professionalism, courtesy and hospitality, and all colleagues here for the excellent cooperation and friendship. I will miss Egypt and all the individuals gathered here that made my tenure here memorable and meaningful.
Allow me to highlight at the beginning of my speech, that as the UN we are very grateful to Egypt for its partnership. A founding member of the UN, Egypt has a distinguished track record over the past 75 years, as a responsible, substantive and committed multilateral partner. Egypt practically invented peacekeeping, already contributing to the first ever peacekeeping mission in the Congo in 1960. And today with around 3,200 military and police officers, Egypt still ranks as the seventh largest contributor to UN peacekeeping. Let us remember that in this service to the global community, sometimes the ultimate sacrifice is made: we were sadly reminded of this with the killing of an Egyptian peace-keeper last week in Mali.
The responsibility Egypt shoulders has been recognized by the membership of the UN: it was elected onto the UN Security Council no less than five times. This historic leadership role stretches back to the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement and is visible to date in the voice of authority that Egypt brings to the G77. It was personified by eminent personalities such as Dr. Mostafa Kamal Tolba, my former boss Dr. Boutrous Boutrous Ghali, and today by USG Ghada Waly.
Egypt has also been one of the early adopters of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals. This is reflected in the national Sustainable Development Strategy (Egypt’s Vision 2030) and reaffirmed by Egypt’s submission of two National Voluntary Reviews to the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which garnered international acclaim. It is also home to some 32 United Nations offices, with close to 2000 staff, and can be considered as one of the organization’s major hubs.
Ladies and gentlemen;
This year’s UN Day is special. The 75th anniversary of the UN is a reason for celebration. But as we find ourselves in the throes of a global pandemic, it is also a sobering moment. A moment for reflection and looking ahead. That is why we partnered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Council and the Kemet Boutros Ghali Foundation to organize a set of high-level webinars that took place last week. Together we looked at the future of multilateralism, and at the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak internationally and here in Egypt.
On multilateralism, His Excellency Amr Moussa pointed out to us that the advent of a ‘New World Order’ may well be upon us, but that one cannot discard the old one just yet. Not until we fully discern what the new challenges are, be it global pandemics, climate collapse or digitalization. The COVID-19 outbreak has indeed exposed the tears in the multilateral fabric. At the same time, this pandemic urgently requires increased global solidarity and collaboration among nations. I hope that the General Assembly and the Security Council will further address the crisis.
In the same way, the quest for a vaccine and the question of its global availability exemplify that global corporations must be part of the solutions we seek. And that old constructs need to make room for new players. The old order had 51 players at its onset, and we now have 193 UN members. Here the case for adjustment is clear. Equally, we need to take into account demographic and social changes, that brought youth and women to the fore in decision-making.
The webinar also highlighted that there was a shared understanding that changes in the multilateral system are slow and cumbersome. Even a change in the UN charter, to delete outdated chapters, takes decades. COVID, by amplifying some of the new challenges, accelerated thinking about deeper UN reform and new forms of multilateralism, with new actors. But the key question remains whether sovereign states, who constitute the core of the current multilateral system, will see this as sufficient driver for immediate and far-reaching action or whether we need to wait for another catastrophe of global proportions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you know, the UN Charter starts with ‘We the peoples’… The question the UN asked at its 75th anniversary is what the peoples throughout the world want. Over the course of 2020 an extensive survey was carried out reaching over one million citizens in all UN member states. The main finding of this survey is that people globally demand better basic services. Given the COVID pandemic, people want improved access to healthcare, water and sanitation, and education.
This finding led to a lively debate during our second webinar last week under the able leadership of Dr. Moushira Khatab. Direct interventions by Excellencies, Dr. Hala El Saeed, Dr. Maya Morsy and Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari – the WHO Regional Director - showed great convergence of thought: COVID increased the vulnerability of those that were already in marginalized situations and exposed the weaknesses of health and education systems, as well as social safety nets in many countries.
But Egypt is an exceptional case among countries in a similar situation as it maintains its economic growth trajectory. The economic and social stimulus packages that were rolled out over the last months, as well as the additional funding pumped into the health system, were based on the foundation of macro-economic stability that Egypt attained since 2016. Health systems, while placed under stress, showed remarkable resilience and early measures to stop the spread of the disease had the desired impact.
It is too early to reflect on real hard data, but mostly women and youth do seem to have been pushed out of the labor market. Vulnerable migrants and refugees, who mostly work in the informal sector for daily wages, have fallen on very hard times. An increasing number of female-headed-households are among the most vulnerable segments of the population. Equally, there are reasons to fear that prolonged closure of the education system could have many undesired outcomes such as an increase in early childhood marriages and other harmful practices to women and girls.
COVID has shown us that access to internet and digital skills is increasingly becoming part of ‘basic services’. In this context, we need to be mindful of the widening gap in access to the digital domain. But there is also an opportunity for Egypt to harness its young population and use this crisis to promote inclusive digitalization.
The UN will continue to support the government in its efforts to translate macroeconomic gains into improved livelihoods for all people, including vulnerable groups. Crucially, in the last period, the UN pivoted its role under the Socio-Economic Response and Recovery Plan to the COVID-19 outbreak, moving from direct response to upstream policy support and dialogue. Collectively, we conducted some eight surveys and 36 impact assessments, and we are in the process of working on 12 policy studies in close cooperation with government ministries. This is an early success of the current UN reform initiated by the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres : a stronger and more focused country team that is capable of responding immediately to national priorities and crisis.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another key insight from the UN75 survey is that people worldwide worry about the future impact of climate change. Our inability to stem the climate crisis and the destruction of the natural environment is viewed by respondents as the most overwhelming long-term concern. Our planet is warming and climate change is becoming an existential crisis. People worldwide demand immediate climate action.
Egypt’s fertile delta has been designated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of the three “extreme” climate change vulnerability hotspots in the world; increasingly susceptible to sea level rise and extreme weather events as global warming progresses. Again, there is also an opportunity here; Egypt stands to gain enormously from the transition to a green economy; it could become a market leader in climate adaptation technology; and it could emerge as a global export hub of renewable energy. For sustainability to become a reality, we need to increasingly be able to spot the economic opportunity and unlock new market potentials that add to economic activity which performs for all strata of the society.
The UN75 survey also shows us that priorities for the future include ensuring greater respect for human rights. His Excellency, President Sisi in his speech to the UN General Assembly, a month ago, highlighted the increasing importance of the international human rights agenda ‘due to its direct effect in promoting human development, improving the quality of the provided services, [and] preserving people’s rights to a decent life’. Earlier this year Egypt completed the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, one of the main international instruments that allows a review of all human rights obligations undertaken by a country. Egypt accepted more than two thirds of the 372 recommendations it received. The follow-up of these recommendations will provide an opportunity to further deliver on the human rights agenda. In this context, I look forward to the important work that is being pursued under the leadership of your Excellency, Minister Shoukry, as you work towards a National Human Rights Strategy. And allow me to reiterate: the UN family stands ready to support you in these important endeavors, based on its expertise, mandates and comparative advantages - to deliver on the promise of the SDGs to ensure that no one is left behind.
Heeding the call to leave no one behind is part of our DNA as the UN. This is also the reason the World Food Programme received the Noble Peace Prize. A reminder of the brave and courageous work undertaken across the globe to combat hunger and better conditions of people living in conflict and dire humanitarian situations. It is also a sobering reminder that these places should not exist.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To sum up, I believe that the United Nations is needed today more than ever, precisely at this time of multiple crises.
The UN will retain a key role on the multilateral scene, but needs to continue on the path of reform. It has a crucial role now, in our collective response to COVID, globally and here in Egypt. We remain committed to our partnership with the government to support Egypt in the implementation of its Vision 2030, the achievement of the SDGs, building back better after COVID, and crucially ensuring that no one is left behind.
I would like to end my words by sharing this statement of the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres “no other global organization gives hope to so many people for a better world and [the UN] is only as strong as its members’ commitment to its ideals and each other.”