At 150, Red Cross is as relevant as ever: president
At 150, Red Cross is as relevant as ever: president
“150 years of history show that ICRC is needed today more than ever,” Peter Maurer told AFP at his office at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva ahead of anniversary celebrations on February 17.
Flanked by four framed Nobel Peace Prize diplomas — three won by the organization itself in 1917, 1944 and 1963 and one by one of its founders Henry Dunant, who was honored the first time the prize was awarded in 1901 — he described how the ICRC had grown over the years from a small group of philanthropic volunteers to an operation counting 12,000 employees with a $1.2-billion budget.
“My conclusion is that if the ICRC is getting bigger and bigger ... this is because there are incontestable needs to address,” Maurer said. “Conflicts have not become less damaging for civilian populations or for soldiers.”
Maurer is a career diplomat who took over the reins last July. Like all ICRC presidents, he is Swiss.
The organization’s cardinal role, he said, was in developing the concept of international humanitarian law as detailed in the Geneva Conventions.
The organization has through the years not only “tried its best to protect populations and care for soldiers in the battle fields, but has also been responsible for developing laws, and inspiring diplomats and states’ policies to create the legal framework necessary to ensure a minimum of respect for humanity in wars, armed conflicts and battles,” he said.
After decades of watching nation states clash, the ICRC increasingly finds itself confronted with a new breed of armed conflicts involving independent armed groups, Maurer said.
In facing this challenge, the organization is relying on the values that helped build its reputation more than a century ago.
“The philosophy and the methods the ICRC developed for dealing with nation states are also valid for the non-state groups that we are seeing today.
“There are no alternatives to discussion and constant engagement when it comes to convincing them to respect laws, the rules of conduct (during armed conflict), to distinguish between military personnel and civilians, and rules of conduct for how to treat prisoners,” he said.
Never resorting to military means is an important secret to the ICRC’s success, Maurer said. “We are a humanitarian organization. we do not protect ourselves with weapons,” he argued.
“Our strength, is our conviction,” he said.
“It is being on the ground, near the conflicts, knowing the different actors, being aware of the population’s suffering and responding to the population’s needs.
“And it is about engaging with the arms-bearers to get them to respect a minimum” of humanitarian law, he added.
“That is the essence of what we are doing in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Somalia, and in (the Democratic Republic of) Congo.”
The Swiss diplomat described how his organization today was working to bring relief to populations hit by around a dozen large-scale conflicts.
While the conflicts most in the media spotlight, such as the civil wars in Syria and Mali, are dreadful and serious, he stressed that worse conflicts in terms of human suffering are going on under the radar.
“If I would make a calculation of people in dire need of aid, I would certainly put first on the front page the conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Somalia, in Yemen, in Afghanistan and in the Sahel,” Maurer said.
Unlike the United Nations agencies, the ICRC’s donors give it full freedom to distribute the aid it provides where it believes it is most needed, regardless of where the television cameras are, he said.
ICRC donors “don’t force us to use the contributions in specific situations, but allow us to evaluate the needs and channel the humanitarian aid accordingly,” Maurer said.
The organization had “an important role to constantly remind the international community (of) where the objective needs are,” he added.
Despite its “distinct mandate and way of doing things,” the ICRC acknowledges that in the face of growing needs, it will need to cooperate more going forward with the national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, as well as with the UN agencies and other large non-governmental organizations.
“Balancing distinction and cooperation is a big challenge,” Maurer said.
Recent appointments in Egypt show rise of women to high political office in Mideast
- Recent appointments in Egypt are the latest example of the rise of women to high political office in the region
- “The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position”
CAIRO, LONDON: The appointment of two more female ministers this month to the new Egyptian Cabinet means women now fill eight out of 34 positions, the highest number in the modern history of Egypt.
Hala Zayed is the new health minister while Yasmine Fouad takes over as environment minister. Both women replaced men and join culture minister Inas Abdel-Dayem, tourism minister Rania Al-Mashat, Nabila Makram (immigration minister) Ghada Wali (social solidarity minister), Hala El-Saeed (planning minister) and Sahar Nasr (minister of investment and international cooperation).
The appointments by Egypt’s new Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly have been welcomed as forward thinking by social and political commentators.
Dr. Magda Bagnied, a writer and professor of communication, told Arab News: “I believe whoever planned for those eight effective ministries was looking forward for the future of Egypt since they are all interconnected in some way, and having females leading them is a leap forward.
“A country’s rank and status is measured by the role of women. The higher the number of leadership roles for women, the further the country is considered to be on the road to development.”
Four out of 15 new deputy ministers are also women and women now hold 15 percent of the seats in Parliament.
The rise of women to high political office in the Arab world is by no means restricted to Egypt.
Jordan also has a record number of women ministers after Prime Minister-designate Omar Razzaz appointed seven women to the 29-member Cabinet sworn in last week.
“The men’s monopoly has been broken,” the Jordanian National Commission for Women declared in a celebratory statement which also praised the prime minister’s “clear position.”
The appointment of the women ministers may help to assuage disappointment about the make-up of the rest of the — all male — Cabinet.
Twenty-three members of the new Jordanian Cabinet have been ministers before and 13 were members of the outgoing government that was brought down by popular protest.
Rawan Joyoussi, whose posters became one of the defining images of the protests, said: “I was hoping that women would be empowered and I am happy with that. But as far as the composition of the rest of the government is concerned, I think we have to play our part to create the mechanisms that will hold the government accountable.”
In the UAE, women hold nine out of 31 ministerial positions, and one of them, Minister for Youth Shamma Al-Mazrui, is also the world’s youngest minister, appointed in 2016 when she was only 22.
This makes the UAE Cabinet nearly 30 percent female, which is higher than India, almost equal to the UK and far ahead of the US, where Donald Trump has just four women in his Cabinet.
The general election in Morocco in October 2016 produced 81 women members of Parliament, accounting for 21 percent of the total 395 seats. The Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), which won the most votes, also ended up with the highest number of women MPs, 18.
Though elections in Saudi Arabia were open to women only in 2015, it ranks 100th out of 193rd in the world league table of women in national governing bodies, slightly above the US at 102nd place.
A policy briefing from the Brookings Institution think-tank in Washington says that one of the best ways for a country to ease economic pressure and boost productivity is to increase female participation in the workplace and in political life.
“Introducing diversity through gender parity will benefit economic growth and can help Arab countries to generate prosperity as well as the normative and social imperative of change,” wrote analyst Bessma Momani.
Yet in some parts of the Middle East, female representation seems to be going backward.
In 2009, four of Kuwait’s 65 MPs were women. In 2012 there were three and in 2013 only one. In 2016, 15 women stood for election to the 50 open parliamentary seats (the other 15 are appointed). Only one, Safa Al-Hashem, who was already an MP, was successful.
Qatar has no women MPs or ministers at all.
Egypt’s appointment of two more women ministers does not have the appearance of tokenism. The new Health Minister, Hala Zayed, 51, has a solid background in the field as a former president of the Academy of Health Sciences, a hospital specializing in cancer treatment for children.
She was also government adviser on health, chairwoman of a committee for combating corruption at the ministry she now heads and also has a Ph.d. in project management.
Similarly, Yasmeen Fouad, 43, the new environment minister, has four years’ experience as a former assistant minister in the same department, where she was known as “the lady for difficult missions,” and liaised with the UN. She is also an assistant professor of economics and political science at Cairo University.
Egypt’s first female minister was Hikmat Abu Zaid, appointed minister of social affairs in 1962 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who dubbed her “the merciful heart of revolution.”
Now there are eight like her, demonstrating that in the Middle East, “girl power” is on the rise.