Mohammed Benaissa is back under a different fez, and he is still smiling. The former Moroccan ambassador, who is now foreign minister, was back in his old embassy on 21st Street Monday slipping into his previous role, if only for a day. He waxed nostalgic about his old quarters in Washington, where he puffed at a slim cigarillo and received guests around a silver tray of Moroccan sweets and mint tea.
This was Benaissa's first visit back since the death of King Hassan II and the ascension of his son, Mohammed VI, to the Moroccan throne. Benaissa said the new monarch will honor the path blazed by his late father but add special emphasis to social issues. In his first speech at the end of July, the socially conscious young king declared a war on deprivation, saying he is giving special "priority to certain social problems such as unemployment and poverty." He also expressed support for a constitutional monarchy, political pluralism, economic liberalism, decentralization, the rule of law and individual and collective liberties.
"My father put Morocco on the world map; I want to put it in Moroccans' hearts," the 36-year-old king told a visiting head of state recently.
Yesterday, Benaissa presented Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) with a letter Hassan had drafted that was ready for him to sign three days before he died in July. The letter, a reaffirmation of friendship and expression of gratitude, was handwritten by a palace calligrapher on the same kind of paper used in a letter on bilateral relations initiated in 1783 by King Mohammed III and President George Washington.
Peter Galbraith, a professor at the National War College and a former ambassador to Croatia, is going after Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and 11 other Iraqi officials to have them indicted for crimes against humanity. For now, Galbraith said, this is only a quest. But he noted that the efforts of his organization, Indict, bore fruit this summer when Izzat Ibrahim Douri, vice chairman of Baghdad's ruling Revolutionary Command Council, went to Austria for cancer treatment. After a local politician tried to have him arrested, Douri went back to Iraq, Galbraith said.
The timing of Galbraith's initiative is particularly interesting because the Vatican has come under pressure recently from the U.S. administration for plans by Pope John Paul II to visit Iraq. European diplomats said a compromise is being worked out for the pope to meet only with Aziz, a Christian, rather than with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. If Aziz is indicted, that could make things a little sticky for the pope, who plans to visit the ancient city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, and offer hope and spiritual sustenance to the Iraqi people.
Syrian Ambassador Walid Moualem is not returning calls. No Arab official or diplomat will confirm it, but they have all heard the same reports: He is leaving Washington and may become foreign minister. One thing is certain, Jordanian ambassador Marwan Muasher has already sent out invitations for Moualem's farewell dinner next month. You can't hide a secret in Washington, even if it's a Syrian secret.
Taliban on the Move
William Maley, one of the world's leading scholars on Afghanistan, has written several books on fundamentalism, the ruling Taliban organization and the politics of Afghanistan. During a special Capitol Hill Policymakers Forum yesterday, he talked in particular about the country's foreign policy. In an interview, Maley said the Taliban, strictly observant Muslims who have imposed rigorous strictures on Afghan society, are also making inroads into Pakistan "by offering simple solutions to complex problems." So many Pakistanis are attending religious schools, or madrasas, he said, that what students learn is leading to a blurring of national identities along the two countries' borders. Money comes to these religious schools from private sources in the United Arab Emirates and other Persian Gulf sources, Maley said.
Maley said the worst problem in Afghanistan is that of pervasive fear among women, the "inferior beings or Untermenschen." Women are are afraid to go out on the street. "This is devastating not only for the psyche of Afghan women and the self-esteem of Afghan men. People should not miss the depth of systemic repression," he said of the denial of work, education and health care opportunities to women.