Thursday, April 21, 2005


Congratulations and respect are due to Yahya Zakariyya Nigm, charge d'affaires at the Egyptian embassy in Caracas, Venezuela. On 21 February 2005, Mr. Nigm penned a letter of resignation that stands as an eloquent indictment of Egypt's dependent and ineffective foreign policy. I quote a portion: "Egypt's policy since about the mid-1970s has become a policy alien to us, distant from our historical, national, religious, and traditional precepts and sometimes even contradictory to them, approaching policies and projects alien to us. We have been struck by despair, depression, and sometimes shock at these positions, and comprehending them as well as articulating and defending them has become a burden too heavy to bear. On one hand we do not want to shirk our professional duties, and on the other we do not want to go against our conscience and beliefs."

Mr. Nigm's dignified response to this dilemma was to recuse himself from representing the Egyptian government, a remarkable rarity. He might be the first Egyptian functionary in recent memory to take this step. The last resignation I recall is foreign minister Muhammad Ibrahim Kamel's resignation in 1978 in protest at Anwar Sadat's Camp David negotiations. Mr. Nigm concludes his impressive missive with a play on a resonant saying: "We borrow from our predecessors: For the sake of Egypt we entered the Foreign Service and for the sake of Egypt we leave it." The reference is to former PM Mustafa al-Nahhas' famous 1951 parliamentary declaration "For the sake of Egypt we signed the 1936 Treaty and for the sake of Egypt we abrogate it." The announcement was part of the social upheaval leading to the momentous regime change of July 1952. Dare we draw tempting parallels?

Mr. Nigm's letter deserves to be read in full, for its cogency, social conscience, and glimpse into the details of everyday corruption in the Egyptian government's Venezuelan outpost. Like novelist Sonallah Ibrahim's statement spurning that prestigious award back in October 2003, Nigm's letter encapsulates an ambient zeitgeist. By what mysterious alchemy will the spirit of the times morph into actual change?