April 06, 2015
When Lakhdar Brahimi was awarded the Dag Hammarskjold Honorary Medal in 2004, then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan praised the veteran Algerian diplomat for being “one of the finest mediators and negotiators the United Nations has been privileged to call one of its own.” Brahimi was 70 and had just wrapped up a mission in Iraq, yet he was hardly retiring. Amid the Arab Spring uprisings, he was tapped as UN special envoy to stop what had become a full-blown civil war in Syria.
Brahimi became the go-to negotiator due to his legendary acumen, patience, courage, dedication, and modesty—and perhaps partly thanks to the diplomatic credibility he brings to mediating complex geopolitical conflict as a figure from the independence struggle that ended 130 years of French colonialism in Algeria in 1962. He joined the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) at age 22, served as its representative in South-East Asia for five years (1956–61), and after liberation went on to become Algeria’s ambassador to Egypt (1963–70) and the United Kingdom (1971–79) before serving as foreign minister (1991–93).
As an Arab League envoy he brokered the Taif Agreement ending the Lebanese Civil War in 1989; later, he served as UN special envoy to South Africa (1993–94), Haiti (1994–96), Afghanistan (1997–99 and 2001–04), Iraq (2004), and Syria (2012–14). Successful UN mediation is dependent on support from the major powers, but Brahimi often expressed his personal remorse in the face of failure. Proving unable to end the Syrian conflict, he announced with typical humility: “I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people.”
Brahimi is a member of The Elders, a group founded by Nelson Mandela to work for peace and human rights. He also is a Distinguished Professor of Practice at l’Institut d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). Cairo Review Managing Editor Scott MacLeod spoke with Brahimi in Paris on January 27, 2015.