We need visionaries and not cheap politicians!
S. H. Moulana (Courtesy Author)
I don’t think anybody can deny the fact how late S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and his wife late Sirimavo Bandaranaike helped to build very strong relations with all the Arab countries. When the news came of Egypt’s late President Nasser’s decision to nationalize the Suez Canal Company in 1956, our shrewd leader SWRD knew what will follow. First, he discussed the issue with late Nehru of India and suggested to hold a meeting of the Colombo Powers. He instructed our permanent representative in the UN, R.S.S. Gunawardena to uphold Egypt’s rights to nationalize the Suez Canal Company.
In November 1956, the Suez issue came to the UN General Assembly for the first time and Sri Lanka got a chance to voice her views on the subject. There were not less than 11 resolutions related to the Suez issue and Sri Lanka voted for all of them. SWRD attended the General Assembly not only as the Prime Minister, but also as the representative of Colombo Powers. His effort to resolve the Suez crisis pleased all the Arab countries, and Sri Lanka was treated as a great friend of the Arab nation, and thus our country was appointed as a member of the Suez Advisory Board.
Likewise, when late Sirimavo Bandaranaike nationalized the British/US owned oil companies in 1961 to establish the Petroleum Corporation, there was an oil embargo imposed on Sri Lanka by the affected parties. Hearing about this critical situation, Gamal Abdel Nasser wasted no time in sending us a ship load of oil which saved us. This was the time our country maintained an excellent relation with the Arab countries, thanks to both Bandaranaikes!
During our visit to Egypt in the late nineties we stayed in a five star facility in Cairo, by the river Nile. We enjoyed the Nile cruise every night because it provided traditional Egyptian food with live music and the famous Egyptian belly dance. It cost much less than the hotel dinner, and gave more fun by meeting lots of people of diverse nationalities taking this highly popular cruise. Apart from visits to the pyramids and museum we were highly recommended to pay a visit to a place called ‘Kan Kaleeli’ in downtown Cairo, where you could find Egyptian antiquities at bargain prices. It is 20/25 klms from our hotel. Limousines in Cairo used to demand prohibitive amounts and when it comes to the tourist it is worse. Anyhow, when we got into a limousine the first question the driver asked was where we are from. My wife and I proudly and in one voice said that we are from Sri Lanka. The elderly Egyptian driver remembered the names of SWRD and Sirimavo and the rest were plain sailing for us. I capitalized on the excellent relation the husband and wife maintained with late Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. By the time we reached the hotel we became very close friends with the limousine driver. When I asked him how much he expects from me. He said you can pay whatever amount you want to pay and even if you don’t pay it is perfectly all right. I gave him 10 Egyptian Pounds. He thanked me and left.
I am surprised to note why our top leaders have totally neglected and failed to maintain this excellent relation with the Arab countries, established by late Bandaranaikes. We see leaders from western nations keep arriving in Arab capitals practically every day and some like Angela Merkel of Germany and May of the UK multiple times within a couple of months. I can’t remember seeing any of our prime ministers or presidents visiting any of the gulf capitals. Are we in a stronger position than that of the strongest economic power of the world, Germany? We need visionary leaders not just politicians!