As goodwill ambassador quits WFP over Cindy McCain's pro-Israeli policy, critics say UN agency is 'rudderless'
ROME -- Renowned Tunisian-Egyptian actress Hend Sabry has resigned from her role as a goodwill ambassador the World Food Programme amid growing protests by staffers and the Arab world over WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain’s evident support for Israel and the agency’s failure to mobilize effectively against the Jewish state’s cutting off food in Gaza. The resignation comes as veteran WFP executives described Ms McCann’s management of the world’s largest humanitarian agency as “a massive clusterfuck,” including appointment of inexperienced top managers as HR director and chief of staff and chaos in international staffing rotation under which the market reassignment process has been pushed back by two months disrupting staffers’ family life.
"After 13 years of humanitarian work around the world, I resigned from the World Food Programme," MsSabry, 44, wrote in a post on her social media accounts.
"I write this with a heavy heart and deep sadness; I have decided to relinquish my role as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations World Food Programme, a role that I have been proud of and have been playing for years." Ms Sabry, an award-winning film and TV actress, worked with in-need populations in Sudan, Bangladesh, Egypt, and Libya among other countries over her years as a Goodwill Ambassador for the WFP.
The 2.4 million population in The Gaza Strip has been teetering on the verge of starvation due to the all-out blockade imposed by Israel on the entry of all but a trickle of the water, food, and fuel needed by under-bombardment Palestinians since the start of Israel's war on the strip following Hamas’s brutal attack launched from Gaza Oct. 7 in which 1200 Israelis were murdered and some 250 taken hostage.
Various international humanitarian organizations have repeatedly condemned the Israeli bombing of Gaza, which Hamas says has killed more than 14,000 civilians and injured more than 32,000 others, and its deadly blockade on the strip.
Sabry's resignation comes a few days after Ms McCain, the WFP attended a forum "honoring the people of Israel" and reportedly refused to condemn Israel's killing of more than 105 UNRWA and other UN relief workers in Gaza since the start of its war on the strip.
McCain's actions triggered widespread anger among some in the ranks of the program who circulated an internal letter questioning her ethics and neutrality in the face of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. The petition calling for staffers to write to the WFP ethics office is unlikely to worry Ms McCain but a senior WFP executive told the Italian Insider her appearance at the forum has embarrassed the UN Secretary General who appointed her together with the FAO director general.
Ms McCain is “immensely less popular” with WFP staff than her predecessor David Beasley, the executive told the Insider. “She wants us to be ‘lean and mean,’ her earliest words. Lean is fine. But mean humanitarians? Does not compute.”
The executive added that the WFP human resources department is falling apart “with an external hire from the private sector for HR director.”
While she has reduced the number of deputy executive directors from four to three and fired some previous incumbents of that rank, Ms McCain earned more criticism for bringing out of retirement Ramiro Lopes da Silva, once nicknamed “Mr Nepotism” as a “special advisor,” he added.
“When the market reassignment process is pushed back by two months with all the knock on effects of that then there is a very real problem, a very big one.”
“It is a massive clusterfuck. With a new ED, a new chief of staff and a new HR director, none of whom are familiar with the huge complexities of the exercise and the interdependencies and what-ifs. The agency is rudderless.”
Ms McCain, the widow of late US Senator John McCain who was a staunch supporter of Israel, was nominated by the Biden administration to run the Rome-based WFP earlier this year and took office in April.
In her post, Ms Sabry noted: "All these years I have seen how brave men and women around the world have dedicated their lives to serving others - and for that, I have deep love and respect for them."
"Over the past weeks, I have witnessed and shared the experiences of my dedicated colleagues at WFP," explained Sabry.
There was "a sense of helplessness because they are unable to carry out their duty to the fullest extent, as they always do, towards children, mothers, fathers, and grandparents in Gaza," she added.
"There was little they could do in the face of the crushing war machine that had no mercy on civilians who were besieged by death."
"I have tried to make my voice heard at the highest level of the World Food Program and to join my colleagues in calling for WFP to be used – as it has done successfully before, to advocate and push hard for an immediate, humanitarian ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, and to leverage WFP’s influence to prevent the use of starvation as a weapon of war."
"I was certain that the World Food Program - which had won the Nobel Peace Prize just 3 years earlier - was an active participant in UN Resolution 2417, which condemned the use of starvation as a method of war, and would use its voice as powerfully as it did in emergencies and multiple humanitarian crises."
"However, starvation and blockades have been used as weapons of war over the past 46 days against more than two million civilians in Gaza," she noted.
"It is a weapon that has so far killed more than 14,000 people, made more than 1.6 million people homeless, destroyed half of the buildings, and bombed hospitals and schools that were supposed to be safe shelters."
"For this reason, I announce my resignation and wish all my colleagues in the World Food Program safety and peace."
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