Ambassador at very large

By BENJAMIN JOFFE-WALT / THE MEDIA LINE
February 7, 2010 17:37

Arab states reject Pakistani diplomat whose name refers to large male genitals in Arabic.

3 minute read.



arab summit 248.88

arab summit 248.88. (photo credit:)

Up until just over a month ago, His Excellency Miangul Akbar Zeb had lived an esteemed life as one of Pakistan's most senior diplomats.

Mr Zeb has served as the ambassador of Pakistan to the United States, India and South Africa, the director general of Pakistan's Foreign Ministry and most recently was Pakistan's High Commissioner Designate to Canada.

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According to the Media Line news agency, Mr Zeb's impressive career hit a hick-up when Pakistan recently decided to send the 55-year-old veteran diplomat to the Arab world, seemingly ignorant to the Arabic translation of the senior diplomat's name: 'Biggest Dick'.

A relatively common Muslim name, Akbar means 'biggest' or 'greatest' in Arabic. While Zeb is a common Urdu name, in Arabic it is a slang reference to the male genitals and not used in polite conversation.

Faced with an uncomfortable conundrum, it seems the unfortunate diplomat's Arab hosts felt that local references to 'His Excellency Biggest Dick' would not go over well.

According to the Arab Times, the United Arab Emirates refused to accredit Mr Zeb as ambassador. Undeterred, Pakistan then tried to send Mr Zeb to neighboring Bahrain instead, where the emissary was rejected again. Then, most recently, Pakistan tried sending Mr Zeb to Saudi Arabia, only to be rebuffed a third time.

None of the Gulf States have made a statement as to why Mr Zeb was refused accreditation.

"It's hard to imagine that someone's name would be a problem, especially on this level, but I understand why the governments reacted this way," Ahmed Al-Omran, a Saudi cultural critic told The Media Line. "It crosses a cultural red line so I don't think the media would dare to publish a name like this. So every time he would be in the media they would have to face the name issue and it would make it difficult to work with him. That would just be an embarrassment for Pakistan."

Eman Al Nafjan, an influential Saudi blogger, said Pakistan should have known.

"If they were Russian or Chinese we could say maybe they didn't know or they were ignorant," she told The Media Line. "But they are Muslim, they use the Arabic alphabet and they know what his name means in Arabic so I'm surprised they didn't pick up on it sooner. The Pakistani's should have known and they could have avoided the whole thing, so nobody thinks the government was wrong on this issue.”

"On the one hand I would have thought it was a source of pride for him," Al Nafjan said laughing. "It's funny, but you can't just pronounce that name. It's too awkward: how would he be announced at events? How would he be written about?"

"If he were the president of Pakistan it would be a different issue," she added. "I mean we can't choose their president for them. But if it's an ambassador, I'm sure they can find someone else."

David Kenner of Foreign Policy magazine wrote that the issue was likely a source of embarrassment for Pakistan.

"One can only assume that submitting Zeb's name to a number of Arabic-speaking countries is some unique form of punishment designed by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry," he wrote. "Or the result of a particularly egregious cock-up."

Iqbal Khattak, Bureau Chief of the Pakistani Daily Times, said the issue has not been reported locally.

Pakistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment for this article.


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