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A clash of civilizations at UNESCO

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Oct 02, 2009

The Egyptian press slammed the defeat of Culture Minister Farouk Hosni who aspired to become the head of UNESCO. Like proof of a clash of civilizations, Cairo struggled to mend its bruised image. Bulgarian career diplomat Irina Bokova won the top position at the (UNESCO) United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization last week after a stiff race clouded by accusations of anti-Semitism against Hosni.

"A clash of civilizations determines the UNESCO fight," boldly headlined the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. "America, Europe and the Jewish lobby brought down Farouk Hosni after an honorable competition by the Egyptian delegation," it added. The unprecedented five-round race for the post culminated in an embarrassing defeat not only for Hosni but for Egypt which had used the minister's campaign to publicize the cultural richness of the biggest Arab nation.

Cairo hoped that Hosni's election as the first Arab to head the agency would send a positive signal from the West to the Muslim world. But the campaign met strong opposition from US and French commentators, as well as from Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who said appointing Hosni would ‘shame’ the global community.

"The Egyptian and Arabic candidate for the post was subjected to a ferocious campaign against him by the American administration, under Jewish pressure," said the opposition weekly Al-Ahrar on its front page. “Hosni's campaign was met with an uncivilized attack by Jewish intellectuals in France," state-owned Al-Ahram Al-Messai wrote in its leader column.

"Efforts by the US ambassador to UNESCO as well as the Zionist media in Europe and the United States succeeded in securing (his defeat)," it said. Other papers felt the result revealed anti-Islamic sentiments.

The election showed “…that the West stands against the others on the basis of religion in critical moments," the daily Rose al-Youssef wrote. "All weapons were used (to bring about his defeat) including the continuous publishing of articles against him until the last minute," the paper said.

It described the election and the US pressure on countries to vote against Hosni as “voting at knifepoint,” In his lengthy political career, Hosni has often been accused of promoting anti-Semitism, in particular in 2008 when he told the Egyptian parliament: "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt."

Hosni, who has been Egypt's culture minister for 22 years, insists his comment was made during an angry exchange with hardliners from the Muslim Brotherhood and had been taken out of context. After a lengthy campaign by the Egyptian government to push its candidate, there was no official comment on the results.

But state-owned papers and press close to the regime attempted some damage control after the loss, insisting that the Egyptian side "…fought an honorable fight... in a race that was not honorable at all," Rose al-Youssef said. "Farouk Hosni did not bow down to European and American pressure and fought till the end," the state-owned Al-Ahram reported.

Nine candidates were in the running when UNESCO's council began voting last Thursday, including European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who was seen as a favorite. Hosni led after the first round and remained in the running until being pitted against Bokova in the final showdown. The decisive vote by UNESCO's 58-nation executive council gave 31 votes to Bokova and 27 to Hosni.

Looking back, Egypt has won a seat on the 21-member UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC). Success in gaining a seat in the WHC is the result of the country’s leading role in preserving its cultural and archaeological heritage and by the efforts by Farouk Hosni. On top of preserving and restoring the old, not so long ago, Hosni also urged France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States to return famous artifacts for showcase at a temporary exhibition of ancient Egyptian antiquities.

A clash of civilizations at UNESCO

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