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Egypt culture minister nixes rumors about UNESCO fix

Hazel Heyer, eTN Staff Writer  Mar 18, 2009

Egyptian minister of culture Farouk Hosni lashed at Egyptian magazine Akher Sa’a reporters over recent gossips claiming a conspiracy within UNESCO against his candidacy for the position of secretary-general for this U.N. organization.

Hosni described the report as inaccurate. He dismissed claims attributed by the magazine to “special sources” that current director-general Koichiro Matsura stands beside his deputy Marcio Barbosa of Brazil, to succeed him in office. Minister Hosni said that Egyptian-Japanese relations are very important, and that he does not believe that Matsura would make any of the statements attributed to him by the reporter.

Hosni added that Matsura would never compromise his integrity (and neutrality) by interfering in any way with the upcoming elections scheduled for September 2009 (to be voted on by 68 countries in the executive council out of 194 countries in the general assembly). The minister also said that the upcoming elections will not precipitate any kind of political crisis, and that he was confident that the next director would continue to build on the work of the previous leadership, and abide by all of the established rules of the organization.

"It was not clever for members of the press to circulate inaccurate information in newspaper and magazine reports, stating that this could undermine the relationship and respect that exists between Egypt and UNESCO," Hosni said. In fact, he lauded major accomplishments of UNESCO under Matsura’s leadership, not only on the international level but also within Egypt. He pointed out the success of UNESCO’s work remains evident in the vital development of site management programs for antiquities, sites, as well as the construction of museums and the establishment of training programs for heritage management professionals. Matsura has personally visited Egypt underscoring a continued warm relationship with the country and in particular with the Egyptian ministry of culture, he said.

In fact, early in 2007, Egypt won a seat on the 21-member UNESCO World Heritage Committee (WHC). The Arab republic received the recognition on the first round of the WHC election held in Paris that year in February. "Egypt’s success in gaining a seat in the WHC was the result of the country’s leading role in preserving its cultural and archaeological heritage and President Hosni Mubarak’s support for all projects aimed at preserving and protecting Egypt’s heritage,” Hosni said.

On top of preserving and restoring the old, Mubarak blocked the encroachment on all archaeological sites around Egypt, as well as urban development projects that threaten many archaeological sites. Pres. Mubarak also stopped the construction of a section of the Cairo ring road originally planned to pass through the Memphis Necropolis on the Giza plateau where the Great Pyramids stand. Egypt also retrieved giant masses of stolen antiquities since a few years back when 500 smuggled artifacts were found by the antiquities department in April 2002. Switzerland surrendered 311 items; New York, three. Cairo received mid-March 2002, three stolen pieces found in the possession of a convicted antiques dealer and another, an ordinary collector from New York. The goods kept coming in since the awareness was launched.

Minister 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. He demanded the return of well-known pieces, including the Zodiac at the Louvre, Nefertiti’s bust at the Berlin Museum, the statue of the engineer Hem Iunu who built Khufu’s pyramid from the Roemer & Pelizea Museum in Hildesheim, the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and the statue of the engineer Ankh Ha If, builder of the second pyramid, on display at the Boston Museum. Since then, the collection of returned items snowballed.

Speaking exclusively to the eTN, the minister said that if he is elected into office as secretary-general, he will follow-up on the works of Matsura. "If elected, I will continue to promote Mr. Matsura's efforts and will neither fail him nor the organization," he said adding, "I am currently working on preserving Egyptian archeology through the 100,000 artifact displays at the Grand Museum, budgeted at a cost of over $600 million. It set to open by 2012. Currently, we have completed phases 1 and 2 which include the restoration and conservation centers. Though already running, the Grand Museum is open to architects and conservation teams, but not to public just yet."

As for funding the Grand Museum, ironically enough he said, 60 -70 percent of financing come from Japan; the rest will be secured through fund-raising. Asked if Matsura had something to do with securing the money, UNESCO's head just happens to be Japanese but had nothing to do with the millions of dollars donated by the government of Japan.

Egypt culture minister nixes rumors about UNESCO fix

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