It came as a surprise to no one. The controversial Egyptian Minister of Culture jumped into the lead after votes, for both the first and second rounds of elections for a new Director General of Unesco, were counted. With 22 votes on Thursday and 23 on Friday, Farouk Hosni led eight other candidates including former Austrian foreign secretary and European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldneras and Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova Gueorguierva. Mr. Hosni distinctly leads his three African counterparts: Beninese Nouréini Tidjani-Serpos, Tanzanian Sospeter Mwijarubi Muhongo and Algerian Mohammed Bedjaoui.
Who will replace Japan’s Koichiro Matsuura? The 58 member Executive Board of the UN agency dedicated to science, education and culture will have to decide Saturday on the appointment of a new Director General of the institution after they failed to elect a new Director General on two consecutive occasions, the first on Thursday and the second on Friday. The reason being that none of the nine candidates obtained the majority vote, neither Thursday nor Friday. Even the favourite and most controversial Farouk Hosni, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, with his strong support from the African Union, the Arab League as well as the Organization of Islamic Conference, failed to garner the required majority of 30 votes, from the 58 representatives, needed to secure the position.
A source from Unesco told Afrik-news.com that Farouk Hosni had won 22 votes on Thursday and 23 on Friday, the Bulgarian Irina Bokova Gueorguierva came second on Thursday with 8 votes but was overtaken by former Austrian foreign secretary and European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldneras, who distanced both the Ecuadorian Ruez Ivonne A. Baki and the Russian Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko with whom she level pegged in the first round. Hopes to see the Beninese Nouréini Tidjani-Serpos and Tanzanian Sospeter Mwijarubi Muhongo among the top have dwindled. After getting elected the candidate chosen by the Executive Board to become new Director General of UNESCO for a period of 4 years, will be approved by the General Conference. On 15 October the 153 member countries of UNESCO will examine the vote and then decide in a secret ballot.
Farouk Hosni, the controversial Egyptian favourite
Despite being the favourite, this election has not served as the catalyst hoped for to dissolve the controversy surrounding the nomination of Egyptian Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, 71. During a debate in May 2008 at the Egyptian Parliament, Mr. Farouk said “I will personally burn Israeli books if I came across one (in Egypt). A few months later, Farouk Hosni attempted to silence critics when got an article of his published in Le Monde in which he expressed deep regret. But while he sought to distance himself from his former declaration, his proclamation against the “infiltration of Jews in the international media” as well as his invitation of Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy to Cairo under the auspices of the ministry of culture, have served to cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerety of his deep regret.
Besides the anti-Israeli sermons that have accompanied his long career, the Minister has used his powers to censor books he did not deem worthy because of his religious views. He, in fact, once banned a film, the Yacoubian Building (2006), calling it an “insult to Islam”, and more recently El-Hajj’s poems. Despite all these actions, Farouk Hosni seems to have won the support of Arab states including Algeria, and France who see him as a great lover of painting and literature. Nicolas Sarkozy, who is relying on Egypt to help him carry out his planned Mediterranean Union, the Minister has made honourable amends. The proof being that Israel did not oppose his candidacy. If elected, Farouk Hosni will be the first Arab to head the organization. According to some observers, his appointment could tarnish the image of Unesco and prolong the controversy.