UNESCO: How Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova out-manoeuvred Farouk Hosni of Egypt

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Weak support from France? Pressure from Israel? The United States? What really caused the downfall of Farouk Hosni, the man who was widely tipped to take command of the prestigious Unesco? From his office in Cairo, the unfortunate candidate has denounced “pressures” from Israel as well as a “politicised” vote.

It is one of the big shocks of the decade. Farouk Hosni, 71, Egyptian Minister of Culture for 22 years, failed to garner enough votes to become the new head of UNESCO in spite of the level of support he got including intense diplomatic backing by his country, the Arab League and the African Union. Against all odds, Irina Bokova came from behind to win hands down. At the end of a fifth consecutive ballot, Tuesday, September 22, she bagged 31 votes against 27 for Hosni, becoming the first woman to head the organisation.


The first three rounds had all but consolidated the Egyptian Minister of Culture’s position as the best person to win, despite the fact that no absolute majority had been found. According to the pro-government Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, Farouk Hosni has fallen victim to a ” ferocious Jewish media campaign.” During the campaign season, Farouk Hosni was the focus of an intense controversy. The minister is accused of having made “anti-Semitic” utterances at the Egyptian parliament in 2008. Farouk Hosni had publicly said that he would personally burn Israeli books if he found any in Egyptian libraries. His public apology followed by Israel’s decision not to oppose his candidacy, however, were not enough to convince powerful French intellectuals including Elie Wiesel, Claude Lanzmann, Simone Weil or Bernard-Henri Lévy. These highly respected individuals as well as numerous organisations continually denounced the Egyptian candidate’s “anti-Semitism” before and during the polls. Wednesday in Cairo, Farouk Hosni blamed his loss on a “politicised” election and “Zionist pressure”.

The United States and Europe to blame?

Al Ahram has accused the United States and Europe for doing all in their power to ensure Hosni’s loss, while encouraging rumours claiming that members of the various voting delegations were bribed to change their votes in favour of Irina Bokova. A spokesman of the organisation, speaking to the Associated Press, officially denied these rumours.

France accused

France, allegedly, contributed to the loss of the Egyptian candidate. “The ambiguous position of France was behind the reluctance of some Francophone African countries to vote for Hosni,” Al Ahram states. Having vouched its support for the Egyptian candidate well before Sarkozy came to power in 2007, Paris chose to keep a low profile after the controversial remarks were made by Farouk Hosni in 2008, while still quietly supporting Egypt in order to protect its strategic interests in the region. French President, Nicolas Sarkozy is the brain behind a proposed Mediterranean Union (UPM) under the chairmanship of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Despite Farouk Hosni’s defeat, the election resulted in a decision never before reached by the organisation. Having failed to elect its first Arab personality, UNESCO elected its first female director general. The former communist, Irina Bokova immediately reached a reconciliatory hand after her election: ” “I have told the Egyptian delegation that I hope that we would work together, because I never believed in the idea of a clash of civilizations.” The Bulgarian diplomat’s appointment will be confirmed on October 15, by representatives of the organisation’s 193 Member States at the General Conference.

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 surprisingly withdrew from the race, leaving three main contenders – the Egyptian candidate, Farouk Hosni, who until the final vote enjoyed a comfortable lead over the Bulgarian nominee, current Ambassador to France, Irina Bokova, and Ecuador’s Ivonne Baki.

 Also read: Unesco Elections: Controversial Egyptian Farouk Hosni set to win

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