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Thursday, September 24, 2009

UNESCO: Egypt blames 'clash of civilisations' for defeat


Egypt's press slammed culture minister Faruq Hosni's defeat in the elections to head UNESCO as proof of a 'clash of civilisations', as Cairo struggled to mend its bruised image.

Outside view of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris
Credit: AP


quote America, Europe and the Jewish lobby brought down Faruq Hosni after an honourable competition by the Egyptian delegation quote

Bulgarian career diplomat Irina Bokova won the top job at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation on Tuesday after a race clouded by accusations of anti-Semitism against her Egyptian rival.

"A clash of civilisations determines the UNESCO fight," trumpeted the headline in the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm.

"America, Europe and the Jewish lobby brought down Faruq Hosni after an honourable competition by the Egyptian delegation."

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 publicise 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.

"Faruq Hosni's campaign was met with an uncivilised 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 honourable fight... in a race that was not honourable at all," Rose al-Youssef said.

"Faruq 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 favourite.

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.

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