EGYPT

Is Farouk Hosni worthy of leading UNESCO?

UNESCO will choose its new general director this evening. It's Farouk Hosni, Egyptian Culture Minister since 1986, who looks set to succeed Koïchiro Matsuura at the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. But will the man who pledged to "burn" Israeli books really fit the bill? Read more...

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Posted on the Facebook group "Farouk Hosni NO for UNESCO"

UNESCO will choose its new general director this evening. It's Farouk Hosni, Egyptian Culture Minister since 1986, who looks set to succeed Koïchiro Matsuura at the head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. But will the man who pledged to "burn" Israeli books really fit the bill?

Hosni's anti-Semitic accusations weigh heavily on his chances for the appointment. Last year for example, he responded to a query about Israeli books appearing in an Alexandria library by saying "Burn these books; if there are any there, I will burn them myself in front of you".

They are declarations which Hosni now regrets saying. Writing in French newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday, he expressed "solemn regret" but asked his critics to "focus on the 27 years of public service devoted to culture, (...) mankind, creation, The Book and books in general".

We asked our respective Egyptian and Israeli Observers if UNESCO should have looked elsewhere.

"That the Israeli PM would go ahead and make such an exception ought to say something to the Diaspora Jews denouncing Hosni"

Joel Schalit is an Israeli writer living in Italy.

It is important to note that Israel's best-known rightist, Prime Minister Netanyahu, has withdrawn his criticisms of Hosni's nomination to head UNESCO. This does set a precedent in its own right, even if it was done out of a sense of practicality - to secure Egyptian favour during a time of crisis in the peace process - even if is not necessarily a sincere gesture. The fact that it puts Netanyahu in conflict with such similarly outspoken critics of anti-Semitism Henri Levy, Lanzmann and Wiesel, is highly ironic, too.

On the surface, this demonstrates a split between public figures for whom the criticism of anti-Semitism is the sin qua non of post-war Jewish politics. That the Israeli PM would go ahead and make such an exception ought to say something to the Diaspora Jews denouncing Hosni, even if he's not someone one should rely on in such instances. I like what it communicates: that Israel and the Diaspora Jewish community do not always speak with one voice."

"We cannot consider him anti-Semitic"

Ahmed Gamal el-Din Mohammed works in communications in Cairo.

When you look at his political directions and perceptions against Israel, they're no different from most Egyptian politicians these days - they all  feel anger about the daily and deliberate massacres in the hands of the Israeli army and their leaders.  We cannot however consider Hosni anti-Semitic since the same minister invited famous Israeli musician Daniel Barenboim to perform a concert in the Egyptian Opera House in front of many Egyptian society VIPs. Like the rest of the Egyptian government, now that the war is over and co-operation is beginning, Hosni is a 'man of peace'. He's opposed to the barbaric acts perpetrated by Israel, not to the Israeli people who want to live in peace with their neighbours.

I guess that most people here would welcome an Egyptian as head of UNESCO, and internationally, I don't think there is something strong enough to prevent him from being nominated."

"If UNESCO choose him, then they lose all respect in my eyes"

Wael Abbas is one of Egypt's most influential bloggers. His blog: Misr Digital.

We've never really understood whether Hosni is right or left-wing. Personally, I think he's a hypocrite. When he came to power, he had long hair; he seemed more open-minded than the others. But now, he's flirting with the conservative religious types.

I don't care about him saying he said he wanted to burn Israeli books. What's worrying is that a so-called man of culture thinks such things about books in general - and is then considered as the world's potential ambassador for culture!

He had the time and the means to change things in his own country, but did nothing. At the end of the nineties his ministry got heavy metal concerts banned because he considered the fans - like me at that time - as dangerous satanists. I was put in prison for dressing in black! Even today some magazines and poetry books are censored and intellectuals persecuted.

Hosni works for a dictatorial regime. Unesco would do better to check out what he really gets up to. His ministry's been involved in various corruption affairs and abuses of power. He should have resigned already. If UNESCO choose him, then they lose all respect in my eyes. Egypt is not a free country and doesn't merit that honour."