Tuesday, September 22, 2009

UNESCO candidates tie, but Hosni might still win

Farouk Hosni, Egypt's culture minister, has tied with the Bulgarian candidate, Irina Bokova, in the race to be the next UNESCO head, according to the New York Times. Already criticised for his judeophobia, Hosni is being further discredited by rumours on an Arabic website over his murky role in spiriting the hijackers of the Achille Lauro out of Italy in 1985. But if the vote goes to the UNESCO general assembly, Hosni might still win:

PARIS — The United Nations agency on education, science and culture was split down the middle on Monday night over a new director general, with fierce lobbying for votes before a final round of voting Tuesday evening.

The last two candidates are the Egyptian culture minister, Farouk Hosny, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and censorship, and Irina Bokova, 57, the Bulgarian ambassador to the agency, Unesco, who was briefly her country’s foreign minister.

In the fourth round of voting of Unesco’s 58-nation executive board, the two candidates were tied, 29-29. If the vote remains tied on Tuesday, the 193-member General Conference will choose a new director general next month, and Mr. Hosny is expected to win in the larger body, where Egypt is thought to have more influence.

The original field of nine candidates has been slowly thinned, with Ms. Bokova, who comes from a family that was prominent in the old Communist government, becoming the alternative to Mr. Hosny, 71, who has been Egypt’s culture minister for 22 years.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has pressed hard for his candidate, who had hoped to win with 30 votes in the first round.

But some of the countries that had pledged to Mr. Mubarak to vote for Mr. Hosny — like France, Italy and even Israel — have not felt obliged to keep that commitment in later rounds.

Some American Jewish organizations and civil libertarians have fiercely opposed Mr. Hosny.

In the Egyptian context he is considered liberal, but last year, in a parliamentary debate, defending himself against charges that he was soft on Israel, he said he would personally burn any Israeli book found in the Alexandria library, Egypt’s most important.

Other charges have surfaced. Mr. Hosny has been accused of keeping restrictions on Egypt’s carefully edited press and censoring some films and books, while Unesco is supposed to defend press freedom.

Elaph.com, an Arabic-language Web site, published Saturday what it said were private admissions by Mr. Hosny that when he was the Egyptian cultural attaché in Rome, he helped to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. In that episode, a retired American Jewish tourist in a wheelchair was shot and pushed into the sea, horrifying much of the world.

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