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08 September 2009 

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UNESCO to Pick New Chief

07 September 2009
The process of selecting the next head of the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is underway. Egypt's cultural minister Farouk Hosny is considered the front-runner for the job. But critics argue Hosny should not be picked because of allegedly anti-Semitic remarks he made last year.  

Nine candidates, hailing from Latin America, Europe and Africa, are vying to become UNESCO's next director general. Among them is the European Union's external affairs commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner ... and Egypt's long-time culture minister Farouk Hosny, who considered a favorite for the job.

But Hosny's candidacy is controversial. In May, three leading French intellectuals published an article in France's Le Monde newspaper, arguing Hosny should not be chosen. At issue are comments Hosny made during an exchange before the Egyptian parliament last year. He said he would burn Israeli books if he found them in Egyptian libraries.

Hosny has since apologized for those remarks, but critics like the Paris-based European Jewish Congress are strongly against his nomination. Spokesman Nicolas Stofermacher explains.

"We believe his candidacy is a difficult one, a conflictual one. In the past, he has made comments that he has retracted," said Nicolas Stofermacher. "Those comments were of a very specific anti-Semitic nature. As a political organization that democratically represents European Jewish communities, we cannot support a candidacy such as this one."

But other analysts suggest Mr. Hosny would help breach the cultural divide between the West and the Muslim world. Some point out that Hosny has shown some openness, such as pledging to translate works by Israeli writers. A recent New York Times article reports Egypt is beginning to renovate its synagogues, as part of the country's heritage.

UNESCO's next director general takes over the post from outgoing Japanese head Koichiro Matsuura. Voting is scheduled for later this month, with the appointment expected to be endorsed by the full UNESCO assembly in October.  

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