Farouk Hosni, the leading candidate to become the next head of UNESCO, has made the headlines after being accused of anti-Semitism in remarks he made to a fellow Egyptian parliamentarian, words Hosni insists were taken out of context.
Voting began on Thursday to elect a new head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with controversy surrounding the leading candidate Farouk Hosni due to allegations that he made anti-Semitic comments, including a vow to "burn Israeli books".
Hosni's leading bid ran into trouble in May when Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel joined two French intellectuals to oppose his candidacy.
The clamour surrounds comments Hosni made in May 2008, vowing to "burn Israeli books" himself if he found any in Egyptian libraries.
But in an interview with FRANCE 24, Hosni said his words had been taken out of context, and he insisted his record showed he was anything but anti-Semitic.
"A member of parliament asked me if I knew that there were Israeli books insulting Islam in the national library," he said in the interview. "I said that I did not know this. And when he persisted, I told him that if there were books insulting Islam that he should bring them to me and I would burn them."
Hosni also said that, as culture minister, he had restored all of Egypt's dozen synagogues and that he had had Hebrew books translated into Arabic.
Hosni's main rival for the post is European Commissioner for External Relations, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, but the choice of Egypt's candidate has won much support in Europe as an attempt to reach out to the Muslim world.
France must remain neutral on the issue as it is the host country for UNESCO but officials have said privately that Paris favours Hosni for the job.
A recent article in the prestigious American Foreign Policy magazine described Hosni's bid as "scandalous" and accused him of echoing the "rampant Judeophobia" of Egyptian intellectual circles.
Amid the brouhaha, the United States has refused to publicly back a contender, but a State Department spokesman took pains to point out that the "right candidate" must have a "demonstrated commitment to UNESCO's core principles."
About five rounds of voting are expected to take place to choose the new director general and the appointment is to be endorsed by UNESCO's 193-member assembly in October.
Date created : 2009-09-17