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Controversial Egyptian candidate leads in first round of voting

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-18

Egypt's controversial minister of culture Farouk Hosni managed to win 22 votes out of 57 in the first round of voting for the position of director-general at UNESCO. This is not a clear majority, so voting will now go to a second round.

Reuters - Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni, who said last year he would burn Israeli books, won a comfortable lead in the first round of voting in UNESCO’s election of a new director-general on Thursday.

 

Hosni’s bid for the United Nations culture agency’s top post has stirred a political storm, with accusations of anti-Semitism and press censorship in Egypt.

 

With 22 votes out of 57 expressed, he did not carry the majority needed to win in the first round so voting will go to a second round on Friday. There was one abstention.

 

The Bulgarian candidate Irina Gueorguieva Bokova finished second with eight votes. Austrian EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the Russian and Ecuadorean candidates got seven votes each.

 

All nine candidates are allowed to run in the second, third and fourth rounds but if it goes to a fifth round there must only be two.

 

“There is no clear cut candidate tonight so there will be a second round tomorrow,” said UNESCO spokeswoman Sue Williams.

 

Earlier on Thursday at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, backers hailed Hosni as “a man of peace” who would improve ties with Muslim countries.

 

Apology

 

“If we don’t bring in the Muslim world, it will be understood as a signal against them, and that will be difficult for us,” Sishir Das, a member of the Malaysian delegation, told Reuters in the UNESCO foyer. “He has never been controversial, he has always been considered a man of peace.”

 

Asked last year about Israeli books in Egyptian libraries, Hosni was quoted as telling a member of parliament: “Let’s burn these books; if there are any, I will burn them myself before you.”

 

Hosni this year apologised for the comment and some prominent activists such as French Nazi hunter Serge Klarsfeld have accepted his regrets and supported him.

 

Other activists have since piled into the row, accusing Hosni of colluding in censorship and violation of press freedom in Egypt, and pressuring UNESCO members not to vote for him.

 

“Hosni is culture minister in a country that doesn’t respect freedom of speech,” Jean-Francois Julliard, secretary-general of media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, told Reuters. “It’s difficult to see someone like that as head of UNESCO.”

 

Egypt’s delegation at UNESCO said Hosni would not comment until after the vote. UNESCO declined to comment on the case.



Horse-trading

 

The outcry creates a difficult situation for governments who like to use top U.N. posts in diplomatic horse-trading.

 

France is backing Egypt, a key ally in its drive for a Mediterranean Union. Other European countries such as Germany have refrained from taking sides.

 

The United States is reportedly working behind the scenes to prevent Hosni from winning the vote.

 

A painter who has served as culture minister for two decades, Hosni was long viewed as a front-runner.

 

In May, philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, film director Claude Lanzmann and Nobel Peace Price laureate Elie Wiesel published a column in newspaper Le Monde accusing him of anti-Semitism, citing the “book-burning” quote and others.

 

Hosni’s response in the same newspaper avoided any direct reference to the quotes, but he said he had not intended to hurt anyone and that any harsh remarks of his should be placed in the context of the suffering of the Palestinian people.

 

In 1979, Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel, but it has resisted warmer relations.
 

Date created : 2009-09-18