Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s UNESCO candidate

Egypt’s Moushira Khattab is running for director-general of UNESCO, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Egypt has officially nominated former minister of family and population Moushira Khattab to the post of director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

If she wins, Khattab will replace Irina Bokova who is currently running for UN secretary-general.

It was reported that Khattab, whose candidacy was officially announced on 9 July, has already started meetings with top UNESCO members to secure their support regarding her nomination. Khattab, who previously served as Egypt’s ambassador to South Africa, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, will be competing with Qatari Emir Hamad Al-Qweri. Both candidates will be working hard to win the support of the seven Arab countries which vote in UNESCO.

Al-Qweri has already received a great deal of support from the Gulf, with Yemen and Kuwait going so far as to withdraw their own candidates to avoid voting contention among Arabs.

Khattab is a diplomat who has led a lengthy and interesting career. She started out as a diplomatic attaché, progressing through the diplomatic service to become assistant minister of foreign affairs for international cultural affairs. She holds a PhD from Cairo University and an MA from the University of North Carolina in the US. In 2013 Khattab was ranked third out of the five leading female human rights activists in the Middle East and North Africa.

Khattab was also former secretary-general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) which focussed on banning Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country. Khattab helped eliminate female genital circumcision by 98 per cent from Upper and Lower Egypt villages. However, the custom is still widely practiced in many other places in the country.

Khattab’s nomination was welcomed by members of the National Council for Women (NCW).

Maya Morsi, president of the NCW, says Khattab’s candidacy was a milestone in the history of Egyptian women. “It is a highly influential international position, and is a testament to her honorable career. The nomination should be held up as an example, Morsi said, proving that Egyptian women have the qualities to compete for the highest national and international positions.

“I have high expectations for Khattab. I believe Egypt will win the seat,” said Morsi.

“We support women in all political fields, and Khattab’s nomination signifies an achievement for an Egyptian woman who has succeeded in politics,” said Ghada Sakr, secretary of the parliament’s Culture and Media Committee. Sakr said Khattab has had a “prolific” professional career, holding various positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Sakr indicated that a high profile promotion campaign is being planned by the Foreign Ministry which will promote Khattab’s candidacy in Egyptian embassies in 58 countries.

But Khattab’s candidacy was criticised by many intellectuals and activists, including activist lawyer Gamal Eid. “Khattab does not have political preferences. She is secular and was a prominent figure of former president Hosni Mubarak’s government. I can’t understand our political leadership. Is Egypt void of professional figures other than those who served during the Mubarak era?” Eid asked.

Others have criticised Khattab’s candidacy, fearing it could decrease the chance of a winner from the Middle East. Arab votes will be divided between the two regional candidates. Activist Wael Abbas believes that Khattab should not be running. “Despite our differences with Qatar, we should unite in such situations. Voices will be divided among nominees and there is a possibility that Egypt won’t win the seat as happened two years ago,” said Abbas.

In 2014, founding director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina Ismail Serageddin was picked for the same post but intellectuals and activists were against the nomination. Serageddin was a controversial figure who was then facing several court charges of reported ties with Mubarak who was forced to step down as president following a nationwide revolt in 2011. The charges were dropped.

Two years ago, Egypt won a seat at the UN security and peace council. Egypt’s membership of the seat was renewed a few weeks ago.

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