Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Wednesday,13 December, 2017
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Khattab gets Egypt’s green light

Egypt officially nominated Moushira Khattab to the post of UNESCO secretary-general, reports Reem Leila

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Tuesday, in the open air at the Egyptian Museum, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail announced Egypt’s official nomination of Ambassador Moushira Khattab to the post of director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Ministers, ambassadors, MPs and several public figures were present at the ceremony.

The announcement, made in an event entitled “Egypt, UNESCO and International Cultural Issues” began with a cultural dialogue conducted by veteran media personnel Osama Kamal with former MP Mustafa Al-Fiqi, and which included veteran writers Abdel-Moneim Said and Mohamed Salmawi.

The dialogue was about the importance of Egypt’s cultural role in the world as well as its impact.

It was followed by Ismail’s address who said Egypt was the world’s origin of culture since the creation of ancient Egyptian civilisation and what followed. “Accordingly, it was essential for Egypt to be nominated to such a post due to its cultural standing in the world,” Ismail said.

“I believe that Khattab will win as she is the most qualified figure to such a post due to her previous experience in the field,” he added.

The Foreign Ministry is currently preparing a comprehensive portfolio on Khattab’s upcoming visits as well as an evaluation of Egypt’s embassies abroad regarding reaction to Khattab’s nomination. During the 27th  African Summit in Kigali and attended by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri last week, Egypt was able to win the support of all the AU members.

“Now I can say that Khattab is the African nations’ candidate for the UNESCO,” said Shukri on Tuesday.

Egypt will unofficially contact leaders of Arab countries participating in the Arab summit to be held soon in Mauritania.

Qatar has its own UNESCO candidate, Hamad Al-Qweri, former Qatari minister of culture and current consultant to the Qatari emir. Competition between the two candidates will be fierce. Egypt and Qatar are expected to do their best to win the support of the seven Arab countries -- Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Lebanon and Oman, besides Qatar and Egypt -- who have the right to vote in the UNESCO elections.

Khattab has been secretly visiting the 58 countries that are members of UNESCO’s executive council and who have the right to vote in UNESCO’s general conference. Initial reports from Egyptian embassies reveal that most African and European countries which Khattab has visited are supporting the Egyptian candidate for the post.

Khattab needs to win the support of countries which have the right to vote. “If I win, several issues regarding education and culture are on my agenda in order to enable Egypt to benefit the most,” Khattab said.

Khattab, who expressed her appreciation for her nomination, said Egypt had changed during the past five years. “In the past Egypt used to send its nomination in an official statement to the concerned authorities. Now the nomination is announced at the Egyptian Museum which is located in Tahrir Square amidst different categories of the society,” said Khattab.

Khattab believes that this change is recognition of the importance of public opinion and its role in building the country’s future.

“Other issues relevant to education, culture and science will be given great importance for each country according to its own interests,” Khattab said.

Founded in 1945, UNESCO is an international entity which aims for peace and security in the world through increasing cooperation between countries in the fields of education, culture and science. Its objective is respect for justice, law, sovereignty, human rights and freedom.

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, who previously served as Egypt’s ambassador to South Africa, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria, was also former secretary-general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM).  She 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 practised in many other places in the country.

If Khattab wins she will replace Irina Bokova who is running for the post of UN secretary-general. Bokova’s term will end in 2017. The UNESCO General Conference will elect the upcoming director-general for a new four-year term which can be renewed only once. Previously, the director-general’s term was six years and renewed for only one term.

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 Hosni Mubarak who was forced to step down as president following a nationwide revolt in 2011. The charges were dropped.

In 2009, former minister of culture Farouk Hosni was also nominated for the UNESCO post but lost to Bokova who won 31 votes to 27 for Hosni.

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