Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1362, (28 September - 4 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Who could win UNESCO rally?

In a few more weeks the new UNESCO director-general will be elected. Reem Leila reports on the chances of Egypt’s candidate

The race for the post of UNESCO director-general is heating up. Voting will take place from 9-12 October in the presence of the 58 state members of UNESCO’s executive bureau. The winner, to be announced on 15 November, will succeed Irina Bokova whose term will end on 14 November after eight years behind the wheel.

In March, UNESCO announced the final list of candidates. During the seven decades of UNESCO, seven of its 10 directors were either from Europe or North America. This time and for the first time in history UNESCO’s candidacy list includes nine candidates, four of them Arabs: Mushira Khattab (Egypt), Vera Al-Khoury Lacoeuilhe (Lebanon), Saleh Mahdi Al-Hasnawi (Iraq) and Hamad bin Abdel-Aziz Al-Kawari (Qatar). Other candidates are Audrey Azoulay (France), Polad Bülbüloglu (Azerbaijan), Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria (Guatemala), Pham Sanh Chau (Vietnam) and Qian Tang (China).

France, Egypt and Lebanon are vigorously competing for the post. According to several culture experts, there was a moral commitment for the post to fall to one of the Arab countries. But the nomination of a French candidate has changed the calculations of the nominees, especially Egypt and Lebanon. French politician Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, who is a member of the French commission for UNESCO, told the press the French nomination is considered “an insult to the Arab countries”.

French candidate Azoulay, 45, is the minister of culture who was also the cultural adviser to former French president François Hollande. She played a key role in the joint initiatives of France, UNESCO and the United Arab Emirates to safeguard cultural heritage in conflict zones, and was a signatory to the Florence Declaration condemning the destruction of cultural sites at the first G7 culture summit in March this year.

Azoulay defended her nomination by stating she was representing France and that she found Garriaud-Maylam’s comment worrying, especially coming from a French official.

Khattab believes she has a strong chance of winning the post especially after the support of all African countries which was announced during the African summit in Rwanda last year. “Having a French nominee among the candidates heated up the competition and urged me to exert more effort to win the seat,” said Khattab, adding, “we already have French support.”

Khattab is the former minister of family and population and former assistant minister of foreign affairs. She is considered an activist advocating rights of children and women. Since 2011, Khattab has been an active speaker and panelist in key events related to women’s rights, children’s rights and development as well as other international issues. She is a regular participant in related global events due to her experience and track record as both a diplomat and later as a rights advocate in the field of social and human development.

Veteran critic Salah Fadl said the Lebanese candidate Lacoeuilhe’s chances of winning had lessened after France nominated a candidate. “Lebanon was mainly depending on the French support. Now Lebanon’s chances weakened drastically,” said Fadl.

Lacoeuilhe, who was chosen as a candidate in March 2016, is currently an advisor to the Lebanese Ministry of Culture and member of the Independent Team of Advisors (ITA) set up by the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). She embraced a diplomatic career starting in 1996. She was deputy permanent delegate of Saint Lucia to UNESCO and the alternate representative of the Government of Saint Lucia to the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

According to Fadl, Qatari candidate Al-Kawari conducted recent tours among African and Asian nations, indirectly offering them money — allocated by the Qatari regime for this purpose — in return for their support. “Such efforts went in vain especially after these nations realised such attempts,” said Fadl who maintained that countries which Al-Kawari visited linked the attempted bribery to the bribery scandal in which the Qatari Football Association was previously accused of to win the right to host the World Cup in 2022.

“Many FIFA leaders were dismissed after the incident. Therefore, these countries took a conservative stance regarding the Qatari nominee, fearing the scandal of bribery,” added Fadl.

Al-Kawari, the cultural adviser to the emir of Qatar and former ambassador to France, the US and the UN, served as his country’s first culture minister from 2008 to 2016. He was in charge when Doha was named 2010 Arab Capital of Culture and the cultural year exchange programme was launched, with the UK being its first partner in 2012. He has campaigned extensively since Qatar named him its official nominee in March 2016. He has reportedly secured public endorsements from the heads of state of countries including Salvador, Haiti, Bangladesh, Nepal and Kenya.

Eminent writer and critic Mohamed Salmawy believes there is a fragmentation of votes. “Arabs should have united to support only one candidate instead of four,” said Salmawy.

However, according to Salmawy, Khattab is in a strong position to win as she is an “exceptional person who is highly qualified and will perfectly serve in the post. Khattab is not only Egypt’s candidate; she is also considered Africa’s candidate after she gained the support of all African nations,” he added. “I can’t understand the actual meaning of France nominating a candidate, especially that the nomination came as a surprise to all of us.”

Salmawy believes it’s Egypt’s turn to head the body. He noted UNESCO has had European, Asian, African and American chiefs, but never an Arab since the organisation was founded in 1945 following World War II to promote world peace through culture.

Egypt has been lobbying hard for its choice. Salmawy robustly defended Khattab’s candidacy, saying that Egypt’s history of dialogue with Israel would make it uniquely positioned to heal wounds in the organisation.

“Don’t forget that Egypt started peace with Israel,” Salmawy said, referring to the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty that made Egypt the first Arab state to officially recognise Israel. “Over decades, and despite the upheavals that we’ve seen in the very recent six years, we’ve still maintained the peace. Egypt is a country that believes in dialogue,” he added.

UNESCO’s executive bureau is responsible for deciding the next director-general. It is comprised of 58 of the organisation’s 195 member states whose representatives are elected for four-year terms. The states are divided by regions, with each allocated a number of votes: Arab states (seven), Asia and the Pacific (12), Africa (13), Western Europe and North America (nine), Latin America and the Caribbean (10) and Eastern Europe (nine).

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