Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Losing with honour

Reem Leila writes about the reasons behind Egypt’s losing the recent UNESCO battle


Egyptian candidate Mushira Khattab for the post of director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) lost the election race to her French rival Audrey Azoulay in the fourth round. Azoulay then went on to win the position in the final round against Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdel-Aziz Al-Kawari.

The results of the fourth round were 22 votes for Qatar, 18 for Egypt and 18 for France, meaning that there would need to be a run-off. China withdrew from the race after the third round. The voting as a whole was tense, with Cairo accusing Qatar of using its financial power to influence the UN organisation’s 58-member executive board.

The final vote was then overshadowed by the US withdrawal from UNESCO.  The general atmosphere was against an Arab candidate winning the election. There was a general fear that a Muslim would head an important international organisation, especially since Iran also sits on UNESCO’s executive board.

UNESCO has voted on a number of resolutions favouring the Palestinians over recent years that Israel and the US have condemned. Last year, UNESCO voted in favour of a decision that Israel claimed denied any connection between the Al-Aqsa Mosque / Temple Mount and Judaism.

In May, UNESCO described Israel as an “occupying power” and condemned illegal Israeli activity in Occupied East Jerusalem a month later. The Israelis were angered once again in July following the designation of the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, a site stormed regularly by Israeli settlers, as a Palestinian World Heritage Site under threat from Israel.

In response, Israel and the US have already cut funding to UNESCO, accusing the organisation of anti-Semitism. “The US had already withdrawn its funding to UNESCO, and Israel saw the prospect of an Arab winning the UNESCO race as bad news,” Khattab said.

Nepotism and the splitting of the African and Arab vote had played a big role in the final outcome . “It’s an electoral process, and every candidate has his own tools,” Khattab said. Egypt had not been able to corral all the African votes despite being the official and only candidate of the African Union, Khattab added.

Although it was expected that the current crisis in the Gulf would put Qatar in a weak position, Western sympathy for Qatar had helped it in the election, Khattab commented. “One of the electors who was supposed to vote for me withdrew. If I had had that vote I would have reached the final round against Qatar. I would have won against Qatar in the run-off,” she said, adding that she had also been surprised and disappointed when  France nominated a candidate for the post.

Khattab said that the Arab world deserve the post, and Egypt was the most qualified country for it due to its historical and cultural weight as well as the qualifications of its candidate . “No one from the Arab region has taken the post for more than seven decades. So it’s our right to take the seat” , she added.
According to Khattab, Egypt had organised an exemplary campaign.

Actions taken by the government may have affected the chances of winning this important international position. The Egyptian security authorities closed down the Karma Libraries in December 2016 because their founder and owner was human rights lawyer Gamal Eid is involved in a court case.

"I tried my best and contacted the authorities asking them to re-open these libraries . But I was faced by the fact that there is a legal case regarding these matters in the courts, and this cannot be interfered with,” Khattab said . She added that she would do her best to ensure that children would not be deprived of the right to knowledge as a result.

The authorities also closed the Alef bookstore in August because of the alleged Muslim Brotherhood affiliation of its co-founder and co-owner entrepreneur and economist Omar Al-Sheneti. “

 French media channels had reported the use of “Qatari money” during the election race. “There were temptations, and they were stronger than we were. Egypt didn’t resort to such methods, and it will never resort to such methods,”  Khattab said.

Egypt has submitted an official complaint to outgoing UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova requesting verification of alleged violations that occurred during the elections. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Egypt’s delegation at UNESCO had submitted the official complaint.

He said that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri had met with Bokova to express Egypt’s gratitude for her efforts during her two four-year terms in office.
Parliament has invited Khattab to address its Foreign Affairs Committee on her election campaign. According to a statement released by parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, this campaign was “honourable”.

“Khattab’s performance in the UNESCO election campaign was strong and honourable, and the committee has officially decided to invite her to address its members on her participation in this election,” it said, adding that “Khattab was a good representative for Egypt in this campaign.”

The committee said Khattab and her campaign team had contested four rounds of the election in a “very professional manner, dealing wisely with the obstacles she faced in this battle”.

Mohamed Al-Orabi, a former foreign minister and manager of Khattab’s campaign, told reporters that the election had not been marked with transparency. “Ballots in the UNESCO election should be public rather than secret,” he said. “Western countries always advise democracy and transparency, and they should impose these principles on the elections in UNESCO and for other prestigious international posts.”

He added that he would submit a report to the Foreign Affairs Committee on the UNESCO election. “Egyptian diplomacy led by the foreign minister played a remarkable role in promoting Khattab, and we are proud that we were able to push her into the final rounds of the UNESCO election in spite of irregularities and talk of money,” Al-Orabi concluded.

add comment

  • follow us on