UNESCO’s clash of civilizations

UNESCO’s clash of civilizations

Immediately after Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni lost his bid to become the first Arab secretary-general of UNESCO, the Egyptian press began attributing his defeat to a “Western-Zionist conspiracy.” Hosni, who has served as culture minister since 1987, performed well in the first rounds of voting, only to lose to Bulgarian candidate Irina Bokova in Tuesday’s fifth and final round.

“By the end of the election it was clear that there was a conspiracy against me,” the 71-year-old Hosni was quoted as saying in state daily Al-Ahram. “World Jewry, obviously threatened by the idea of an Egyptian holding the position, had a major influence on the elections.”

Many pundits in the local press, meanwhile, agreed with Hosni’s assertions.

Abdullah Kamal, chief editor of state daily Rose el-Yusuf, described Hosni’s UNESCO bid as part of a broader “cultural and civilizational conflict.” “As long as the West remains intolerant to an Arab like Farouk Hosni, whom they prevented from holding this modest international title, this conflict is inevitable,” he wrote.

Kamal went on to say that the administration of U.S. President Barak Obama, which played a leading role in Hosni’s defeat, had proven itself no different than its predecessor in terms of Washington’s longstanding alliance with Israel. Obama’s seminal address to Arab and Muslim audiences in Cairo last June, he added, “was little more than an exercise in public relations; all the talk about a ‘dialogue of cultures’ is merely for public consumption.”

Salameh Ahmed Salameh, editor-in-chief of independent daily Al-Shorouk, was unsurprised by the outcome, saying that western nations would never allow an Egyptian to assume leadership of the UN cultural organization.

“The campaign against Hosni must be understood within the context of UNESCO’s mission, which is not only about promoting culture, science and education, but is also devoted to preserving peoples’ memories,” Salameh wrote. “It is unimaginable that Hosni would have been allowed to assume the position while Israel remains keen to take ever more Arab land and to Judaize the city of Jerusalem.”

Egyptian opposition figures likewise suspected conspiracy. Former secretary-general of the leftist Tagammu party, Hussein Abdel Razik, told Rose el-Yusuf that Washington had consistently stood against Arab and Muslim candidates for major UN positions.

“We’ve always been discriminated against,” said Abdel Razik. “When Senegalese intellectual Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow was elected to head UNESCO in the 1980s, the U.S. withheld its dues to the organization simply because M’Bow was a Muslim.”

Leading figures from the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement put forward similar theories.

Brotherhood deputy leader Mohamed Habib told news website Al-Youm Al-Saaba that Hosni had lost due to “American-Zionist bullying.” Habib went on to say that the culture minister should not have pandered for Western approval in his electoral campaign but rather “should have stuck to his Arab cultural identity.”

Hussein Ibrahim, the brotherhood’s deputy parliamentary spokesman, holds the Egyptian government responsible for Hosni’s failure since it nominated “an incompetent and ineffective” candidate to begin with. Hosni’s nomination, Ibrahim told brotherhood website Iknwanonline, “was undermined on a local level thanks to the minister’s tireless crusade against Islamic morals and values such as the Hijab headscarf.”

Some local writers, viewing Egypt’s longest-serving minister as a symbol of Egyptian autocracy, even welcomed Hosni’s defeat.

In independent daily Al-Dustour, Wael Abdel Fattah claimed that Hosni had lost due to “the very short distance between him and the Egyptian regime.” Abdel Fattah went on to say that Hosni, over the course of his long tenure as culture minister, had “successfully pressed Egypt’s cultural elite into serving the regime,” occasionally supporting the censorship of books and the suppression of free expression