Egypt's press fumes over UNESCO vote

Egyptian press fuming ov

Egyptians are blaming heavy-handed lobbying by Jewish organizations for the failure of Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni to win the position of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) secretary-general. The tightly fought race for the head of the prestigious UN post was won on Tuesday by Bulgarian Irina Bokova, a former foreign minister. Bokova beat out Hosni in an unprecedented fifth round of voting laden with outrage and political maneuvering. Bokova, the first woman to be elected to the position as head of the organization, won the ballot by a vote of 31 to 27. The United States, Germany and a number of northern European countries reportedly backed Bokova, 57, while Hosni, 71, was the favorite of the Arab world. Hosni had strong support in the previous four rounds of voting, and Egyptians believed his election was a certainty. President Hosni Mubarak even reportedly telephoned the King of Spain Juan Carlos to express Egypt's gratitude for supporting Hosni. After the results of the vote were announced, the Egyptian press slammed Hosni's defeat in the election as proof of a "clash of civilizations" and of lobbying by the United States and Europe under Jewish pressure. According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, shortly before the final round of voting American and European officials worked to prevent Hosni's election following a "malicious Jewish campaign." "There are those who despise people who are not like them and their culture, people who claim they are the chosen people of God, the sons of God and his loved ones and they only hide a greed to take over the world's destinies," wrote an editorial in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm. Israel's leader Binyamin Netanyahu in fact promised Mubarak in a meeting in June that Israel would not oppose Hosni's quest for the UNESCO post. "We congratulate Irina Bokova on her victory and new appointment and we hope to further our cooperation with UNESCO in all fields in the future," said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry. Hosni's candidacy for the international post came under fire after he made fiery remarks against Israel and Israeli culture. He said in Egyptian parliament that he would burn Hebrew-language books if he found them in Egyptian libraries and he was also quoted as calling Israeli culture "inhuman". Hosni was seen as one of the major obstacles in normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel during his 21 years as Minister of Culture. Despite Israel's declaration it would not oppose Hosni's bid, Jewish organizations and Jewish leaders energetically fought to keep the Egyptian from being elected. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel told Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest daily, that he had lost sleep over the possibility Hosni would be chosen. Wiesel was a vocal critic of Hosni's candidacy. "Now we have to worry about the angry Egyptian reaction. They will certainly blame Israel for acting behind the scenes to torpedo his election," Wiesel was quoted as saying. Also acting against Hosni was the Jewish-French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy. The New York based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) also worked to prevent Hosni from being chosen. In a statement, the ADL praised the governments who voted in favor of Bokova for also rejecting "the bias and hostility to cultural openness and free expression that Mr. Hosni promotes." In an effort to boost his chances of winning, Hosni recently apologized for his statements. He invited an Israeli conductor to perform in Cairo and even expressed support for translating Israeli authors into Arabic. Hosni even said he would be willing to visit Israel. "We have admitted the mistake that happened with Farouk Hosni and insist that he didn't mean what he said and this is true. But these circles who oppose the Egyptian candidate persist with this accusation and repeat it and turn it into the headline of the battle," Egyptian poet Ahmad Abd Al-Muti Hijazi wrote in Al-Ahram. "The Zionists and their allies have the means and the tools with which they hide the truth and propagate lies and deceive the world," he added. A senior Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the vote was hardly motivated by Arab-Israeli, or Muslim-Jewish relations. "Hosni carried with him a reputation of corruption and there were doubts about his candidacy. The campaign he conducted was considered arrogant and aggressive. The real issue here was the will to give Bulgaria, freshly admitted to the European Union, a chance, and to appoint a woman head for the first time in UNESCO's history," the official said. "If the Egyptians continue to blame others for their failures, they will only fail again and again."