Egypt's press fumes over UNESCO vote

Egypts press fumes over

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni's Tuesday loss in the race for UNESCO's new director-general does not reflect Hosni's personal credentials, but the Arab world's general cultural and political stagnation, according to the editor-in-chief of the influential pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi. Hosni was defeated by Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova after four previous rounds of voting by the organization's executive board failed to produce a victor. The loss "further confirms the fallen status of the Arab regimes, and the Egyptian regime in particular, on the international scene, and the disrespect in which they are held in all fields, not just the cultural," wrote Abd al-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based daily, in an editorial featured prominently Wednesday on the paper's Web site. "The fault lies not with the two Arab candidates [including 2005 Saudi candidate Ghazi Algosaibi], who are highly efficient and competent," but with the political systems of their native lands, "which lack minimal [levels of] democracy and public freedoms, suffer from corruption, pursue policies hostile to culture and creativity, [implement] censorship that belongs in the Middle Ages, and are hostile to development and openness to modern cultures and countries," Atwan wrote. Al-Quds al-Arabi, ("Arab Jerusalem") was founded by Palestinians and regularly publishes virulently anti-Israel views. But the paper is also historically deeply critical of Arab autocracy and economic stagnation. Atwan also blasted Hosni for "apologizing in a humiliating manner" for comments which may have torpedoed his campaign. Hosni's apologies, made in recent weeks in the context of the UNESCO race, were in response to vehement criticism from Jewish groups and Western intellectuals over comments the culture minister made over the years that included calling Israeli culture "inhuman" and "racist" and promising to burn Israeli books. Egypt's largest papers did not share Atwan's view, placing the blame for Hosni's loss squarely on the shoulders of the Jews. "The Jews don't distinguish between politics and morality," read a headline in the influential official weekly Al-Musawar. "The Egyptian and Arabic candidate for the post was subjected to a ferocious campaign against him by the American administration, under Jewish pressure," the state-owned Al-Ahram wrote on its front page on Wednesday. "America, Europe and the Jewish lobby brought down Farouk Hosni after an honorable competition by the Egyptian delegation," the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm read, according to Al-Arabiya. The state-owned Al-Ahram Al-Messai opined that Hosni's loss was due to the opposition of "Jewish intellectuals in France" and "the Zionist media in Europe and the United States." Zvi Mazel, the retired former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, took issue with the Egyptian papers' conclusion that Jews and "Zionists" were responsible for the loss. "The Arab media, as usual, is blaming everyone else for their failures," he said. "In reality, the representatives didn't vote for Hosni because they didn't want a head of UNESCO who was a minister in a government that oppresses freedom of art, of expression, of thought. "Because of this oppression, Egypt has hardly contributed anything to world culture in the past 22 years [the length of Hosni's tenure as culture minister]. It's unthinkable that such a man will be in charge of UNESCO." Israeli diplomatic officials refused to respond to the claims of the Egyptian media because the government wished to avoid turning the situation into an Israeli-Egyptian clash.