Last Tuesday, the Bulgarian Irina Bokova was elected to be the new secretary general of the UNESCO. Bokova’s election and and of itself would hardly be newsworthy [Off-topic: I don’t believe that it’s really newsworthy that a woman holds a position; such reporting actually reveals a non-emancipated mindset as emancipated thinkers should not be surprised if a woman gets elected into office. Just an off-topic rant. Thanks for bearing with me, and I do hope you won’t label me a “self-hating woman” now.] had her opponent not been Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny.
Apparently, a few countries that had originally supported Hosny changed their mind. The outcome of the vote was close, but not in favour of Hosny, and Bokova eventually received the support of the majority.
So far, so bland – had Hosny and Egyptian media not suspected respectively accused an international Jewish conspiracy behind several states’ change of heart and Hosny’s defeat.
Egyptians are blaming heavy-handed lobbying by Jewish organizations and intellectuals for the failure of Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny to win the position of UNESCO secretary general.[…]
After the vote, Mr. Hosny blamed his defeat on a conspiracy by his Jewish detractors.
“It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me,” Mr. Hosny told reporters at the Cairo airport upon his return from Paris, the Associated Press reported.
“There are a group of the world’s Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position,” he reportedly said.[Full article]
Prior to the election, the UNESCO had been criticised for the nomination of Hosny as a prospective “supervisor” of the UNESCO’s activities. The UNESCO’s declared aims include the preservation of cultural heritage, the fostering of education and at that the promotion of understanding between cultures and nations.
However, the announcement that Hosny was among the nominees for the new UNESCO secretary general had raised a few concerns internationally, and not only just because Hosny had not too long ago claimed he’d burn Hebrew / Israeli books at the legendary library of Alexandria himself. [This sentiment has been given different contexts on / in different media / interviews. Some connect the statement to Hosny’s personal outrage over Israeli military activities in Gaza, others say he had been pressed in parliament to take more of an anti-Israeli stance, other sources yet again claim he responded to Muslim clerics that claimed there were Hebrew books in the Alexandria library that contained anti-Muslim sentiments.]
The various contexts Hosny’s statement is put in give me a ring of being slightly apologetic or relativising for something that even if left in whatever context is nothing but plainly outrageous.
To make it clear to Mr Hosny – in case he reads Jewlicious – there are a few things mightily wrong with an attitude like the one he has displayed.
Does being strongly displeased with a nation’s current policy justify the elimination of any obtainable piece of that nation’s cultural heritage? Can a politician that runs for an organisation with the very declared aims like those of the UNESCO really use such scandalous and populist rhetoric without disqualifying himself as a prospective secretary general of the organisation in question?
Afterall, as Heinrich Heine correctly noted, “Where they burn books, there they will eventually burn people.”
Should a minister of culture not be well-aware that a people’s cultural identity is preserved largely alongside the preservation of its cultural “products” and cultural productivity?
Certainly, you might say, Egypt is rich in culture, and the actual damages to its millennia of cultural heritage were brought about by British excavators and treasure hunters.
Certainly, I will consent, this is right to some degree, and there’s no doubt that ancient Egyptian culture has suffered from Western intrusion and selfish destruction. And while not trying to be a smartass, yet hoping to give some food for thought, I’d possibly add that the current culturally predominant segment of the Egyptian population does not trace its lineage back to the Egyptians of the Pharaonic period.
Also, minorities in Egypt don’t exactly enjoy liberty of cultural expression even though their heritage pre-dates that of the currently dominant culture by centuries.
Christians in Egypt suffer from discrimination against them that appears to be endorsed by official sites.
Egyptian Christian refugees that I’ve met in the US reported that they respectively their kids had been banned from higher education, they had suffered violence at the hands of mobs, their workplaces had been destroyed, their stores looted, yet the police would not investigate.
The shocking realisation is not that such extremists and mobsters exist, – you’ll find delusional hardliners and criminals among about any culture – but that officials seem to be enabling those activities by displaying indifference towards the victims’ plight.
In addition, as sources by Egyptian Christians report, official curricula see to that non-Muslims get ridiculed and belittled in classroom literature; Christians get force-converted to Islam, mobs in the rural areas impose extra “taxes” on Christians etc.
Now, can a minister of culture who should be aware of what is going on in his very own state and who himself publicly considered the destruction of another nation’s / culture’s cultural output really be put into a position to oversee the activities of an organisaton that decides what cultural achievements are worth preserving and that has the declared aim to strengthen human rights through education if he not only will already put up with such disastrous cultural and educational bias in his home country but also publicly give evidence of his very own bias?
Before the elections, Israel was playing nice and would not object to Hosny’s nomination anymore, but there seems to be so much rotten in the state of Egypt that it makes me wonder how anybody could ever consider Hosny fit to hold the position of secretary general of the UNESCO.
Sure, in the end it all worked out. Rumour has it that Italy and Spain reconsidered their voting intentions. [NYT]
Still, as little as I will claim that a representative of a predominantly Muslim state is per definitionem not a suitable candidate for the position of the UNESCO’s secretary general, as much had all indicators on the scale of human decency pointed to rather a low mark in Hosny’s case way before his nomination.