Jews cost me UN job, says Egyptian minister

By Ben Lynfield, September 24, 2009

Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni has blamed the Jews for his defeat in his bid to become head of UNESCO, the UN’s agency for culture and education, this week.

A Western conspiracy “cooked up in New York” was at fault, he said.

“European countries and the world’s Jews” wanted him to lose.

Mr Hosni was considered a leading opponent of “normalisation” of relations with Israel and last year threatened to personally burn any Israeli books found in Egyptian libraries.

But this May, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called off Israel’s efforts to thwart Mr Hosni, at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s request.

In the run-up to the election, Mr Hosni apologised for the book-burning comment and stressed that he would be sensitive to Jewish culture, speeding up restoration of Cairo synagogues and encouraging the translation into Arabic of David Grossman and Amos Oz.

Nevertheless, the Anti Defamation League, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel continued to campaign against him.

Mr Hosni was defeated 31-to-27 by the Bulgarian Ambassador to France, Irina Bukova, in the fifth round of voting, despite being widely tipped to win.

“This can’t be a negative thing,” said Sasson Somekh, former director of the Israeli Academic Centre in Cairo.

“For the past 30 years he was not a friend of ours at all.”

Raymond Stock, a Cairo-based specialist in Arabic literature who wrote an article in Foreign Policy magazine opposing Mr Hosni’s candidacy, said: “Given that Hosni’s apology for the book-burning threat was part of a deal, and his other conciliatory statements and gestures — including most of the restoration of Jewish monuments — were part of his campaign, who knows what was in his heart.

“Perhaps he was sincere, but if not, once in office he would have had a built-in constituency of Arab and other countries who share his long established views on Israel.”

Asked about the UNESCO election result, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor made no mention of Mr Hosni, saying only that “we congratulate Ms Bukova on her victory and look forward to widening and deepening co-operation in all fields.”

Last updated: 5:49pm, September 24 2009