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Egypt’s bid to lead UNESCO raises hackles

world Updated: Sep 06, 2009 18:48 IST

The race to lead the UN’s culture and education agency UNESCO kicks off this week amid controversy over charges that anti-Israel comments from Egypt’s Faruq Hosni make him unfit for the top job.

Egypt’s culture minister for the past 22 years, Hosni is lobbying to cement his status as the frontrunner and become the next director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Representatives from 58 nations who make up UNESCO’s executive council are meeting in Paris on Monday and a first round of voting to elect a successor to Japan’s Koichiro Matsuura is set for September 17.

In all nine candidates are running for the post, but Hosni’s leading bid ran into trouble in May when Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel joined two French intellectuals to oppose his candidacy.

Wiesel, Bernard-Henri Levy and Claude Lanzmann wrote in Le Monde newspaper that “the international community must spare itself from the shame of appointing Faruq Hosni to the post of UNESCO director general.”

The clamour surrounds comments Hosni made in May 2008, vowing to “burn Israeli books” himself if he found any in Egyptian libraries.

Hosni has since voiced regret for the comments and sought to explain that they were uttered in the context of an exchange in parliament with hardliners.