Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Response to Comments by Omar Massalha

I posted "Why I Worry About Farouk Hosny as Candidate for UNESCO Director General" on August 2nd, and yesterday posted a rebuttal to that statement by Omar Massalha (at his request). Since he assured me that the rebuttal came from a committee authorized by the candidate and had been shared with the candidate, I felt it would help forward the debate about the candidates.

I have some responses to his posting:

I alone am responsible for the content and opinions on this blog. I don't have any "powerful sponsors". I am retired, and do not receive any remuneration for this blog nor for any other efforts I undertake with respect to UNESCO.

I apologize for misspellings; I am slightly dyslexic and my spell checker does not seem to be working very well. I will ask my wife to proofread the postings.

Mr. Massalha complains that I "recycled every gripe and grievance currently doing the rounds on the Internet and in the media." Others have complimented me on carefully documenting the references that caused me to question Minister Hosny's suitability to lead UNESCO.

I suggested in my original posting that I would prefer any of the four women who have been nominated for the post of Director General of UNESCO to Minister Hosny. I don't think that was because I suffer from sexism, but rather because I think each of them is better qualified as an individual than is Minister Hosny. Read their CVs on the website I have provided with information on the election. For example:
  • Benita Ferrero-Waldner is a very senior official of the European Union who has been very much involved in peace processes.
  • Ina Marčiulionytė is extremely well informed about UNESCO, and has achieved the respect of many who have observed her performance as Ambassador to that organization; she was a founding director of the Open Society Institute in her country.
  • Ivonne Baki is also an experienced diplomat who has served in important national and international roles, has been a peace activist, speaks Arabic as well as several other languages and knows both the Levant and her native Ecuador well.
  • Irina Bokova also knows UNESCO well as an Ambassador to the organization; she is a parliamentarian and a diplomat, a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and has also led a civil society organization for number of years. She has published a number of articles on foreign affairs..
Mr. Massalha says that it is about time that there was an Arab Director General of UNESCO. That could equally well be said of a Director General from one of the former Communist nations. I believe that there is merit in such a position. Among equally qualified candidates, selecting the less represented gender, nationality or ethnicity might be appropriate, but these should not be the determining factors. We want to elect the person who will best lead UNESCO in its important mission.

There are many criteria for evaluation of candidates for the position of Director General of UNESCO. No candidate scores equally highly on all and people obviously give different weight to different criteria.

The most important qualification in my opinion is support for UNESCO's central mission -- promoting the defenses of peace in the minds of men. UNESCO promotes peace among nations by promoting intellectual and cultural exchanges among their peoples. Minister Hosny seems to believe peace beteen Israel and Palestine must preceed exchanges. For example, note this statement from an interview some years ago:
"I don't hate Israel and under no circumstances am I an anti-Semite. But cultural normalization? Not now."
Q: Why not?
"We have political ties and economic cooperation. In my view, cultural ties are our weapon to pressure Israel into doing more on the Palestinian issue."
Or this:
"My attitude towards normalization is known and so is my ministry's attitude: we oppose all kinds of normalization… The Ministry of Culture is practically the only official body that has a declared attitude against normalization…"
I worked for years with a Middle East Cooperation Program and met many Egyptians who, in contrast to Minister Hosny, took the risk of cooperation with Israelis in the belief that mutual understanding would be a step toward Arab-Israeli peace.

An important qualification for the Director General of UNESCO is his/her support for the rights of all ethnic groups, and especially ethnic minorities. I am concerned with the pattern that emerges from the opposition to Hosny by Egyptian intellectuals, conservative Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Jews, and Egyptian Copts, as well as secular Egyptians. Would a fierce defender of minority cultures be opposed by so many of minorities from his own country? I do not regard the opposition of those minority groups, categorized by Mr. Massalha as "religious extremists," as a "badge of honor." (He apparently includes a Nobel Peace Prize winner in that category.)

UNESCO's programs in education, science, culture and communications and information should respond to exceptional challenges and opportunities in the next eight years. The world would be well served if a Director General is elected who fully appreciates all of those fields and who can provide leadership to each of those programs. The Executive Board also would be well advised to seek a candidate who could be expected to serve for two terms as Director General in order to have time to institutionalize the needed initiatives.

I would indeed like to see "a quadridisciplinary polymath" in the position. Among the 6.8 billion people on earth there are such people. I am looking back to Archibald MacLeish (who refused the job) or Directors General Julian Huxley, Luther Evans and Rene Maheu. Consider former Director General Federico Mayor who has been a scientist, professor, administrator, government minister and politician. He is a published poet and essayist, and also created the Foundation for the Culture of Peace -- a true polymath.

In citing charges of inefficiency and corruption in the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, I had thought to question whether a Minister who has led that Ministry for 22 years would be a good choice to assure the efficiency and transparency of UNESCO's administration.

On a final point, I quote from a Boston Globe review of two museum shows: "Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and "Pharaohs of the Sun" at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts:
There has been a lot of talk recently about exhibition ethics in museums. In conjunction with "Pharaohs," the Met is staging a contemporary Egyptian show: Son of Brancusi sculpture by Adam Henein and derivative, decorative abstract paintings by Farouk Hosny. Met-worthy? No way. But then, Hosny is Egypt's minister of culture.
Decide for yourself what that comment implies about artist-Minister Hosny.

Minister Farouk Hosny has served his country and his government for decades as Minister of Culture. He is supported by several governments for the important post of Director General of UNESCO. Of course he is worthy of respect; his candidacy demands our serious consideration. All the active nominees are worthy of respect and consideration.

Which of the eight is best qualified?


Mr. Massalha questioned my qualifications to comment on UNESCO. I have been interested in UNESCO for many years. I read the information that is available to the public and I get some added information from friends and contacts. I have volunteered as Webmaster for Americans for UNESCO for five years; as Webmaster I have posted a couple of thousand items about UNESCO. I have taught a graduate seminar on UNESCO for three semesters, and manage the group "UNESCO's Friends" on LinkedIn. I was elected Vice President of Americans for UNESCO. (My personal blog does not necessarily represent the opinions of that organization.) I bring to the study of UNESCO more than 40 years experience in international development. Incidentally, I am older than Minister Hosny, and doubt the charge of ageism.


John Daly said...

I just came across an encyclopedia entry on Farouk Hosny which says:

"He is blamed for the deterioration of the Arts and Culture in Egypt because of his favouritism and malpolicy."

John Daly said...

Omar Massalha has sent me a response to this posting. Download it as a Word document:


I will address only the point as to whether UNESCO should direct more attention to improving understanding among those actors involved in Middle Eastern affairs or among those involved in affairs involving former Communist countries and "The West". Both areas are critical, but I would guess personally that the issues involving the former Communist nations are even more important than those of the Middle East.

John Daly said...

Compare the attitude expressed in this talk a dozen years ago by Nouréini Tidjani-Serpos, another candidate for UNESCO Director General with the opinions of Farouk Hosny on Arab Israeli exchanges. Which would you rather have in charge of UNESCO. (The remarks are in French,)