Sunday, August 02, 2009

Why I worry about Farouk Hosny as Candidate for UNESCO Director General

Posted on the Facebook group "Farouk Hosni NO for UNESCO"

A new UNESCO Director General is to be elected in a couple of months. I have been following the campaign pretty closely for someone in Maryland and not Paris. It was once believed that Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian Minister of Culture, was the leading candidate, but he has proven to be very controversial and there are reports that the election is now wide open. (See also this article.) Still I worry that Hosny will be elected to the post. The Executive Board of UNESCO, consisting of 58 member nations, recommends a single candidate for the post in a secret process which is heavily politicized and which has been marked in the past by charges of impropriety.

The first and most important reason for my concern is that it would seem that all four women who have been nominated for the job would do it better than Hosny. Not only is the election of a woman for Director General of UNESCO long overdue, but I believe each of the women has a record of accomplishments and a background in international diplomacy that make her a better candidate than Hosny.

I am concerned as to Hosny's commitment to peace. UNESCO's primary purpose is to create the defenses of peace in the minds of men through the promotion of education, science and culture. Egypt has been committed for many years to promote cultural exchange with Israel as part of the peace process with Israel. There have been few such exchanges during the decades that Hosny has been Minister of Culture, and I have read that he has pronounced himself fundamentally opposed to normalization of Egypt's relations with Israel. Would he lead UNESCO to promote public diplomacy as a means for promotion of peace in the Middle East and/or in other geographical regions?

Hosny's candidacy has been opposed in a widely read editorial by Claude Lanzmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Elie Wiesel, focusing in part on an anti-Jewish bias. He and/or his candidacy have been opposed by the Anti-Defamation League, the Free Copts, the Muslim Brotherhood, and left wing intellectual Egyptians. (See also "Farouk Hosni Nominated as UNESCO Director General," Killian Clarke, The Daily News Egypt, July 31, 2007, and "Le pharaon business de Zahi Hawass," L'Express, 3/8/2009 via Africa Time.) A major purpose of UNESCO is to promote tolerance for minorities and cultural diversity. Would a man who has achieved the distinction of opposition from so many groups be a good choice to lead a program promoting respect for cultural diversity?

Hosny is widely quoted as saying that if Israeli books were found in an Egyptian library, he would burn them himself. He has apologized for the statement, but the very fact that he made it makes me question his suitability for the post of Director General of the Organization that promotes books per se, as well as the dissemination of learning, and promotes learning about others to promote peace.

It is charged that Hosny spied on Egyptian students in Paris during his term there in the Egyptian Embassy in the 1970s, and that in doing so he provided information that was to be used by the Egyptian government to pressure the student's families to discourage the student demonstrations. Not only would such behavior be repugnant, but also it suggests that he would be a poor choice for an organization which both defends freedom of expression and promotes international education.

UNESCO is not only an intergovernmental agency, but also one that has an especially sensitive mission and a history that includes a refusal to join for some years by the Soviet Union, and a withdrawal for many years by the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore. I see no indication that Hosny has experience of diplomatic work in such a context, and leading UNESCO is not a job for a novice diplomat. Indeed, Time suggests that he has a history of getting in trouble through the use of intemperate language, a trait that would be deadly in a Director General of UNESCO.

It has been implied in the U.S. press that Hosny has used his authority to approve or disapprove international exhibits of pharaonic artifacts (which are popular and remunerative exhibits for museums in the United States and Europe) to promote exhibits of his own paintings. (See also "Egypt from Two Perspectives," by Christine Temin, The Boston Globe, November 29, 1999.) Again this is a special concern for a candidate to lead UNESCO.

UNESCO is an especially complex organization with a couple of thousand international civil servants (multicultural, multilingual) serving in more than 50 countries. Moreover, it achieves its objectives primarily through external networks and influence on civil society and governments. The Director General is not only faced with running such an organization, but with leading its reform and improvement. The Government of Egypt is ranked by the World Bank as relatively low in government efficiency and quite low in terms of control of corruption. Hosny has run an organization for decades in Egypt that is thought to be inefficient, and that has even been charged with corruption; he has offered his resignation in the past for its shortcomings. (See also this reference.) Is he capable of providing the organizational leadership that is needed from the Director General of UNESCO?

While Farouk Hosny seems well prepared to deal with UNESCO's World Heritage activities and related aspects of its cultural program (although there have been charges of inadequacy in his Ministry during his long administration), I see little indication that he would bring understanding of science nor education to the position of Director General. The resources devoted by UNESCO to its science programs far exceed those of devoted to its culture program, and its science programs are especially important in helping the world deal with increasing pressure on the environment.

The education responsibility is especially important, not only because of UNESCO's key role in Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals, but also because there is going to have to be a major reconceptualization of global educational goals before 2015. I was especially concerned with an interview last year in which Hosny suggested that UNESCO should promote religious education in the schools, a role that in my opinion would be radically inappropriate for UNESCO.

The World Summit on the Information Society, held in two sessions during the last decade, was led by the International Telecommunications Union and UNESCO. It represented a response by the United Nations to the Information Revolution and the changes it is engendering in society. UNESCO brought the Summit to understand that we are moving toward a "Knowledge Society," a society in which knowledge will play an increasing role in social and economic development, and in which knowledge systems will become increasingly complex, international, professionalized and important. UNESCO needs the leadership of a "public intellectual" who understands the Information Revolution and its implications, and can help prepare the Organization to provide the leadership the world requires from it and from the network of intergovernmental organizations. I see no indication that Hosny is such a leader.

Finally, Hosny was born in 1938. The term of office of the Director General is four years, and two terms are allowed. Given the challenges before the organization now, it would be desirable to have a strong Director General to serve two terms, which would mean service until 2017, at which time Hosny would be quite old. Were he an international civil servant, he would already have been forced into retirement. One must worry about the ability of a man of his age to carry out the arduous responsibilities of the post for eight years.

All of the above is based on published reports, and of course some of those may be inaccurate or untrue. I have never met Farouk Hosny, and can not judge his character personally. Yet the overall pattern is worrisome in the context of his candidacy to direct a complex and historically troubled organization with an extremely important mission.

Read more on the election and make your own choice!


John Daly said...

I heard today that Farouk Hosny is considerably short of the votes needed to win the election in the Executive Board of UNESCO on the first ballot. Therefore delegates should be considering whether to shift votes after the first ballot, and if so, to whom.

John Daly said...

I came across an article by Egyptian Jews complaining about the repression of their cultural heritage by the current government of Egypt. With regard to the candidacy of Farouk Hosny, the article says: "Why are you insisting that your culture minister, Farouk Hosni, be appointed head of UNESCO, an institution devoted to the spread of knowledge and education in the world, after he scandalously declared that he would burn any books by Israelis (read: Jews) found in Egypt?"

This is further evidence of minority groups in Egypt opposing the candidacy of Farouk Hosny. Since a key purpose of UNESCO is to help nations to value the diversities of culture within their borders, the candidacy of a man to head UNESCO who is opposed by many minorities within his own country must be questioned.

John Daly said...

The Anti Defamation League has published set of quotations from Farouk Hosny's past statements.

John Daly said...

There is a rebuttal to this posting by Omar Massalha which due to length I have posted separately on this blog.

I have also separately posted a response to Mr. Massalha.

John Daly said...

Here is an interesting article on Cairo's annual salon for young artists. Although it only mentions Farouk Hosny once, it provides an interesting view of the way in which Egypt's government (presumably under the guidance of his ministry for the past 22 years) manages the art scene.

John Daly said...

"Farouk Hosni: Egypt deals indiscriminately with all antiquities"

I found the link to this article on Farouk Hosny's Facebook page. He is quoted "Egypt is most keen to deal with Jewish antiquities ‎exactly as it deals with other antiquities."

I have been to museums of Pharaonic history, Islamic history and Roman history in Egypt. Why not one on Jewish history?

John Daly said...

the Egyptian Movement for Change, widely known as Kafaya (Enough), published a report entitled "Corruption in Egypt…A dark cloud that does not vanish" which charges corruption specifically within the Ministry of Culture.

John Daly said...

Read this article from the Guardian by an Egyptian progressive on Farouk Hosny, illustrating still another domestic source of opposition for his candidacy for UNESCO Director General.

John Daly said...

Here are some more, recent postings on Hosny:
* Thoughts on Reading Roger Cohen's Article
* Farouk Hosny on Budgetting
* More on Charges of Corruption in Hosny's Ministry