Thursday, September 10, 2009

Framing of the Selection of the New UNESCO Chief

Two years ago, the selection of the new Director General of UNESCO appears to have been framed in international geopolitical terms. The developing countries had the majority of votes in UNESCO's Executive Board, and if the major associations of developing countries would unify behind one candidate, that candidate would be elected. For some reason it was assumed that it was the turn of an Arab to lead UNESCO, and the Egyptian Government chose its Minister of Culture as its candidate and went out to assure that no other Arab state submitted a nomination. It then set out to gain the support of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the African Union, and the Non-Aligned States.

When Bernard-Henri Lévy, Claude Lanzmann, Elie Wiesel published "Unesco : la honte d’un naufrage annoncé" in Le Monde, it re-framed the choice. Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian candidate was portrayed as an anti-Semite. Apparently at the instigation of the French government, Hosny wrote that he was not an anti-Semite.

Some of Hosny's supporters sought to again re-frame the debate, portraying his critics as Zionists and member or dupes of a global Jewish conspiracy against the Egyptian. In turn there have been efforts to combat the conspiracy theory such as clarifying that the new U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO (seen to be opposed to Hosny) is not Jewish as had been charged, as well as a public statement by a prominent European Jew and an op-ed piece in the New York Times by a Jewish comentator that Hosny was acceptable to them.

With Raymond Stock's publication, "Very, Very Lost in Translation" in Foreign Policy, that framing was broadened to focus on the anti-Semitism in Egyptian culture.

I tried without much success to bring the focus back on Hosny and the question of whether he exhibited ethnic prejudice, and whether his personal beliefs were such that he could effectively lead UNESCO as it sought to promote intercultural dialog to promote peace and as it sought to promote protection of cutural diversity.

Reporters Without Border again re-framed the debate with the publication of "Egyptian censorship advocate is candidate to be UNESCO director general." Their article described the censorship by the Egyptian Government and attributed some of that to Hosny's leadership, questioning whether a background of censorship disqualified him to lead UNESCO.

When I set up the website Election of the UNESCO Director General, I tried to return to the nominal framing done by UNESCO's Secretariat and Executive Board -- what are the qualities that would make for the best leader in terms of UNESCO's mission, and which of the candidates best exemplifies those qualities.

I have been following the discussion of the election in the media, and thus far I have not seen any comparison of the candidates against a broad set of criteria for leadership of UNESCO. Indeed, most of the public discussion considers whether a single factor will or will not disqualify Farouk Hosny for the office. One hopes that the delegates to the Executive Board are carrying out a comprehensive and informed comparison of the candidates as they prepare to vote next week, albeit in secrecy.


John Daly said...

Some in the Middle East have begun to frame this election in terms of the prestige of Hosni Mubarak himself or in terms of the respect for Egypt. In spite of the fact that Egyptians have held posts such as Secretary General of the United Nations and head of the International Atomic Energy Agency they would suggest that failure to elect Farouk Hosny to head UNESCO would be due to disrespect for Egypt rather than dissatisfaction with his personal candidacy.

John Daly said...

It occurs to me that once it was believed that Farouk Hosny had a significant lead in the race to become UNESCO chief, the race was largely re-framed in terms of support of opposition to his candidacy. I suspect that this was not the result of an explicit decision as to how to frame the issues, but simply a simplification allowing authors to avoid the complexities of a choice among nine alternative candidates. Unforturnately, a result was little attention to the other eight candidates.