Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thoughts on Reading Farouk Hosny's Comments on His Return to Egypt

The Makati Local headlined its coverage of Hosny's return to Egypt after losing the election for Director General of UNESCO "Egyptian condemns Unesco vote". The article cites the BBC as its original source.

Hosny accuses that the vote was "politicized". That is an interesting comment from the Egyptian candidate. The Israeli government is supposed to have issued orders to its diplomats to stop opposing Hosny after Mubarak met with Netanyahu, and there has been speculation on what was offered in exchange. The Algerian candidate tried to withdraw from the race, supposedly after the President of Algeria put pressure on him to comply with the promise of support made to Mubarak. Oman withdrew its candidate, again supposedly due to negotiations with the Egyptian government. Brazil also failed to nominate two very competitive candidates, reportedly as a result of negotiations with the Government of Egypt; it has been reported since that a trade deal was signed between the two countries, that the Egyptian Foreign Minister has visited Brazil, and that President Mubarak is to visit Brazil later in the year. The Government of Egypt lobbied with the Arab League, the Islamic Conference and the African Union for support of their member states.

Of course, he is right that the election was politicized. It would have been better had there been a process that did generated more and better candidates, and that selected among them only on the basis of qualifications to lead UNESCO. However, for the Egyptian candidate to complain about the politicization of the process is for the pot to call the kettle black.

A further comment is reported:
The minister described the race as a battle between north and south.

“The north always has to control the south,” said Mr Hosny, adding that “the American ambassador did everything he could” to stop his election.
Actually, the winner was from Bulgaria, a country that only obtained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1908 and from domination by the Soviet Union in 1990 and that has a per capita GDP of some $12,000. Actually, it is interesting to see an Eastern European Socialist in the position, both in terms of her ability to try to broker a dialog between Islamic and Western states, and in terms of her opportunity to try to bring Russia and the West to the table for dialog.

The Associated Press reports from Hosny's press conference:
Egypt's culture minister on Wednesday blamed a conspiracy "cooked up in New York" by the world's Jews for keeping him from becoming the next head of the U.N.'s agency for culture and education.

Farouk Hosny was defeated on Tuesday by Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova in a tight race for the position of UNESCO chair.

"It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me," Hosny told reporters at the airport upon his return from Paris.

"There are a group of the world's Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position," he said.
Perhaps this is a misquote, or the Arabic does not translate well. Certainly many Jews and many others were outraged by Hosny's record of obnoxious statements. They were joined by those concerned with the freedom of the press, and by many Egyptians in opposing his candidacy. However, the opposition was overt, legal, and indeed a reasonable effort to influence the process of selection of the Director General of UNESCO. I think that what really sunk the Hosny candidacy was the independent action of a number of individuals and non-governmental organizations that took advantage of the free press to share their concerns about him.

The American Ambassador, who I have never met, may well have worked hard to see the person he and the American government felt to be the better candidate win. I hope so.

The New York Times reports:
There was a muted response in Cairo, but some officials said the ballot was not aimed against Egypt.

"I do not believe that this should be read as an attitude towards Egypt. I think the question was related to the candidate," said Egypt's former foreign minister, Ahmed Maher.

"I am sure that relations between us and the countries, however they voted, will remain as they were. I don't think they will be affected by this," he told Reuters.
If Farouk Hosny really cared about UNESCO and the accomplishment of its important mission, he would have been as gracious in defeat as Irina Bokova was in winning.


John Daly said...

Minister Hosny was gracious with the winning candidate. She reports: "I talked with Mr. Hosny, we have established a good friendship during the campaign. We even promised each other that regardless of who wins at these elections, we would continue working together. He called to congratulate me on my victory and I thanked him cordially and we repeated our promise to be together after these elections."

Anonymous said...

Of course the campaign was politicised, and the result is that by the latter half of the next decade, Unesco will have been run for at least 14 years in succession and probably 18 - if Bokova is re-elected - by career diplomats. This is as far from the outcome you postulated as ideal (a Director with a thorough grounding in the actual fields of competence of Unesco) as one could imagine. Hosny may have been a long-standing minister but he is a painter by vocation and a man of immense cultural breadth and depth.
Geopolitically, Bulgaria is no more eastern European than France or Sweden as it is a member of the EU and NATO (why, Ms Bokova was closely involved in both admissions processes as if to illustrate the point). Had the new Director come from say Serbia or Armenia or Ukraine, then one could legitimately claim that she represented a region never previously represented in the post. But the "Eastern European" group in UN terms has long been a nonsense - illustrated by the fact that two of its members (Russia and Georgia) went to war with each other just over a year ago.
As for the "cooking-up" in New York, the reference is presumably to the Anti-Defamation League, since they have meticulously catalogued anyone's statements deemed negative towards Israel (and have been exposed in US courts for using such information abusively - see the "ADL files controversy" on Wikipedia : ), and they instigated the campaign against Hosny as soon as he had been nominated. They then equally meticulously produced long lists of loadedly translated quotations, all selectively removed from context, and pumped that information out for other like-minded lobbies and blogs such as your own to use at will. Indeed, I am deeply grateful to you for illustrating this very point by again mindlessly linking to their propaganda page within the body of your own opinion piece.
The reference to Jewish lobbies is, sadly, unanswerable. This election had nothing to do with corruption (rife in all 9 candidates' home countries, including even Austria though it's perhaps a little more sophisticated there) and nothing much to do with freedom of expression. If the Arab States had nominated a patsy willing to do the bidding of the Israeli government - and they do exist, some of them are even in government and diplomacy - the lobbies in question would have given him or her a free ride, irrespective of the candidate's credentials on human rights or free speech. But the French and American pro-Israel lobbies (it would be more accurate to call them "Zionist" but this is a word that has almost become a term of abuse if it comes from the mouth of anyone other than a self-proclaimed Zionist himself) wanted Hosny blocked at all costs because they knew that he would finally exercise the director's mandate in a way that his predecessor never did on the issue of Jerusalem and its cultural heritage. That was and will remain the central issue. Any extraneous quotation (and the truncated, misinterpreted and distorted "book-burning" one was a godsend to these people) and any extraneous accusation were merely grist to the mill for groups and their intellectual mouthpieces that would stop at nothing in blocking his election.
The tragedy is that there were serious Jewish voices calling FOR Hosny's election (Serge Klarsfeld, the Nebi Daniel International Association, etc.) but they were drowned out by the noise coming from Levy, Wiesel and others, all of whom are well-known for their purblind devotion to Israel and craven apologias for its actions.

Anonymous said...

And that is why the Arab intelligentsia - the real one and not the preening bloggers and journalists who are swift to decry and yet so bereft of meaningful achievement themselves - is now saying that no self-respecting Arab worthy of the name will ever be allowed to take the post. You have referred to Serageldin, an intellectual colossus, but he ran for office against a nondescript diplomat and got 4 votes. Al Qoseibi, the outstanding Saudi poet, got a handful more. Hosny should have been a shoo-in and yet he has been massacred for two years and been beaten to the post as well. Even then, he somehow managed to muster 29 votes, until the final steamroller operation on the pro-Hosny Europeans dragged them kicking and screaming into the Bokova camp.
The result is that all of Europe, the US and a handful of countries from the Third World happy to take orders and/or favours to support them lined up one side of a massive fault line opposite the overwhelming majority of the Arab, Asian, African and Latin American states. This is the North-South divide writ large. It is a catastrophic outcome for Unesco and a deeply worrying one for the wider world. It could and should have been avoided by allowing a fair race to take place and allowing all states freely to make their choice free of threats and coercion from major powers. Seen in this light, Hosny's comments on his return are pretty mild, given what had transpired back in Paris.

John Daly said...

More on Farouk Hosny's post election comments.

This is quoted from the Daily News Egypt:

"Culture Minister Farouk Hosni accused the UNESCO of having a political agenda, saying that the United Nations had 'a scheme to prevent him from winning the [director general] post,' he told the local press upon arriving in Cairo.

"According to Hosni, the UN’s plan to prevent him from winning the elections was 'cooked' during the UN general assembly meeting that took place in New York earlier this week.

“'The north always has to control the south,” said Hosni, in comments that echoed disputes at UNESCO in the 1980s when the US accused the organization of serving as a platform for Communist and developing states to attack the West.

“'The organization has become politicized,' he said. 'Two votes were taken away. Two votes that were considered... a betrayal,' Hosni said about the fact that he dropped from 29 votes in the fourth round of the election to 27 in the final one."


It is interesting the way Minister Hosny reifies UNESCO and the UN. Of course it is the governments of the member states whose actions actually bothered him. The UNESCO and UN organizations, by which we usually mean the secretariats working under the policies defined by their governing bodies, obviously are not responsible for Minister Hosny's defeat in the voting.

Apparently Minister Hosny now feels it is inappropriate for Presidents of countries to intervene to change the votes of other governments. I wonder if he expressed that concern to President Mubarak before Mubarak talked Prime Minister Netanyahu into withdrawing Israel's opposition to the Hosny candidacy?

Note that the seven votes that switched to Hosny in the second, third and fourth rounds of voting were not a "betrayal", only those that switched away from him in the final round.

Note that the Cold War between the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies versus the NATO and other allies is usually referred to as an East-West conflict, not a North-South conflict. In point of fact, the election of a UNESCO Director General who is a former Communist from a former Communist block country may be a significant milestone in the easing of East-West relations. No Russian has yet been elected to lead such an international organization.

And indeed, there were three candidates from Group 2 (former Communist) nations -- Russia, Lithuania and Bulgaria -- who together had 18 votes in the first round. Minister Hosny's defeat appears to have been more due to the consolidation of the support for these three candidates from "the East" behind Irina Bokova than to even the opposition of "the West".

Anonymous said...

The English translation in this article of his comments in Arabic is well-nigh unintelligible. Clearly he means that there was a plan hatched both during the GA in New York and during the Board at Unesco to defeat him. I hardly think a candidate for director general at Unesco would not understand the distinction between the UN and Unesco and between the secretariat of an organisation and its member states. For your information, Hosny's steadily rising score in each round was purely the result of the increments accruing from other candidates pulling out, especially Ivonne Baki. No one switched to Hosny from a candidate that was still in the race.
However, in the final round, at least two of his supporters from Europe went over to Bokova under colossal pressure from France and the USA. This is why he speaks of "betrayal", though there were almost certainly others earlier in the voting, too - not that the countries concerned will ever admit to it.

John Daly said...

I suppose the most likely explanation for Minister Hosny's remarks on returning to Egypt is not that he necessarily believes what he said, but rather that those remarks were most likely to protect his career and his government. He is much more able to judge what remarks would best accomplish those goals than I am.

John Daly said...

I read that the Egyptian Ambassador who serves on the UNESCO Executive Board embraced Irina Bokova when the results of the fifth round of voting were announced, congratulated her, and said that they would work together in the future.

That sounds gracious to me!

Anonymous said...

One of a number of graphic illustrations of Farouk Hosny's supposed "obnoxious antisemitism" - a dinner in his honour, at the French Senate, organised by the Nebi Daniel International Association of émigré Egyptian Jews: