Irina Bokova was elected UNESCO Director General in a suspenseful fifth round to defeat the Egyptian candidate Farouk Hosny
At the end of the fifth round of voting, Irina Bokova, the candidate presented by Bulgaria, was designated by the Executive Board with the majority of the ballots. Her candidacy obtained 31 ballots against 27 for the Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny.
Her nomination would be approved this month and the post, UNESCO Director General, is elected for four years.
The Chairman of UNESCO’s Executive Board said Bulgaria’s Ambassador to France, Irina Bokova, has beaten long-time Egyptian Culture Minister Hosny in secret balloting.
Egyptian Culture Minister, 71, was long considered a favourite, but his candidacy has drawn criticism from Western intellectuals and Jewish groups due to comments he made in May 2008, in which he promised to burn any Israeli books found in Egyptian libraries.
The opposition to Hosny was led by Elie Wiesel, Bernard-Henri Levy and others, who blasted the candidacy of a “book-burner” and noted his 22 years as a minister in an authoritarian regime responsible, among other things, for censorship in his country. They also complained of his 2001 characterization of Israeli culture as “racist” and “inhumane.”
Hosny has apologized for the book-burning comment, saying it came out of anger at Israeli treatment of the Palestinians and did not reflect his views on cultural pluralism.
In the fourth round, Egypt’s and Bulgaria’s candidates Hosny and Irina Bokova won 29 votes each in the UNESCO elections.
After the fourth round, Hosny’s advisor Hosam Nasser described the Egyptian candidate’s score as a very great victory in view of “an opposing coalition from major powers.”
“This is a clear and plain coalition against Hosny to prevent him from reaching the post by several major powers and without any reason.”
He added that Hosny represents the South countries and is acquainted with the cultures of the North.
“He (Hosny) is the best to represent the North-South dialogue.”
Nassar regretted that the North countries reject the stance represented by Hosny.
“Those who boast the North-South dialogue turned the matter into a sort of duel without any reason and turned the coalition against us,” Nassar said.
Major countries plotted sudden withdrawals in order to finish the competition in the fourth session, but Hosny managed to get four additional votes compared to the previous round against major powers’ coalitions.”
He declined to name these countries.
Nassar praised Arab and African counties that supported Hosny in the race to the UNESCO top post.
Bolkova, 57, is a former foreign minister of Bulgaria and currently the country’s ambassador to France. Her candidacy started weakly, but has garnered much support as other contenders have dropped out of the race.
Six candidates for the four-year position have dropped out in the wake of the first three rounds of voting last week – European Union External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko and candidates from Lithuania, Ecuador, Benin and Tanzania.