No book-burning at UNESCO, hooray!

You may remember that several months back we ran an article on Farouk Hosny, the Egyptian Culture Minister who appeared to be front-runner in the election for the new head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. We didn’t consider Hosny a good choice because of his stated desire to burn “Israeli books in Egyptian libraries”. Bad enough if this was a youthful indiscretion, but he said it just last year. Of course, once the shit hit the fan at election time, the apologies began to roll out, but under the circumstances they appeared hollow.

A book-burner heading up UNESCO? We didn’t like it.

Irina Bokova

Irina Bokova

And neither, it appears, did the states voting. After a sustained opposition by Reporters Without Borders and other organisations, Hosny failed in his bid. It took five rounds of voting, but the new head of UNESCO, and the first woman ever appointed to the task, is Bulgaria’s former Minister for Foreign Relations, Irina Bokova. Bokova has been the Bulgarian delegate to UNESCO since 2005, and one assumes she has never tried to build a bonfire of the books that she has disagreed with.

Hosny, who would have been the first Arab to head UNESCO had he won the position, is not being gracious in defeat. One suspects sour grapes and a distorted view of reality are at the base of his accusations of conspiracy. “The organisation has become politicised,” he said. “The reality is that we waged a fantastic battle. The Egyptian candidate had the newspapers and Zionist pressures against him every day.” He added “The north always has to control the south,” stating that “the American ambassador did everything he could” to prevent his winning.

There you have it. An advocate of book-burning did not succeed to the head of the UN’s cultural department not because of the disgust most intelligent people feel at book-burning, but because of a plot to keep him down. One suspects if he’d only shut up and not shown himself to be a completely inappropriate candidate he would be head of UNESCO today. In retrospect, we can all be grateful that he didn’t have the sense to keep his feet well away from his mouth.


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