Farouk Hosni is unfit for the position of UNESCO Director General. UNESCO with Farouk Hosni as Director General will lose its legitimacy as an international agency promoting understanding through educational, social and cultural programs and exchanges.
As Egyptian Culture Minister for over two decades, Mr. Hosni has a long history of expressing hostility towards Israeli culture and opposing cultural exchanges with Israel. These views are emblematic of the rampant anti-Jewish sentiment that pervades Egypt’s cultural elites and is a trend UNESCO is meant to counter, not to legitimate.
One recent declaration – “I’d burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt” – has been widely reported. We believe his apology for that statement was tactical and insincere, given his long record of enmity to Israel. Even amid his campaign to refurbish his image, Mr. Hosni told Egypt’s Dream TV in July that he will oppose normalization with Israel until “two states exist” and the “Palestinian people get their right.” These examples of opposing cultural exchange add to his record of vitriolic statements, which includes:
- “The Israeli culture is inhuman.” (Interview with Al-Mashahid as-Siyasi, June 10, 2001)
- “Israel has no history or civilization, since those who have history of their own do not need to rob the history of others.” (Interview to Ruz al-Yousuf, May 5, 1997, “Israel is Robbing the Pyramids as it Robbed Palestine”)
- “They steal everything: musical heritage, cinema and even clothes and this is why they have to be treated with the same level of hate…” (Interview to Al-Wasat, London, June 13, 2001)
Given the hatred which Mr. Hosni has promoted, it is not surprising that, as Minister of Culture, he has refused to permit any Israeli participation in Egypt’s major cultural events, such as the annual Cairo Book Fair and Film Festival.
His banning of Israeli culture is just the tip of the iceberg. During his 22 year tenure, Mr. Hosni has restricted freedom of expression and used censorship to stifle cultural and intellectual freedom. His role in banning books from the Cairo Book Fair, films from the Alexandria Film Festival, and television shows from being broadcast has come under fire from artists, journalists and intellectuals from Egypt and around the world.
And, if this were not enough to disqualify him, most recently, Mr. Hosni is reported to have said that the U.S. Ambassador to UNESCO is working hard against Mr. Hosni’s candidacy because the ambassador is Jewish. The religion or ethnicity of a U.S. diplomat is hardly relevant, but Mr. Hosni’s reaction is. Legitimate concerns were raised about Mr. Hosni’s attitudes, and he responded by playing on conspiratorial notions that the ambassador is more loyal to an imagined Jewish cabal than to the government he serves.
Mr. Hosni’s invidious statements and record of contravening UNESCO’s founding principles should disqualify him in the eyes of any objective observer. Yet, our concern remains that UNESCO member states may vote for him for political reasons.
If UNESCO is to advance its founding mission, it cannot be led by Mr. Hosni whose bigotry continues to be on open display. If UNESCO is to once again become a political tool, we anticipate the debate will re-open in the United States and elsewhere whether UNESCO can be an effective international body for promoting understanding among peoples through educational, social and cultural programs and exchange. We are certain it cannot. To prevent the devaluing and marginalization of UNESCO, we urge you to support another candidate.
Glen S. Lewy
Abraham H. Foxman