Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Egyptian UNESCO Candidate Provokes Controversy

Farouk Hosny, a 71-year-old painter who has served as President Hosni Mubarak’s cultural guru for more than two decades, will likely become the next head of UNESCO. See

The prospective appointment has provoked some controversy. According to the New York Times,

[T]here are shadows over Hosny. Questioned in [the Egyptian] Parliament last year about the presence of Israeli books in the Alexandria Library, the minister replied: “Let’s burn these books. If there are any, I will burn them myself before you.”

A comment summoning Germany, 1933, is not what you want on your résumé when applying to become cultural conciliator-in-chief. That’s not all. Reflecting stock thinking in Egyptian and Arab intellectual circles, Hosny has characterized Israeli culture as “aggressive” and “racist,” stalled cultural ties with Israel that might change attitudes, and peddled the old canard about “the infiltration of Jews into the international media.”

In this, Hosny's views seem consistent with those of Zahi Hawass, another pillar of the Egyptian cultural establishment. See

While raising questions about Hosny, the New York Times editorial nevertheless suggests he should get the post :

Let’s get him inside the tent rather than stoke the old anti-Western, anti-imperialist flames — reminiscent of what led the United States to abandon Unesco between 1984 and 2002 — by rejecting him.

It strikes me that similar sentiments probably helped motivate many Western governments to agree to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, a document that seeks to empower "source countries" when it comes to the control of "cultural property."

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