Egypt-Qatar feud takes on a global dimension over UNESCO

Former Qatari culture minister Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari came out ahead in Monday’s first-round vote for the new chief of UN cultural agency UNESCO.

The ongoing feud between Qatar and Egypt took on global dimensions as Cairo announced July 19 that it had selected a candidate to challenge Doha’s pick for the next Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Cairo officially nominated Moushira Khattab, a former Minister of Family and Population at a festive cultural dialogue event held in the garden of the Egyptian Museum.

“UNESCO members will not be just choosing a director-general, they will be choosing a civilization,” said Khattab who was thronged by reporters and flanked by pharaonic era statues and obelisks in the museum’s grand courtyard abutting the capital’s historic Tahrir Square.

From the Middle Ages onward, Egypt had a history of bringing together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scientists and scholars and that is what UNESCO needs to do.”

Regional rival Qatar announced its candidate Dr. Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, the cultural advisor to the Emirate’s ruling sheikh at reception held at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters in March. Al-Kawari obtained his bachelor’s degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies from Cairo University and acquired a PhD in political science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Six years ago Qatar effectively saved UNESCO from bankruptcy with a $20 million gift to compensate for a decision by the United States Congress not to pay an overdue assessment of approximately $60 million.

 Al-Kawari comes out ahead in UNESCO vote

Qatari candidate Al-Kawari came out ahead in Monday’s first-round vote for the new chief of UN cultural agency UNESCO.

Al-Kawari got 19 out of 58 votes, followed by French nominee Audrey Azoulay on 13 and Egyptian Moushira Khattab on 11.Moushira Khattab on 11.

Members of the agency’s executive board have until Friday to select a successor – by the overall majority – to outgoing director-general Irina Bokova of Bulgaria.

The victor then has to be confirmed by a vote by the general conference of all member countries on November 10.

Egypt’s UNESCO candidate ‘complicit’ in rights violations, says local lawyer

Criticism by domestic human rights groups mounts against Moushira Khattab, 1 of 8 candidates for UN cultural body’s top job

A top Egyptian rights lawyer said the country’s candidate for UNESCO’s top job is not qualified for the post because of her silence and “sometimes complicity” in the government’s repressive policies.

Gamal Eid, head of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, said on Sunday that he had sought in vain to enlist Moushira Khattab’s help after security agents stormed three of six libraries he set up in poor neighborhoods with prize money from a rights award he won.

After promising to help, Khattab told him the courts would have the final say on the matter, a stance later repeated by Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Eid said there was no court case on the closures.

A number of other Egyptian rights groups have also been critical of Khattab’s candidacy, including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Nazra for Feminist Studies. They allege that she is complicit in state attacks on the values for which the UN agency stands.

Ambassador Mohammed el-Orabi, director of Khattab’s campaign, provided a list of 23 civil society organizations supporting Khattab’s candidacy.

Khattab, who previously served in Egyptian diplomatic missions, did not respond to messages by The Associated Press seeking comment.

Irina Bokova, the current head of UNESCO, is set to step down from her post later this year.

The board of the UN’s cultural body last week began vetting eight candidates vying to head the organization, which has been accused of bias in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and foot-dragging on reforms.

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization infuriated Israel and its staunch ally the United States by granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.

Both countries suspended their funding to the agency — best known for its prestigious World Heritage List — over the move.

Most recently, the Paris-based body delighted Palestinians when it declared the Old City of Hebron in the West Bank an endangered World Heritage site. It has also passed several resolutions ignoring Jewish ties to Jerusalem.

Both Qatar and Egypt have been campaigning for their candidates, especially among the African countries where both nations provide development assistance.

Kenya has announced it is backing Al-Kawari and the Egyptian press reports that Khattab has discretely visited several African countries to press her candidacy.

“Whatever the outcome, Moushira Khattab’s candidacy is a win-win for Egypt,” said a retired Egyptian diplomat told The Media Line. “If she succeeds, Egypt will be leading an important global institution and if she doesn’t most people will understand that the Qataris bought the post.”

Egypt’s Jewish community backs country’s UNESCO candidate

The head of Egypt’s minuscule Jewish community voiced support on Monday for the country’s UNESCO candidate who has been criticized by Egyptian human rights activists.

Moushira Khattab has shown an impressive and “genuine commitment to our cause to protect Egypt’s Jewish heritage,” said the statement from Magda Haroun, the Jewish community’s leader.

Egypt’s Jewish community is made up of six Jews, including Magda.

In Egypt, Khattab has been criticized for not speaking up against some of the government’s repressive policies, such as shutting down public libraries founded by a top rights lawyer.

But Haroun said Khattab is a “courageous woman who has the talent of successfully taking on challenging causes,” citing a 1990s campaigning for women’s rights when Kattab served as a top aide to the country’s first lady at the time, Suzanne Mubarak.