15 MAY 2016


While the campaign for a new U.N. Secretary-General is gaining ground, there seems to be a confusing battle for the post of Director General of UNESCO in Paris. Although officially the post will be available next year in November in 2017, apparently the official Secretary-General candidature of Ms. Irina Bokova has led a number of individuals to throw their names in right now for a possible selection before the end of this year.

While most delegations have kept their distance, there are already some almost farcical nominations. In an interview with a Lebanese television reporter, Professor Ghassan Salamé, the highly regarded intellectual of Sciences Po and former Minister of Education, publicly declared his interest in the post. However, it turned out that the Lebanese government had already agreed to support another sort of doormat candidate by the name of Ms. Vera El Khoury, who officially represents the island of St. Lucia. She may not even be Lebanese, but when questioned, a government minister said that they had approached Professor Salamé, who had indicated lack of interest, and so they went along with Ms. Khoury, who apparently was pushed by another Lebanese expatriate who made enormous amounts of money in Nigeria, but officially represents a Caribbean island in UNESCO.

At least three main columnists in the pan-Arab press wrote highlighting the great qualifications of Professor Salamé of Sciences Po, while hitting at both Ms. Khoury and the Nigerian expatriate. Meanwhile there was a dinner at Sciences Po for awarding a U.N. former envoy Lakhdar Brahimi an honorary degree, where Ms. Bokova of UNESCO sagaciously attended, and was approached amicably so she could pronounce on the matter, from which she obviously kept a distance. Yet, unknown to all previous campaigners, a dinner was also hosted in Paris by the Minister of Education of the state of Qatar, a former delegate to the U.N. in Geneva and New York, Dr. Hamad Al-Kawari, mainly to hint that he actually was the official candidate for UNESCO, as approved by the League of Arab States and the States of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Now all of these theatrical moves most likely wasted time. We certainly wish Ms. Bokova the best in getting the post of UN Secretary-General, but the campaign to replace her will still take time and of course will be an open contest for other potential candidates in due course. With all due regard to Professor Ghassan Salamé, an accomplished intellectual and former U.N. advisor, his chances as well as those of Ms. Khoury will certainly be curtailed by the more effective preparatory resources of the state of Qatar. Yet again, it is an embarrassment for the Arab world, which they do not need at this particular time.