UNITED NATIONS. THE UNESCO POST

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2009

THE UNESCO POST

The long distance runner, Farouk Husni, Egypt's Minister of Culture, is soldiering on although facing still opposition from influential sources. The real position of two key voters, the United States and France, is not clear. A very active Ambassador of Egypt in Paris is optimistic, possibly overly optimistic, about the host country. However, there are two versions: one is that President Sarkozy, influenced by the opposition of active individuals like Elie Weizel and Jean-Bernard Levy, had sent a message to President Mubarak that he would not support Mr. Husni. Another version is that the French Prime Minister supports the nomination but the Elysee is more cautious. Foreign Minister Kouchner has indicated that since the winner will be its guest, France would not wish to take sides. That would be a polite no, while keeping options open until 17 September, when 58 members of the Executive Board will start a vote. Equally, the United States does not seem enthusiastic, although, again some Egyptian sources say that a pitch on behalf of its Culture Minister was made to President Obama during his excursion to the Pyramids. If so, no one has told the U.S. delegate to UNESCO.

Equadorian Minister Ivonne Abu Baqi, who obtained Latin America's backing, was making a special effort to get an endorsement from her country of origin, Lebanon, which is officially committed to the Egyptian in accordance with an Arab League decision. A Lebanese cabinet member and prominent Draze leader Prince Telal Arslan issued a public statement urging the Lebanese "not to abandon their sister and daughter." But with enough trouble on the Prime Minister-designate's plate and no unity government in near sight, a decision is very unlikely. Another candidate, Algerian Mohammed Bedjaoni, is running under an African flag, although officially at least the African Union had agreed on Egypt's proposal. There are several Europeans with very little chance, like Latvia's delegate or France's ambassador to Bulgaria. But the serious one is European Commissioner Benito Waldner-Ferrero, whose varied international experience, including a stint at U.N. Headquarters in New York, makes her the most qualified candidate. She is low key and very careful not to offend, which may not work to her favour as she just recently joined the race. If elected, she would be the first UNESCO female Director General.

While most decision making officials were on holiday during the month of August, all the candidates have descended on Paris before what the French call "Rentree" (the re-entry) -- when offices start to hum again. It will be days -- that is, 17 September -- before we know the real winner. But the fact that no real front runner had emerged by the first week of September places everyone's candidature up in the air.