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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Will Farouk Hosni go down to defeat?

In the post-Camp David euphoria of 1980, I spent three days in Egypt with my grandmother a"h (may she rest in peace), visiting Cairo, Luxor and Alexandria. One of the things that we insisted was that the Egyptian tour guides take us to Jewish sites in Cairo. The Egyptians were embarrassed. There were none.

The situation has not changed much since then. The New York Times reports that the Egyptians are rebuilding a dilapidated old synagogue in which the Rambam, Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) served as Rabbi during the last years of his life. I saw that synagogue in 1980. I even have pictures of it. We went inside for no more than a few minutes. There was nothing there.

The Times says that the Egyptians are now rebuilding the synagogue - and Egyptians are discovering that a sizable Jewish community used to live in their country - as a result of their desire to get Farouk Hosni elected as the head of UNESCO. The Times reports that the Egyptians would like to go just far enough for Hosni to win, but no further.
“The irony is they have done something,” Rabbi Baker said. “It goes back at least several years now. They didn’t want to do it in a formal relationship with us. They said, ‘We accept this as our responsibility to care for our Jewish heritage, so we will do things ourselves.’”

For Egyptians like Mr. Hawass, who seems most comfortable around Pharaonic tombs and mummies, speaking about Egypt’s Jewish past with pride has required a degree of finesse. Mr. Hawass has in the past refused a suggestion by the American Jewish Committee to consider building a small museum to house Egypt’s historic Jewish artifacts, as the government has done to preserve many of Egypt’s Christian artifacts.

As he strode through the old Jewish quarter recently, waving his handwritten list of all the Jewish preservation projects he is now overseeing, Mr. Hawass said that he would not build a Jewish museum in Cairo until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved.

“If you make a museum like that while Israel is killing Palestinian children, people will kill me,” he said. “What we are doing now is not for the Jews; it is for us, for our heritage,” Egypt’s Jewish heritage.
The Times only gives brief mention to why Hosni, once the leading candidate, is in trouble.
But to appease — or please — his local constituency, he said in 2008 he would burn any Israeli book found in the nation’s premier library in Alexandria. He has apologized, but that has done little to end the attacks on his candidacy to lead an organization dedicated to promoting cultural diversity.
To the Times, Hosni has 'apologized' and therefore the controversy over his candidacy should be over. But since that hasn't worked, the Egyptians are going to bribe the Jews not to oppose Hosni's candidacy. And the bribe seems to be working: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has promised not to oppose Hosni.

In its coverage, Time Magazine asks whether Hosni is an anti-Jewish bigot. And it admits that his candidacy is in trouble:
The most notorious of Hosni's comments came during an angry exchange last May with Muslim Brotherhood legislators who suggested the Minister was softening on previously stated hostility to cultural exchanges with Israel. "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," Hosni spat back.

The chorus of voices opposing Hosni's candidacy is growing. In August, an article in Foreign Policy magazine called him a mouthpiece for "rampant Judeophobia" among Egyptian elites. "To say that Farouk Hosni doesn't much like Israel is putting it lightly," the piece began.

As a result of such comments, the number of countries which plan to support Hosni's UNESCO bid have thinned, and eight other rivals have stepped up.
But the Wall Street Journal tells us that Hosni is a bigot and should not be elected to head UNESCO. And not 'just' because he hates Israel.
But there is another reason to pause before appointing Egypt's Culture Minister as Unesco head: namely, the unbroken social, political and cultural repression in Egypt under his tenure.

Having told Agence France-Presse that he believes he has won over 32 of the 58 nations on Unesco's executive council, the 22-year steward of Egyptian culture can taste victory. Cairo is now scrambling to quash any stray quibbles with his candidacy ahead of a vote this week on his appointment. To this end, since the Unseco job campaign began, Egypt has announced plans to allow the translation of Israeli books while feverishly "contextualizing" Mr. Hosni's past tirades against the Jewish state. And last month Egypt ostentatiously unveiled the ongoing restoration of an important synagogue in Cairo.

That scramble, sincere or not, cannot erase Mr. Hosni's sorry record as a culture czar in general. Human-rights activists are not the only ones reeling at the thought of one of Egypt's pre-eminent censors being named standard-bearer in Unesco's self-described goal to "build peace in the minds of men." One can only imagine the peace in the minds of thousands of Egyptian writers, bloggers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, lecturers, broadcasters and other culture-purveyors who have been tortured, harassed, imprisoned or banned in Egypt since Mr. Hosni took office in 1987. Or the 100-plus heavy-metal fans arrested there over the last decade for their supposed Satanism. Or any of the remaining 80 million Egyptians regularly denied access to any new ideas their government deems harmful.

Even if Mr. Hosni's supporters succeed in cajoling or coercing pro-Israel groups to back their man, he would remain as suitable to lead Unesco as a Cairene cat would be to guard a stew. Try convincing jailed blogger Kareem Nabil Soliman, or blackballed satirist Ali Salem, or chronically harassed activist Wael Abbas, that Mr. Hosni's brand of cultural preservation should be exported throughout the world.
Read it all. Hosni does not deserve to head UNESCO.


At 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hosni does not deserve to head UNESCO.

On the contrary. Only scum should be heading anything having to do with the UN anymore. I prefer consistency.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

See this curious article about a current arabic tv series about Egyptian Jews of the 1920's

Arabic television lauds a Jewish Egyptian diva

At 9:57 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Considering his connection to the Egyptian President, odds are good he will become UNESCO's next chief. The automatic Third World majority in its assembly virtually assures it. Does that mean the UN will become more culturally enlightened? Just the opposite.

What could go wrong indeed


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