Arab ri­val­ries ex­posed as Egypt tar­gets Qatar in UNESCO vote

The Jerusalem Post - - REGIONAL NEWS - • By JOHN IR­ISH

PARIS (Reuters) – Arab states may want their turn at the helm of UNESCO, but the barbs hurled by Egypt at ri­val can­di­date Qatar dur­ing the vote high­lights the frac­tious geopol­i­tics par­a­lyz­ing the work­ings of the UN cul­tural agency.

The Paris-based body is known for des­ig­nat­ing world her­itage sites like the an­cient city of Palmyra in Syria and Grand Canyon Na­tional Park, but it has strug­gled for rel­e­vance as it be­comes in­creas­ingly hob­bled by re­gional ri­val­ries and a lack of money.

Af­ter two days of a se­cret bal­lot that could run un­til Fri­day, Qatar’s Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari leads France’s Au­drey Azoulay and Egyp­tian hope­ful Moushira Khat­tab. Three other can­di­dates, in­clud­ing from Le­banon, trail.

The row be­tween Qatar and Egypt has its roots in the cri­sis en­gulf­ing Qatar and its Gulf Arab neigh­bors, which have sev­ered diplo­matic, trade and travel ties with Doha af­ter ac­cus­ing it of spon­sor­ing hard-line Is­lamist groups, a charge Qatar de­nies.

“The dis­pute has been bub­bling for sev­eral months, but what we’re see­ing with the Arab can­di­dates is that they are ex­tremely di­vided. Some of the clashes are quite vir­u­lent,” said one UNESCO am­bas­sador.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most pop­u­lous state to join the boy­cott of Qatar, has not shied from mak­ing its feel­ings about Qatar’s UNESCO bid clear.

In an in­ter­view with the monthly mag­a­zine Egypt To­day and retweeted by the For­eign Min­istry, Egypt’s top diplo­mat Sameh Shoukry sug­gested Qatar was us­ing its fi­nan­cial power to in­flu­ence UNESCO’s 58-mem­ber ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil.

“It is an or­ga­ni­za­tion that is owned by in­ter­na­tional so­ci­ety and can­not be sold to a par­tic­u­lar state or in­di­vid­ual,” he was quoted as say­ing when asked about the Qatari can­di­date’s cam­paign logo “I‘m not com­ing empty handed.”

A diplo­mat at Qatar’s em­bassy in Paris de­clined to com­ment. A Qatari of­fi­cial at UNESCO’s head­quar­ters also de­clined im­me­di­ate com­ment.

Egyp­tian can­di­date Khat­tab’s first mes­sage on Twit­ter in three months was a re-tweet of an ar­ti­cle in the Is­raeli press ti­tled “Is­rael be­moans emerg­ing Qatari vic­tory in UNESCO lead­er­ship vote.”

Kawari, the Qatari can­di­date, has so far not re­acted to the Egyp­tian al­le­ga­tions, sim­ply tweet­ing on Wed­nes­day: “Al-Kawari tipped to head UNESCO.”

Vot­ing lasts over a max­i­mum five rounds. If the two fi­nal­ists end level, they draw lots.

“You get the im­pres­sion that some are play­ing pol­i­tics and com­pet­ing for the sake of hav­ing a post rather than ac­tu­ally want­ing to se­cure the fu­ture of the or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said a Euro­pean diplo­mat.

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