Le­banese can­di­date quits UNESCO race

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Sam Bren­nan

BEIRUT: The Le­banese can­di­date for UNESCO di­rec­tor-gen­eral dropped out of the con­tentious elec­toral race Thurs­day, as the U.S. and Is­rael de­clared their with­drawal from the agency it­self.

Vera El-Khoury La­coeuilhe vol­un­tar­ily dropped out of the elec­tion ahead of the fourth round of vot­ing in Paris Thurs­day night.

“The elec­tions were very politi­cized. [They had] noth­ing to do with cul­ture and ed­u­ca­tion,” La­coeuilhe told The Daily Star. “We cam­paigned on sub­stance and ideas. Pol­i­tics were al­ways present in these elec­tions but [I’ve] never seen any­thing like this.”

Speak­ing on lo­cal news sta­tion MTV after her with­drawal, La­coeuilhe thanked the Le­banese gov­ern­ment and peo­ple for sup­port­ing the cam­paign.

“There are still a lot of bat­tles and Lebanon is rais­ing its head high,” La­coeuilhe said, adding that “we had the best cam­paign, ev­ery­one has at­tested to this. [The elec­tion] was politi­cized in a way that we have never seen be­fore. This will not help sta­bil­ity any­where in the world.”

The Le­banese diplo­mat added that can­di­dates from Arab states had aimed to close ranks around one of their num­ber from the re­gion.

This is de­spite the ten­sions be­tween the Egypt and Qatar, which have both fielded can­di­dates. The roots of the di­vide stem from the Gulf cri­sis in which Egypt and three other Arab coun­tries sev­ered ties with Qatar in June this year.

The di­rec­tor-gen­eral po­si­tion was un­of­fi­cially slated to be filled by a can­di­date from the Mid­dle East, as it is the only re­gion that has never been rep­re­sented in the post.

The agency has, how­ever, re­cently been a the­ater for po­lit­i­cal dis­putes tied to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict, caus­ing some com­men­ta­tors to con­tend that elect­ing a head from an Arab na­tion would in­ten­sify, rather than ease, ten­sions.

The re­main­ing can­di­dates after the fourth round of vot­ing rep­re­sent Qatar, France and Egypt. Qatari can­di­date Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari won 22 votes in the lat­est round, with France’s Au­drey Azoulay and Egypt’s Moushira Khat­tab draw­ing 18 votes each. Kawari and Azoulay were neck and neck after the third round.

The fourth round re­sult re­quires an elim­i­nat­ing bal­lot from the 58mem­ber UNESCO Ex­ec­u­tive Board re­stricted to the tied can­di­dates in or­der to pro­duce two con­tenders for the fi­nal vote. This bal­lot is sched­uled for 2 p.m. Fri­day in Paris; the fi­nal and fifth vote will follow at 6:30 p.m.

As the con­tentious elec­tion was un­der­way, the U.S. an­nounced its with­drawal from the agency.

Fol­low­ing the U.S. state­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Is­rael would follow suit.

“[Ne­tanyahu] wel­comed the de­ci­sion by Pres­i­dent [Don­ald] Trump to with­draw from UNESCO. This is a coura­geous and moral de­ci­sion be­cause UNESCO has be­come the the­ater of the ab­surd and be­cause in­stead of pre­serv­ing his­tory it dis­torts it,” a state­ment from Ne­tanyahu’s me­dia of­fice said.

The U.S. with­drawal will go into ef­fect on Dec. 31.

“This de­ci­sion was not taken lightly, and re­flects U.S. con­cerns with mount­ing ar­rears at UNESCO, the need for fun­da­men­tal re­form in the or­ga­ni­za­tion and con­tin­u­ing anti-Is­rael bias at UNESCO,” the U.S. State Depart­ment said in a state­ment. It added that the U.S. would seek to “re­main en­gaged … as a non­mem­ber ob­server state in or­der to con­trib­ute U.S. views, per­spec­tives and ex­per­tise.” The U.S. will also still be able to vote on the board.

The U.S. pre­vi­ously con­trib­uted around $80 mil­lion an­nu­ally to UNESCO, ac­count­ing for around a fifth of its bud­get. It now owes around $550 mil­lion in back pay­ments. How­ever, in 2011 the U.S. stopped fund­ing the agency to protest a de­ci­sion to grant Pales­tine full mem­ber­ship.

The U.S. pre­vi­ously pulled out of the or­ga­ni­za­tion in the 1980s un­der the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion but re­joined in 2003.

Is­rael’s U.N. Am­bas­sador Danny Danon said the de­ci­sion marked “a turn­ing point” for the United Na­tions. “To­day is a new day at the U.N., where there is a price to pay for dis­crim­i­na­tion against Is­rael,” Danon said. He added that “UNESCO has be­come a bat­tle­field for Is­rael-bash­ing and has dis­re­garded its true role and pur­pose.”

The U.K.’s Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said that the U.S. with­drawal was a mat­ter for them, but af­firmed her gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to the U.N. cul­tural body.

France’s am­bas­sador to the U.N., Fran­cois De­lat­tre, said UNESCO’s ideals were “part of Amer­ica’s DNA” and that “we need an Amer­ica that stays com­mit­ted to world af­fairs.”

The cur­rent di­rec­tor of UNESCO ex­pressed “pro­found re­gret” at the U.S. move. – With agen­cies

La­coeuilhe said the elec­tions were “politi­cized in ev­ery way.”

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