Ex-French cul­ture min­is­ter to head UNESCO

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

French for­mer Cul­ture Min­is­ter Au­drey Azoulay was named to head the U.N.’s embattled cul­tural agency Fri­day, beat­ing her Qatari ri­val af­ter a po­lit­i­cally charged con­test clouded by Gulf ten­sions and ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-Is­rael bias.

Azoulay, 49, came from be­hind af­ter six rounds of vot­ing to de­feat Ha­mad bin Ab­du­laziz al-Kawari, also a for­mer cul­ture min­is­ter, af­ter he failed to pick up sup­port from other Gulf states that are part of an Arab coali­tion blockad­ing Qatar. The vote was 30 to 28.

The cam­paign to suc­ceed UNESCO’s out­go­ing chief Irina Bokova was over­shad­owed by Wash­ing­ton’s an­nounce­ment Thurs­day that it planned to with­draw from the Paris-based body af­ter years of ten­sions over de­ci­sions seen as crit­i­cal of Is­rael. Is­rael it­self an­nounced shortly after­wards that it would fol­low suit.

Azoulay, who is Jewish of Moroc­can ori­gin, will face the dif­fi­cult task of try­ing to per­suade the United States and Is­rael to re­main as mem­bers, as well as tack­ling the al­le­ga­tions of anti-Is­rael bias.

Just as daunt­ing will be her job of re­form­ing the agency strug­gling un­der the weight of a bu­reau­cracy that has be­come un­wieldy over the seven decades since its foun­da­tion.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron hailed her vic­tory on Twit­ter, say­ing: “France will con­tinue to fight for science, ed­u­ca­tion and cul­ture in the world.”

Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists be­fore Fri­day’s vote, Azoulay said if elected she would “re­store the ef­fec­tive­ness and cred­i­bil­ity” of UNESCO, which she said was un­der­go­ing a “deep po­lit­i­cal cri­sis”.

Le­banon’s can­di­date Vera ElKhoury, who bowed out at the fourth round of vot­ing, told AFP that the power game at play in the race had shown UNESCO mem­bers “did not give a damn” about the can­di­dates’ pro­grams.

Azoulay had edged out Egyp­tian rights ac­tivist Moushira Khat­tab ear­lier Fri­day as the main chal­lenger to Al-Kawari, the fron­trun­ner un­til the fi­nal run-off.

Arab states be­lieved the job of di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the 195-mem­ber or­ga­ni­za­tion should go to one of them for the first time, but re­gional ri­val­ries and the U.S. and Is­raeli with­drawals un­der­cut their am­bi­tions.

Egyp­tian For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shoukry, who was in Paris for the vote, “urged all his friends to vote for France” in­stead of Qatar in the fi­nal round, a mem­ber of Khat­tab’s del­e­ga­tion told AFP.

In the face of the Arab di­vi­sions, France pre­sented Azoulay as a con­sen­sus fig­ure who could mend fences and soothe ten­sions caused by re­cent res­o­lu­tions against Is­rael.

“Now more than ever UNESCO needs a project ... which re­stores con­fi­dence and over­comes po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions,” the French For­eign Min­istry said in re­sponse to the U.S. pull­out.

Qatar has gen­er­ously funded UNESCO in re­cent years and lob­bied in­ten­sively for the post, which would have helped bol­ster its in­ter­na­tional sta­tus at a time when it faces iso­la­tion in the Gulf.

UNESCO is best known for pro­duc­ing a list of World Her­itage sites in­clud­ing tourist fa­vorites such as the Grand Canyon or Cam­bo­dia’s Angkor Wat, but it also runs science, me­dia train­ing and cul­tural pro­grams in­ter­na­tion­ally. –

Azoulay ar­rives at the coun­cil hall at UNESCO’s head­quar­ters in Paris.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lebanon

© PressReader. All rights reserved.