CAIRO (Reuters) – The Egyptian candidate who lost a bid to head the U.N. culture and education body after a row over remarks last year that he was ready to burn Israeli books has blamed the United States and Jewish lobby for his defeat.
Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni lost to Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, a former Bulgaria foreign minister, in this week’s final round of voting to lead the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
Egypt, in 1979, became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel but relations have stayed cool, while many Egyptians and Arabs remain deeply opposed to Israel for occupying Palestinian land and are against any normalization.
“The campaign against me in UNESCO was spearheaded in public by the United States, and several European states cooperated,” Hosni told the Friday edition of the state-run Al-Akbar.
“There were those playing behind the scenes, and they were the Jewish organizations and lobby who lit a fire of lies against me,” he added.
Egyptian analysts said Hosni, had he won the UNESCO ballot, would have had to walk a tightrope on the issue of cultural ties with Israel to avoid alienating either constituents in the Arab and Muslim world or European and Western nations backing him.
Hosni, 71, had been favorite to become the Arab world’s first UNESCO director-general, but his candidacy created outrage amongst Jewish organizations, while media rights activists accused him of turning a blind eye to censorship in Egypt.
Since the 1979 peace deal, the United States has provided billions of dollars of military and other aid to Egypt. However, many in the region criticize Washington for what they say is its unwavering backing of Israel against the Palestinians.
Speaking to other Egyptian media, Hosni spoke of a “conspiracy,” echoing comments by other officials who have suggested big countries created a voting block against him.
Hosni stirred fierce controversy last year in an angry exchange in the Egyptian parliament, when he said he would burn Israeli books if he found them in Egyptian libraries. He has also been quoted as calling Israeli culture “inhuman.”
A painter who has served as culture minister for more than two decades, Hosni later said he regretted the comments.
(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)