Paris, 14 September 2009

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has documented expressions and actions of an antisemitic nature by Egyptian candidate for UNESCO Director-General, Farouk Hosni. These cover his more than two decades as Minister of Culture and include:

  • his characterization of Jews in stereotypes of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
  • his invitation to Egypt of convicted French Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy
  • his insensitive description of the Holocaust, at a UNESCO ceremony this summer, as "a transgression against Muslims, a transgression against Islam"
  • his allusion to the newly-arrived United States Ambassador to UNESCO, only two weeks ago, as hostile to his candidacy because he is "a Jew"
  • his reported prevention of Jews of Egyptian origin from gaining access to their archives in Cairo and Alexandria, allegedly suggesting that this could lead to spurious claims for abandoned property
  • his obstruction of cultural cooperation and normalization of relations with Israel, in violation of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty
  • his notorious May 2008 Goebbels-style statement to the Egyptian Parliament – first exposed by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre – declaring that, "if I find one Israeli book on Egyptian soil, I will personally burn it."
  • as Minister of Culture, Mr Hosni has done nothing to restrain the compulsively virulent antisemitism of Al-Rahma TV of Egypt, let alone condemn it (see children's programmes of 13 February and 6 March 2009)

Minister Hosni has denied, admitted and justified such expressions; apologized then repeated them; shown remorse in French, but recidivism in Arabic; even seeking, as electioneering ploys, to recruit endorsement from uninformed Jewish personalities.

The above-mentioned examples of apparent racist rhetoric and actions should be unacceptable everywhere, but they are certainly anathema to that temple of culture and dialogue between civilizations called UNESCO.

Mr Hosni, as Director-General, would destroy UNESCO for years to come.

Mr Hosni is unfit, not because he is an Egyptian. The 1999 candidates included Ismail Seragaldin, a man of tolerance and peace, now Director of the UNESCO-sponsored Alexandria Library.

Mr Hosni is unfit, not due to his enduring hostility to Jews and Israel – though that should suffice.

Mr Hosni is unfit to be the United Nations culture Czar, above all, due to his failure as a guardian of culture in his own country.

A coalition of Arab human rights organizations, on 30 March 2009, issued a forthright statement from Cairo :
"Egypt: Nomination of Minister of Culture for the Post of Director-General of UNESCO is inconsistent surrounding the trial of a writer before the criminal court":

"It is ridiculous how the Egyptian Government nominates a person who is unable to protect intellectuals and artists in his own country, for such a post."

The signatories (The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information [ANHRI]; Hisham Mubarak Law Center; The Institute for Freedom of Thought and Expression; and The Egyptian Society for the Promotion of Community Participation) condemned the Cairo trial of novelist, Magdi El-Shafei. His novel, "Metro", was charged as "contrary to public morals" and its publication and distribution were considered criminal acts meriting two years imprisonment.

It must be emphasized that this author had been awarded the 2006 literary UNESCO Honorable Mention in the category of African comics.

ANHRI had lamented that it was in September 1981- i.e. 28 years ago - that "the Government arbitrarily jailed hundreds (of intellectuals)". [For 22 of those years, Farouk Hosni was Minister of Culture.]
ANHRI continued, "many in Egypt still dread the month of September", when writers and intellectuals face Egyptian courts for "promoting sedition, undermining the state's stability and violating its "Law of Shame".

A year ago, ANHRI had also protested the prevention of a poetry and song "patriotic unity" gathering of intellectuals against extremism and sectarian violence. Police dispersed 80 cultural leaders. Yet, Minister of Culture, Farouk Hosni, did not speak out on their behalf.

When the novel "Metro" was officially and forcibly confiscated from UNESCO laureate El-Shafei's publisher, ANHRI's legal aid lawyer defined this prosecution of literary works as "completely killing creativity and freedom of expression".

Ironically, this September - the feared month of cultural repression in Egypt - the Executive Board of UNESCO, the same body that championed 'Article 19' to define freedom of expression, is electing a new Director-General.

That choice cannot be a candidate, who is charged with bigotry and who has allowed – under his watch – the violation of cultural and intellectual freedoms.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre stands in solidarity with the afore-mentioned Arab human rights organizations - in the hope that, at UNESCO, wisdom will prevail.