Egypt’s controversial candidate for UNESCO director general failed to win an absolute majority in a ballot of world envoys on Friday, with the vote now set to head to a third round, a spokesman said.
Envoys to the United Nations cultural organisation started voting Thursday for a successor to Japan’s Koichiro Matsuura as director general, with the Faruq Hosni, Egypt’s culture minister for 22 years, seen as the frontrunner.
One of nine candidates, Hosni fell short of the 30 votes needed to win election, and a third ballot was set for Saturday, the UNESCO spokesman said.
According to a diplomat at the organisation, the 71-year-old Hosni secured 23 of the votes from UNESCO’s 58-nation executive council.
Hosni nevertheless held a comfortable lead over his three nearest rivals: European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner with nine votes, Bulgarian ex-foreign minister Irina Bokova, who won eight, as did Ecuador’s Ivonne Baki.
The Egyptian is seeking to become the first representative from the Arab world to head the UN agency mandated to promote global understanding through culture, education and science.
Supporters say the Egyptian’s election would send a positive signal from the West to the Muslim world, but the race has been clouded by charges that anti-Israel comments made last year make him unfit for the role.
Hosni’s detractors include Auschwitz survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who says his appointment would “shame” the global community, as well as the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre and US and French intellectuals.
In his long career, Hosni has often been accused of promoting anti-Semitism, in particular when he told the Egyptian parliament in May last year: “I’d burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt.”
Fighting off the charges ahead of the first round of voting, Hosni insisted his comment was part of an angry exchange with hardliners from the Muslim Brotherhood and was taken out of context.
He told France 24 television he had been referring only to “Israeli books that insult Islam,” which he was accused of tolerating in Egypt’s libraries.
The appointment is to be endorsed in October by the 193-member assembly of UNESCO.