CAIRO: “Prayers are mandatory today for all – Christian, Muslim or Bahai: Pray that God lets the Bulgarians win and strengthens them in the UNESCO elections – was the message sent out Tuesday on Twitter by Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas as the race for UNESCO director general entered its final phase.
The face-off between Bulgarian Irina Bolkova and Egypt’s incumbent Culture Minister Farouk Hosni saw bloggers and Twitter users in the Egyptian blogosphere almost unanimously rejecting Hosni’s bid for UNESCO’s top post.
While international opposition to Hosni’s bid has largely centered around his comment that he would “burn any Israeli books which appeared in the Library of Alexandria, opposition within Egypt broadly speaking has two aspects. First and foremost is his association with a regime which has consistently been accused of violating freedom of opinion and artistic expression in general. Secondly is his contribution – or failure to prevent – the deterioration of Egypt’s cultural life and heritage.
Hosni – a stalwart of Mubarak’s regime who has served in his current position for 22 years – has responded to allegations of anti-Semitism in both the international press and on his recently launched website (wwws.faroukhosny.com).
In a slightly garbled “message to the world on his website Hosni claims responsibility for his statements but appeals “to all those who are attacking me not to fall into the trap of confusion.
“To them I say, look at my life, personality and contributions to the dialogue of cultures and faiths and to the promotion of mutual understanding among people without discrimination.
“Do not look at one sentence. Review 27 years spent in the service of culture and make an assessment of what I did in the service of humanity, creativity, writers and books.
“I opened many libraries in poor villages in my country and contributed to the revival of the Alexandria Library. Who can believe in superstitious matters that would make of me an organizer of execution by burning?
Hosni writes on his website that UNESCO should “relentlessly defend freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of expression as well as independent information media [sic], [and] the right to obtain information.
He has not, however, responded to the charges brought domestically that the stifling of all forms of expression and the stagnation of culture under his tenure disqualify him from running for the UNESCO post.
On the blogsphere
For Abbas, Hosni’s election as UNESCO chief equates to “fresh recognition of, and international support for, Mubarak’s criminal regime.
“His winning is a rejection of our freedom as Egyptians, Abbas continues on Twitter.
Ursula Lindsay writing at the Arabist agrees, saying that Hosni shouldn’t be elected “not because of his disrespect for Israeli culture-but because of his much deeper, more damaging disrespect of Egyptian culture.
She continues, writing that Hosni shouldn’t win his UNESCO bid “mostly because he is the longest-serving minister (22 years) in an autocratic state that does not respect freedom of expression; because he presides over a corrupt and mediocre ministry and has acted in the interest of the regime rather than the interests of culture time and again; because he is generally loathed by Egyptian artists and writers of any standing.
Blogger Zeinobia writing at Egyptian Chronicles says of Hosni that “Egyptian culture was humiliated for two decades by the hands of this man.
“I do not need to speak about the corruption in the ministry but I will speak and say that it is enough in his time whole temples were stolen completely, our monuments from ancient times were being stolen from our museums and nobody cared, she said.
Zeinobia makes reference to the Beni Suef theater fire in September 2005 which killed 48 people unable to escape the flames because the theatre’s only exit was blocked.
While Hosni submitted his resignation during the intense criticism he received in the wake of the fire, it was rejected by the Egyptian Prime Minister.
Blogger Nora Younis meanwhile hopes that Hosni doesn’t win “only because NDP is pushing Mohamed Kamal (Gamal [Mubarak]’s office manager) to [the] Culture Minister seat.
Zeinobia says of Kamal’s holding the post “it will be a very strong sign that Gamal Mubarak is accelerating . his inheritance plan.
One of the few bloggers who have not rejected Hosni’s candidature outright is Nawara Negm writing at tahyyes.org
“That’s it, he’s Egypt’s candidate, like the national football team. I can’t stand against him, Negm writes. She adds however that “at least this way we’ll be rid of him, and nobody will die in a fire again God willing – and our antiquities will have a bit of a break. And maybe his replacement will show more concern for our Islamic antiquities.
At least some of Egypt’s antiquities are being looked after, according to blogger Mostafa Hussein – but not as you might expect.
In a post entitled “NDP Synagogue Hussein presents photos of the Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Cairo’s Hadayeq El-Qobba which has been turned into an office of the ruling National Democratic Party.
“Yes, it is ‘the most looked after’ synagogue as in the wooden floors are in a horrible shape, cables coming and going everywhere, horrible neon lights, overstuffed filing cabinets piled over each other, rusting, broken window panes replaced with cardboard and the whole sanctity of the place, that was once there and can be vaguely felt radiating from the large dome and the star of David windows, is replaced with a grim dark grey government office [Mogamaa] feel.