CAIRO — Egypt's culture minister on Wednesday blamed a conspiracy "cooked up in New York" by the world's Jews for keeping him from becoming the next head of the U.N.'s agency for culture and education.
Farouk Hosny was defeated on Tuesday by Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova in a tight race for the position of UNESCO chair.
"It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me," Hosny told reporters at the airport upon his return from Paris.
"There are a group of the world's Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position," he said.
Hosny's candidacy raised an outcry because of a threat he made in the Egyptian parliament last year to personally burn any Israeli book he found in Egypt's famed Library of Alexandria. While he later apologized and Israel said it had withdrawn its opposition to his candidacy, several prominent Jewish activists spoke out against him in the runup to the vote.
"It's not on the eve of an election that one can change one's whole personality and one's whole approach to life," said Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris, who says Hosni's election would "sink" UNESCO.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and filmmaker Claude Lanzmann wrote a protest letter listing comments they took issue with, including Hosni's 2001 description of Israeli culture as "inhumane" and "racist."
Opposition came from other quarters as well. International human rights activists, as well as some Egyptian artists and intellectuals, expressed concerns over his role in the Egyptian government's restrictions on freedom of expression.
The tight UNESCO race was closely watched, with a flurry of secretive diplomatic efforts between each round.
While Hosni was cited as a favorite for months before the election, Bokova gained ground at the last minute as other candidates dropped out, partly amid attempts to consolidate support for a strong challenger to the Egyptian candidate.
Hosny, a painter who has been Egypt's culture minister for more than two decades, made the book-burning comment in an attempt to defend himself against charges by Egyptian lawmakers of being soft on Israel.
In a damage control tactic during his campaigning for the UNESCO post, Hosny wrote in the French newspaper Le Monde that his book burning comments were made without "intention or premeditation," and should be viewed in the context of his indignation at the suffering of the Palestinian people.
Bokova joined her Foreign Ministry's U.N. and disarmament department in 1976, and was her country's foreign minister for a brief period in 1996-1997. She witnessed Bulgaria's transformation from Eastern Bloc nation to European Union member.