Co-authored by Richard Rossin, Mohamed Sifaoui and Pascal Bruckner
We the undersigned appeal to the heads of state of the 58 countries responsible for the election this month of the future director-general of UNESCO and to the heads of state of the 193 members of the U.N. General Assembly responsible for ratifying the choice.
Koichiro Matsuura, the outgoing director-general of UNESCO, has successfully restored the prestige of an institution which since 1945 has been entrusted with the mission of mobilizing "the conscience of humankind in the cause of peace" and which is the guardian of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The September election brings together eight candidates from different countries. But one of them, Farouk Hosni, Egypt's minister of culture for the past 20 years, threatens UNESCO's legitimacy, competence and means of action.
We launch an urgent and solemn appeal to prevent the moral and financial meltdown of the institution.
UNESCO's legitimacy is endangered by the candidacy of a minister who has controlled Egyptians' freedom of thought for 20 years, who prosecutes Internet users, who censors independent filmmakers, who tracks down intellectuals and artists who do not share his opinions. By sending dissident voices to prison (notably the courageous Egyptian bloggers), by censoring films, books and concerts, Hosni has worked to reduce the heirs of the Pharaohs and the library of Alexandria to mindless obeisance.
Hosni has shown an inability to understand the Other and his differences. Even if he retracts his anti-Semitic statements, which have been deservedly condemned, this man -- a man who has turned students over to the security forces just for expressing contrary ideas -- cannot lead UNESCO, the institution for intercultural understanding and respect for the opinion of others.
Also endangered is UNESCO's capacity for action and that of the 320 or more NGOs that work with it. For how will a minister of culture whose closest associates have been convicted of corruption persuade the international community that he will properly manage the institution's finances? Some larger countries have already confidentially said that it will be necessary for them to review their relations with UNESCO under so unqualified a director and in such a dishonest environment.
We call upon intellectuals, scientists, artists and scholars the world over, from north to south, from Western and non-Western countries, from Africa, from the Arab world and Asia, and from Egypt itself, to protest the election of Farouk Hosni.
The minister who has for 20 years managed Egypt's cultural heritage by leaving the door open to corruption, hastening Egypt's brain-drain and the disappearance of its treasures, cannot hold the foremost cultural position in the world.
To sign this appeal, please click here and put your name and profession under "comments." It will be added to the list of signers.