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Farouk Hosni Is Tying Himself in Knots

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Mr. Farouk Hosni is making his case worse.

Backed by the Arab League, the African Union, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Egyptian candidate for Director General of UNESCO has just responded (May 27, 2009 in Le Monde) to a piece by Claude Lanzmann, Elie Wiesel, and myself that recalled the array of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic remarks that punctuate his long political career.

Of course, he does not deny any of the statements in his op-ed.

He does not deny, and for good reason, his pernicious denunciation in Ruz Al-Yusuf of the "infiltration of Jews in the international media" and of their diabolical ability to "spread" their "lies."

He does not deny his response last year to a deputy of the Egyptian Parliament who had reproached him for having allowed Israeli books to spread their poison in the revivified Alexandria Library: "Let's burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you."

He does not even try to downplay the determination with which he, a minister of the first Arab country credited with having established, under Anwar Al Sadat, quasi-normal relations with the Jewish State, is attempting to curb this normalization, to prevent it, to sabotage it.

He contents himself, he says, with simply "regretting" these horrible remarks.

And for him, "regretting" them, in concrete terms, would mean doing three things.

First, humbly asking that we should truly "take into consideration" and "put in the right context" these calls for hate and book burning.

Second, specifying that these incendiary statements, made quite literally to inflame hearts and minds, were advanced by him "without intention or premeditation."

Third, attributing them to the legitimate indignation of a man of "conscience" confronted by the unbearable sight of the "suffering undergone" by a Palestinian people "deprived of its land and its rights"--and who is occasionally given to rather "harsh" words.

We have read carefully.

The Palestinians suffer--therefore burning books written in Hebrew is proposed.

The Palestinians demand, quite rightly, a land and rights--therefore the opening of a museum of Jewish culture in Cairo is blocked.

The Palestinians want and have a right to their own State--therefore, not content to advocate the sabotage of the only successful peace initiative that, if used as a template, would result in the creation of this State, the Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy is invited to express his views on Egyptian television and in other media.

That Mr. Netanyahu, in the name of whatever obscure realpolitik calculation, is satisfied with this logic, that's his business.

To me, this logic seems barely worthy of a vandal in the outskirts of Paris who, when he is questioned after tagging a synagogue or a Jewish community center, responds in the same way: "You have to forgive me... It's not my fault... It's the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that incited me..."

In the mouth of a man of culture--doesn't Mr. Farouk Hosni take pride in opening thousands of libraries in disadvantaged villages in his country during his twenty-year tenure as Moubarak's minister?--this is the exact rehearsal of the notorious discourse of excuse that we attribute to real incendiaries: "They burn? They kill? They throw themselves headlong into the insane logic of terrorism? We shouldn't hold it against them... It was unintentional and unpremeditated... It is Palestine, always and forever Palestine, that went to their heads..."

And finally, this logic seems to me incompatible with the spirit of prudence and wisdom required of a man aspiring to the helm of a body that, even if it hasn't always been a shining example of its core ideals, remains dedicated to the diversity of cultures, to their dialogue, to the development of a spirit of tolerance and peace.

Mr. Farouk Hosni, in apologizing, is tying himself in knots.

Mr. Farouk Hosni discredits himself even more in "standing by" (in his own words) the "profound emotion" that imposes on him, since his debut in public office, his annual flight into rage.

The mediocre rhetoric of Mr. Farouk Hosni is not worthy of the homeland of Naguib Mahfouz--nor, of course, of a world more than ever summoned to banish the specter of the clash of civilizations and cultures.

The Europeans are beginning to understand this: just last week, the German parliament almost unanimously expressed its dissent about the nomination.

Arab intellectuals are beginning to worry about the deleterious effects of this affair: Abdelwahab Al-Effendi just published a thunderous piece in Al-Quds Al-Arabi, "Do Not Elect Farouk Hosni as the Head of UNESCO."

An open call to Barack Obama (slated to arrive in Cairo Thursday morning), to Nicolas Sarkozy (UNESCO headquarters are in Paris), and to others (the eminent dignity of the post should make this controversy a concern for the entire international community): before October, the date of his already claimed victory, we must block Mr. Farouk Hosni.

Translated from the French by Sara Phenix

Previously: UNESCO: The Shame of a Disaster Foretold