Egypt's Minister of Book Burning
Two months ago, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni was widely considered one of the favorites to be selected as next head of UNESCO. Now, his hopes appear to be in doubt. This article from the May 29 New York Sun explains why:
Last week, a Muslim Brotherhood member of Egypt's parliament complained about Israeli books being in Egyptian libraries. Denying that such publications were available there, Mr. Hosni retorted: "I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt."
In a letter to the current head of UNESCO, Simon Wiesenthal Center International Relations Director, Dr. Shimon Samuels, pointed out that Hosni's (pardon the pun) inflammatory remarks were part of a pattern that should disqualify him from consideration for the UNESCO post:
- He had personally invited convicted French Holocaust denier, Roger Garaudy, to speak in Cairo and to present his apology for genocide in a one-hour interview on national television (reported in the British anti-Nazi monthly SEARCHLIGHT of June 2001).
- In an interview given to the Egyptian publication Al-Arabi in May 2004, Hosni had stated that 'we consider culture as a powerful weapon which we will invoke' – a threat that he had reportedly addressed to former Israeli leaders: the late President Ezer Weitzman and Culture Minister Shulamit Aloni.
- His blockage of an initiative to establish a Museum of Egyptian Jewish History in Cairo (ynetnews.com, 14 May 2008)."
Hosni has tried to clarify his remarks, telling Egypt's Al-Ahram Weekly that his comment was merely "hyperbole". In an attempt to repair the damage, he has even offered to visit Israel. However, according to Agence France Presse, he won't be allowing Israeli cultural products into Egypt anytime soon:
In his interview, Hosni reiterated he would not allow distribution of Israeli books or movies in Egypt. "I'm not willing to have a cinema burned down in Cairo or Alexandria because an Israeli film is shown there", he said.
He added he does not hate Israel, but said it is too early for a normalization of cultural relations.
It is an open question how much Hosni is limited by Egypt's growing climate of intolerance versus how much he is a reflection of it. Either way, he should never be head of UNESCO.
(My thanks to long-time reader Davette Zinik for letting me know about this story)