Egypt Pulse

Is an Egyptian version of UNESCO in the making?

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Article Summary
After losing in the runoff to the top post at UNESCO, Moushira Khattab proposed the establishment of an Egyptian UNESCO to help promote culture, education and heritage.

“Let’s establish UNESCO Egypt,” said Ambassador Moushira Khattab, Egypt's candidate for the position of director general of UNESCO, after losing the runoff against French candidate Audrey Azoulay, 31 to 25 votes, on Oct. 13.

Khattab reiterated her call to establish UNESCO Egypt during an interview with Hamdi Rizk on his show "Al-Nazra" on Sada al-Balad on Oct. 19. “Egypt’s battle at UNESCO is far from over. This is why I call on establishing UNESCO Egypt, as we have some of the finest authors, intellectuals and artists,” she said, noting that this is also a call to restore peace, freedom, justice and mercy in Egypt.

Mohamed al-Orabi, Khattab’s election campaign manager, told Al-Monitor, “Khattab’s call to establish an organization that carries UNESCO’s objectives aims to restore Egypt’s cultural stature through a current that preserves heritage and culture, fights discrimination and supports human rights. This organization can be an Egyptian tool to support any cultural or educational project in the country.”

UNESCO seeks to contribute to peace building, poverty eradication, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, science and culture. It is working toward a number of all-inclusive goals, such as ensuring quality education for all and lifelong learning, and addressing emerging social and ethical challenges, as well as promoting cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace.

Orabi said, “The nucleus of this proposed organization will be launched from Khattab’s own campaign. We will hold meetings in the coming weeks to lay out the basic steps for the implementation of the Egyptian UNESCO project, decide on an official name and identify the stages of its composition and the criteria for selecting its members.”

He added, “The establishment of an Egyptian organization that works to implement UNESCO's objectives will contribute to increase Egypt's chances in the next UNESCO elections in 2021. The organization’s goals will help improve the cultural, educational and heritage conditions in Egypt and enhance the status of Egyptian citizens in their own society.”

Orabi noted, “The parliament will contribute to this organization, which will be sponsored by the parliamentary Culture and Media Committee. The project will be presented to the members of the committee so their proposals and contributions can be taken into account.”

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at the faculty of economics and political science at the University of Cairo, criticized the proposal to establish an Egyptian UNESCO, saying, “Establishing a UNESCO-like organization in Egypt is pointless. We already have governmental bodies with the same goals, such as the Ministry of Antiquities with its role in preserving heritage and archaeological sites, and the Ministry of Education that has an educational role.”

He added, “The establishment of this organization will not help Egypt win the next UNESCO elections because the real crisis is how the ruling regime deals with human rights issues and other issues of interest to UNESCO and the international community.”

“The priority of the ruling regime should be to solve the problems that distort Egypt's image abroad such as human rights issues, the poor educational process in Egypt and neglecting Egypt’s archaeology, instead of focusing on adopting Khattab’s proposal to establish an organization that will not bring anything new to the table,” Nafaa said. “This does, however, seem like an attempt by Khattab to overcome her loss in the UNESCO elections.”

The annual report of the National Council for Human Rights issued Sept. 30 found that the human rights situation in Egypt is disastrous. The report criticized the security services’ practice of coercive disappearances in isolation from legal guarantees, in addition to the lack of freedom in the media.

Parliamentarian Tamer Abdelkader, a member of the parliament’s Culture and Media Committee, welcomed the call to establish an Egyptian organization with UNESCO’s objectives. “The parliament will support this organization after negotiating and discussing its specific objectives and how state institutions can cooperate with it,” Abdelkader told Al-Monitor.

“Establishing an Egyptian UNESCO does not conflict with the work of other ministries. There must be a representative from each ministry whose functions are linked to the organization's goals,” he noted. Abdelkader believes ministry representatives would prevent any conflict and help coordinate between UNESCO Egypt and the government.

Abdelkader added, “This organization should not, however, be referred to as the Egyptian UNESCO, so that it would not be interpreted as a reaction to Egypt’s loss at the UNESCO elections. It would be better to find another name for it.”

For his part, Tarek Fahmi, a professor of political science at the University of Cairo, told Al-Monitor, “We do not need an organization that meets the objectives of UNESCO. There is the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization, an Arab organization that carries the objectives of UNESCO. Egypt also has a number of civil society organizations working on spreading culture, such as the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, an organization that promotes culture and community awareness, in addition to a number of other organizations.”

He added, “It would be better for Khattab’s campaign to join any of the cultural development organizations working on the ground rather than establishing a new organization with alternatives in Egypt.”

Fahmi noted, “Khattab’s campaign has gained experience in dealing with issues of interest to UNESCO, and Egypt should benefit from this experience by supporting development institutions that are already working on implementing UNESCO's goals.”

George Mikhail is a freelance journalist who specializes in minority and political issues. He graduated from Cairo University in 2009 and has worked for a number of Egyptian newspapers.

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