To Farouk Hosni’s fans, it seems the only conceivable objection to crowning him global protector of culture is his public habit of making anti-Israel slurs, notably last year’s offer to burn Hebrew books. “If he had held his tongue, perhaps a red carpet would await Farouk Hosni in France,” an article in Le Figaro lamented last week, as the Egyptian Culture Minister landed in Paris ahead of this week’s meeting to decide the next chief of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (more commonly known as Unesco).Mr Hosni, too, tells everyone that he has changed his mind on the subject, does not want to burn Hebrew books and thinks people should judge him on the whole of his career.
Cairo is now scrambling to quash any stray quibbles with his candidacy ahead of a vote this week on his appointment. To this end, since the Unseco job campaign began, Egypt has announced plans to allow the translation of Israeli books while feverishly "contextualizing" Mr. Hosni's past tirades against the Jewish state. And last month Egypt ostentatiously unveiled the ongoing restoration of an important synagogue in Cairo.Well, let us hope they do judge him on his entire career. Then again, it appears to be entirely appropriate for UNESCO.
That scramble, sincere or not, cannot erase Mr. Hosni's sorry record as a culture czar in general. Human-rights activists are not the only ones reeling at the thought of one of Egypt's pre-eminent censors being named standard-bearer in Unesco's self-described goal to "build peace in the minds of men." One can only imagine the peace in the minds of thousands of Egyptian writers, bloggers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, lecturers, broadcasters and other culture-purveyors who have been tortured, harassed, imprisoned or banned in Egypt since Mr. Hosni took office in 1987. Or the 100-plus heavy-metal fans arrested there over the last decade for their supposed Satanism. Or any of the remaining 80 million Egyptians regularly denied access to any new ideas their government deems harmful.