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What Egyptian artists and intellectuals want you to know about the man who might lead the world cultural body.
Hosni “succeeded to make a link between many intellectuals and the state,” he said. “You have many intellectuals with a real interest to support the state, to support Farouk Hosni. They forget their duty and become agents of the Ministry of Culture.”
According to Al Aswany, Hosni is guilty of using nepotism and corruption to cultivate a class of cultural sycophants, who won’t challenge the status quo.
Osama Nassar, adviser to the minister, is accompanying Hosni to the Unesco vote. In a phone call from Paris, he responded angrily to the charges.
“That’s the claim of some people who do not know what they’re talking about,” Nassar said. “He has always fought for the freedom of expression.”
It may be, though, that the nature of his job requires Hosni to balance his intellectual principles as a painter (which he is, by trade) and his duty under a heavy-handed regime.
“Hosni still keeps his job, not only because he’s a good minister of culture, but because he serves the cultural requirements of the regime,” said Rashwan, of the Al-Ahram Center.
The rise of Islam in Egypt under Mubarak has presented a unique challenge to the regime. As the country’s culture has trended more conservative, the government has had to find a way to out Islam the Islamists in order to stay effective, says Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian intellectual and writer who has been critical of Hosni’s bid to run Unesco.
Hosni has been at the forefront of that effort. Even though the government is a secular one, “they need to use the aura of religion” to retain popular support, said Eltahawy.
Both Hosni’s 2001 book banning efforts and his 2008 outburst against Israeli literature came in response to comments made by Islamist members of parliament.
Much of his censorship of television and film is designed so as not to offend the increasingly conservative Muslim sensibilities of regular Egyptians.
But because of his willingness to play politics, says Eltahawy, the world can’t know what it’s getting in Hosni as Unesco chief.
“Giving him the head of Unesco is rewarding a man who has abandoned his principles as an artist for the sake of political power,” she said. “You can’t pin him down. You can’t figure out what sort of values he has.”
The voting begins on Thursday and may last several rounds. Win or not, Hosni has revealed a fault line in the Middle East, one centered around freedom of expression in a part of the world where not much is considered “free.”