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Egyptian candidate for UNESCO top job loses out to Bulgarian

Egypt’s controversial culture minister, Farouk Hosni, has lost his bid to lead Unesco, earning 27 votes to Bulgarian Irina Bokova’s 31.

The vote comes as a major upset since Hosni was the early frontrunner for the post, and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had launched a major diplomatic campaign in support of Hosni. Media reported that the Egyptians had been confident they had the number of votes needed, 30, to end the campaign after one round of voting.

As GlobalPost reported last week, Hosni’s candidacy ran into serious trouble when reports surfaced that he had told an Islamist lawmaker in Egypt that he would burn Israeli books if he found any on the shelves of Egypt’s libraries.

But Egypt’s diplomatic push for Hosni was so determined, that the Israeli government later announced it would not oppose Hosni’s candidacy.

Though it garnered less international attention than the Israeli book comment, the minister’s legacy of censorship domestically drove Egyptian intellectuals to speak out loudly against him.

The voting that took place in Paris late Tuesday marked the fifth round of ballots, the most that Unesco rules allow. The field had started with nine candidates, who gradually dropped out as the rounds progressed.

While losing, Hosni still had a strong showing in his attempt to become the first Arab to lead Unesco. He earned 23 votes after the first round, more than twice his next nearest competitor, according to media in Paris.

Many commentators had said that many countries had only pledged to vote for Egypt in the first round, leading to speculation that Hosni could suffer as a result. But he won 24 votes in the second round and 25 in the third, inching closer to the 30 he needed.

The fourth round of voting, conducted Monday, resulted in both Hosni and Bokova winning 29 votes, an even split of the 58 voting delegates. Commentators have said that Bokova was able to pick up votes as other European contenders dropped out, leaving the European delegates to rally around her.

The 24 hours between votes were fraught with allegations of bribery attempts, though it was unclear which side was being accused.

In the day before the last vote, Bokova was able to sway two delegates, but it was unclear which two because the voting is conducted by secret ballot.

Farouk Hosni has long been considered one of Egypt’s cagiest politicians. He is the country’s longest serving cabinet minister, having held onto the post for 22 years.

This is remarkable because Mubarak is known to appoint and fire people in the upper reaches of the government in a way that will insure his own political survival. For one thing, Mubarak has never appointed a vice president, making him the first president of the republic not to do so. This way, many say, nobody can challenge his hold on the presidency.

The president has also been known to remove cabinet ministers he things have strayed from under his shadow. Sometimes he scraps the cabinet entirely, and rumors in the local press are growing that he will do so again later this year.

It is in this political atmosphere that Hosni’s longevity at the culture post seems so remarkable.

Egypt, which boasts a robust rumor mill, has churned out a conspiratorial account of why Mubarak pushed Hosni’s candidacy for culture minister so hard.

As one member of the opposition put it, Suzanne Mubarak is dying to get her hands on a Nobel Peace Prize. With Hosni in Paris, the theory goes, the Mubaraks would have a full time lobby in place.

That said, there is little more interesting and less trustworthy than the Egyptian rumor circuit.