Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Thursday, 28 May 2009 13:06 UK

Egypt's Unesco hopeful in book burning row

Farouk Hosny
Farouk Hosny has been Egypt's top cultural official since 1987

Doubts still surround the prospects for Egypt's candidate to lead Unesco, the UN's cultural arm, despite his public apology for past anti-Israeli remarks.

Farouk Hosny, who is Egypt's culture minister, expressed "solemn regret" over a May 2008 pledge to burn Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.

Israel withdrew its protest about Mr Hosny's candidature following a request from Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarak.

But Jewish European cultural groups continued to object to the candidacy.

Opponents of Mr Hosny's candidature have cited his response to a question in parliament in May 2008 from an opposition MP about whether Israeli books were held by the new library in Alexandria.

He said: "Burn these books; if there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you."

'Man of peace'

Writing in the French newspaper Le Monde on Wednesday, Mr Hosny said: "I want to solemnly say that I regret the words that I used."

Elie Wiesel
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has led protests against Hosny's candidature

"I am a man of peace. I know that peace comes through understanding and respect. In the name of these values I want to go back on the words that I used, which were taken as an appeal to burn Hebrew books."

He admitted that his words had been shocking, but he said they had not been premeditated but had shown his indignation about the "tragic" plight of Palestinians.

He added that he abhorred "racism, negating others or any move to harm Jewish culture or any culture".

At the time, Mr Hosny said he had used a popular expression in Egypt to indicate that something did not exist.

The Wiesenthal Centre said the book-burning statement was redolent of "the language and actions of Nazi 'Minister of Culture' Josef Goebbels".

'Insane' declarations

The exact details of the deal Benjamin Netanyahu struck when he met Hosni Mubarak have not been disclosed, but officials confirmed Israel's U-turn which came before Mr Hosny's apology.

The list of candidates for the job of director general of Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, closes on Saturday and a vote will be held in October.

Mr Hosny is not worthy of the Unesco appointment by displaying his lack of respect for others' cultures
Dan, Ottowa

An open letter by prominent Jewish intellectuals Claude Lanzmann, Bernard-Henri Levy and Elie Wiesel protested against Mr Hosny's candidature in the strongest terms.

They said the book burning comment was just one of many "insane declarations... of hate and error" accompanying a "frenzy of conspiracy theories" that Mr Hosny had made.

They quoted him saying in 2001: "Israeli culture is an inhuman culture... aggressive, racist, pretentious... based on a simple principle, stealing that which does not belong to it and then claiming it as its own."

Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979, which has brought political, security and economical contacts, but Egyptian cultural figures have largely shunned any co-operation with Israelis.

Hosny, a 71-year-old abstract artist who is believed to be close to President Mubarak, has been Egyptian culture minister for more than 20 years.

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The Times Hebrew book-burning minister Farouk Hosni is front-runner to head Unesco - 11 hrs ago Book-burning row clouds Egypt's bid for UNESCO job - 31 hrs ago Israeli Book-Burning Row Clouds Egypt's Bid For Unesco Job - 32 hrs ago
New York Times Candidacy for Unesco by Egyptian Is Faltering - 34 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Arab favourite for Unesco's top job apologises for 'book burning' remarks - 66 hrs ago

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