PARIS (JTA) — Egypt’s culture minister blamed a Jewish "conspiracy" for his election loss to head a U.N. agency.
Bulgarian diplomat Irina Gueorguieva Bokova, 57, edged Farouk Hosny, 31-27, in a fifth and final vote for general director by UNESCO executive board members at the Paris-based organization on Tuesday night. The previous evening, the candidates were tied with 29 votes each, forcing a new election.
"It was clear by the end of the competition that there was a conspiracy against me," Hosny said Wednesday after landing in Egypt, The Associated Press reported.
"There are a group of the world’s Jews who had a major influence in the elections who were a serious threat to Egypt taking this position," he said.
Hosny initially was the favorite and backed by the French government, but as the election neared he spurred controversy in the Jewish community and elsewhere for his views on Israel and Judaism.
Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Holocaust survivor and feminist Simone Veil were among Hosny’s critics in recent weeks, citing the minister’s comments last year in which he claimed that he would personally burn any book in Hebrew criticizing Islam if he were to find one in Egypt’s Alexandria library.
Other human rights associations in France worried that Egypt has a history of censoring artists, whereas one of UNESCO’s major goals is to ensure freedom of speech. Hosny has been Egypt’s culture minister for more than 20 years.
Hosny, an artist who has exhibited work internationally, has vehemently denied that he is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel in recent French reports. In an interview with France 24 television on Sept. 16, he said he restored dozens of synagogues in Egypt and asked, “So if I was anti-Semitic, why would I (do that)?”
France 24 also asked about Hosny’s earlier comments concerning Jews and Israelis who “infiltrated the media,” and other comments describing Israeli culture as “aggressive.”
Bokova will succeed Koichiro Matsuura of Japan as head of the U.N. agency that supports arts and culture. Its 193-member general council must approve the vote in October.