- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Could an international organization dedicated to freedom of expression and protecting “the world’s inheritance of books” possibly elect a book burner as its director general? Lord forbid. Yet that is exactly what may happen today in a runoff election for director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

UNESCO’s stated mission is to serve as a “laboratory of ideas” while promoting education and “working to create the conditions for genuine dialogue based upon respect for shared values and the dignity of each civilization and culture.” In yesterday’s fourth round of voting, Egypt’s Faruq Hosni earned an exact 29-29 tie with Bulgaria’s Irina Bokova, a long-respected diplomat and scholar. Mr. Hosni has rightly drawn widespread criticism for his association with censorship and extreme cultural bias rather than openness.

Last year, Mr. Hosni, who is his nation’s minister of culture, told Egypt’s Parliament that he would “burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt.” He later backtracked, but close observers say his record is full of examples of abuses against cultural and media freedom.

The group Reporters Without Borders concluded that Mr. Hosni “has been one of the leading protagonists of government censorship … constantly seeking to control both press freedom and his fellow citizens’ right of freedom of information.” The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has taken a strong stand against him, as has Nobel laureate and famed Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel.

Mr. Wiesel is right that UNESCO would bring great “shame” upon itself by electing such a man to lead it. The final runoff election is today. Mr. Hosni is clearly the wrong choice.