Egypt's foreign ministry spokesman has said Qatar's first-round win in voting for a new UNESCO director-general raises "many question marks", after the Gulf nation's candidate took a surprising lead following Monday's secret ballot.
In comments to Egyptian state TV, ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Cairo had not expected the Qatari candidate to emerge in lead position in the voting, which will continue through the week until a winner emerges.
"There are many question marks over the Qatari candidate getting that number of votes," he said.
On Monday, former Qatari culture minister Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari received 19 votes out of 58, while France's candidate Audrey Azoulay finished second with 13, followed by Egyptian diplomat Moushira Khattab in third place with 11 votes.
"I can say that it was not expected that the Qatari candidate would gain that number [of votes] for many reasons," Abu Zeid said.
While he did not go into detail on the nature of the questions surrounding Qatar's success, the foreign ministry spokesman did say that Egypt had expected more votes for its own candidate based on agreements reached with African nations.
He explained that some African countries did not act in accordance with the plan to lobby for Khattab, as agreed by the UN's African bloc hours ahead of the vote.
"We expect African leaders to talk to their permanent representatives and emphasize the importance of supporting the African Egyptian candidate," he said
A key feature of the first round, said the spokesman, was identifying "what African countries did not commit to the African stance."
He added that Cairo needs to contact African countries to make sure they vote in favour of the Egyptian candidate in subsequent rounds.
The Egypt-Qatar rivalry in the UNESCO vote comes amid an ongoing diplomatic row between Qatar and four Arab nations, including Egypt. The group of four nations has imposed a boycott on Qatar, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism.
Abu Zeid said that the first-round success of Qatar is no indication of the final outcome.
"Countries would not necessarily follow the same pattern of vote in the second round. On the contrary, there are some electoral deals that require a country to support a certain candidate only the first round," he said.
"When the candidate does not get enough votes to at least be among the top competitors ... the country moves on to support another candidate."
On Monday, 58 members of UNESCO's executive board embarked on a week-long period of voting to select a successor for outgoing Bulgarian Director-General Irina Bokova.
Delegates will continue to vote every day this week until one candidate receives a majority of votes.
Seven countries – France, China, Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Qatar and Lebanon – are currently vying for leadership of UNESCO.
In UNESCO's 72-year history, no Arab nation has ever held the position of director-general.