Egypt's Moshira Khattab eyes position of Africa's first UNESCO director-general

Menna Alaa El-Din , Saturday 7 Oct 2017

Moshira Khattab
Egyptian female ambassador Moshira Khattab in bid for UNESCO director general post (Photo Courtesy of Mohsira Khattab official website)

Moshira Khattab, acclaimed Egyptian diplomat, human rights advocate and the official nominee for director-general of the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is campaigning to be the organisation's first African leader. 

Permanent delegates of the African group countries met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry last Friday in Paris, where they expressed their support for Egypt’s candidate. 

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said the meeting aimed to coordinate positions within the framework of the African support for Egypt's candidate for the UNESCO Director-General post, two days before elections for the UNESCO top post kick off. This move came to implement the decision of African leaders to support Egypt's candidate for UNESCO's top post.

During the meeting, Shoukry voiced appreciation for the African support for the Egyptian candidate, asserting the importance of mass African moves to support Khattab especially in such a critical time in which the competition has been intensified.

The ballot for the position is set to be held on Monday in France.

With extensive experience in international diplomacy, the first Egyptian female candidate is looking to become the second woman to lead the organisation, replacing current director-general Irina Bokova, an ex-Bulgarian foreign minister who was the first woman to claim the position in 2009, as well as in 2013.

Khattab is up against a number of director-general hopefuls, including Lebanon’s Vera El Khoury-Lacoeuilhe, Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kawari, Azerbaijan’s Polad Bülbüloglu, Guatemala's Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria and Vietnam's Pham Sanh Chau. She faces strong competition from China’s Tang Qian, UNESCO’s assistant director-general for educatio and former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay.

Former Iraqi candidate Salah Al-Hasnawi voiced his support for Khattab after dropping out of the race, which he says "reflects the progress in Iraqi-Egyptian ties, which are intended to reach wide horizons on all levels and in all fields."

In an aim to push with efforts to secure Khattab’s win, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry travelled to Paris on Thursday to support her candidacy.

The 73-year-old Khattab kicked off her campaign in July 2016 after her candidacy was announced in Cairo.

"As director-general for UNESCO, I will make sure we stay true to our timeless mission with rigorous determination to address the root causes of obstacles to achieving a sustainable impact," she vows. 

The organisation is one of the first institutions to "actively fight against prejudice and discrimination and for the defense of human rights and the protection of cultural heritage," adopting an integrated strategy to combat racism, discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerence.

Who is Khattab?

A former ambassador and minister, Khattab has been trying to win the hearts of nations through a series of foreign trips throughout the past months to win the neck-in-neck race.

Khattab was born in Cairo in 1944.

She graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University in 1967, and holds a PHD on child rights from Cairo University, as well as an M.A. in International Relations from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA.

She joined the ministry of foreign affairs to start her diplomatic career in 1968. She became Egypt's ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1990 to 1995, and later the ambassador to South Africa from 1995 to 1999.

Shortly after the end of her diplomatic career in 1999, she shifted her focus to human rights, serving as secretary-general of the country's National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), where she tackled the issues of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage.

Through her work as secretary-general from 2003 to 2008, she pushed to criminalise child trafficking and FGM, as well as other forms of discrimination and violence, through the adoption of Law 126 in 2008, which is in accordance with the worldwide Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Her work throughout the 2000s led to Egypt raising the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years, with the punishment of violators, after a series of efforts to address child marriages in poor provinces and stressing the need for reform.

She was appointed as minister of family and population from March 2009 to February 2011.

During her short term as minister, she launched an initiative to establish and chair a committee on ethics and moral values, focusing on dealing with gender and religious-based discrimination and promoting a culture that esteems human rights and the rule of law.

UNESCO elections

The selection of candidates will begin on 9 October and the vote will be by secret ballot of the executive board, which includes 58 member states.

The winner must be supported by 30 of the 58 members of the board and then approved by the 195 members of the UNESCO General Assembly.

If no required majority is reached, a second round of ballot casting will be held on 10 October, with the ballot extending to a fifth round on 13 October if candidates fail to reach a majority.

During the final round, which would be restricted to the two candidates who obtained the most votes in the fourth ballot, the candidate with a majority of the votes shall be declared winner.

"If in the final ballot or an eliminating ballot two or more candidates obtain the same number of votes, the chairman shall decide between them by drawing lots,” according to the UNESCO's voting process.

The newly announced director-general will be confirmed at the UNESCO General Conference in November.

Short link: