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Egypt's parliament warns UNESCO against awarding press freedom prize to jailed journalist Shawkan

MPs said UNSECO should be dedicated to promoting education and culture, rather than taking part in political activities

Gamal Essam El-Din , Monday 23 Apr 2018
Ali Abdel Aal
A file photo of Egypt's Parliament speaker Ali Abdel Aal ( Photo: Al-Ahram Arabic website)

Egypt's parliament speaker Ali Abdel-Aal has issued a statement, warning UNESCO against awarding the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud AbouZeid, widely known as “Shawkan”.

“I warn this organization against awarding a prize to a man who is a defendant in a criminal case, and I advise this organization not to take a certain political line or be involved in any political activities,” Abdel-Aal said in a plenary meeting on Monday morning.

"Egypt's parliament has been closely following UNESCO’s intention to award a prize to an Egyptian who is a defendant in a criminal case, and we know that this intention is being supported by some rogue states and disreputable organisations that are heavily involved in sponsoring terrorist activities,” he told MPs.

"As you all know, UNESCO is an organization that should be fully dedicated to supporting education, sciences and culture, and it should not be involved in any way in exercising political activities,” he said.

The speaker, who is also head of parliament’s human rights committee, accused UNESCO of “politicizing” its activities.

“I would like to remind officials in this organisation that its repeated involvement in political activities and in taking a certain political line has led some countries to withdraw. For this reason, I warn this organization not to be involved in political activities, because this can never be accepted by Egypt’s parliament and by many countries, bearing in mind that Egypt joined UNESCO in 1945 and it is a founding member of this organization.”

In his address to lawmakers, he referenced Shawkan's involvement in the mass protests following the ouster of Islamist former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“I wonder how the UNESCO can award a man – Shawkan – who was acting as a main media tool for the terrorist organization of Muslim Brotherhood. He was covering the activities of this terrorist organization during its sit-ins in Cairo and Giza [in 2013] and he was in contact with disreputable human rights organisations and agents of foreign intelligence agencies during these sit-ins,” Alaa Abed, MP for the Free Egyptians Party and head of parliament's Human Rights Committee, said.

He added that, “UNESCO’s support of some persons with certain political tendencies is a very bad policy.”

He also alleged that the same "disreputable organisations" worked hard to ensure that Egypt’s candidate for the position of UNESCO secretary-general last year – Moshira Khattab – did not win.

“UNESCO should focus on supporting culture and education, rather than awarding persons with certain political leanings or listening to disreputable organisations with political agendas,” he said, recalling that “UNESCO’s support of some communist activities in the 1980s led many countries to withdraw in protest at the organization politicizing its activities and policies.”

Abedel-Aal said that, instead of awarding “the criminal Shawkan”, UNESCO should give a prize to Egypt's star footbal player Mohamed Salah, "who spread the culture of tolerance and modesty in Western societies."

Parliament’s warning comes just one day after Egypt’s foreign ministry expressed regret on Sunday at UNESCO’s intention to award the press freedom prize to Shawkan.

The foreign ministry’s spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Shawkan, 31, had been accused of “terrorism and criminal offences, which include murder, attempted murder, assault on police and citizens, and the burning and destruction of public and private property.”

Abu Zeid said that the ministry had been informed of UNESCO's intention to grant Shawkan this year’s UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize. UNESCO has not made any public statements about those nominated for this year’s prize, which is awarded annually on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day.

"We warn against the politicisation of UNESCO and its involvement in the implementation of the agenda of certain countries, while drifting away from its cultural mission," the ministry statement read.

Abu Zeid added that the ministry had asked Egypt's permanent representative to UNESCO in Paris to pass a complete file on all the charges attributed to Shawkan to the secretariat of the UN body.

"The nomination of Shawkan was motivated by a number of non-governmental organisations, including organisations driven by the state of Qatar that are known for their support of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist organisation and their continuing attempt to defend the group," the statement read.

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