Qatar’s candidate in the race to lead the UN’s cultural arm has advanced to the final stage of the election on Thursday, garnering 22 votes in the fourth round, in the battle to replace outgoing UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova.
Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari came ahead of the Egyptian and French candidates, who each got 18 votes in this round.
The next vote will be held Friday between France’s Audrey Azoulay — a former culture minister — and Egypt’s Moushira Khattab, a career diplomat, to determine which of them will go up against Kawari in the final round to be held Friday evening.
China’s Tang Qian and Lebanon’s Vera El Khoury each announced their withdrawal ahead of the vote Thursday.
Thirty votes are needed to clinch the nomination to head the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
The body’s 58 board members have been gathered in the French capital since last Friday selecting a candidate.
The winner must be approved by UNESCO’s 195 member states in November, though this is seen as a formality.
Vietnam’s Pham Sanh Chau had dropped out of the race Wednesday, having scored five votes in the second round. Candidates from Guatemala, Iraq and Azerbaijan have also given up.
Most of the candidates acknowledge the need to reform the 71-year-old organisation whose bloated bureaucracy is accused of inefficiency.
UNESCO has been accused of bias in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it infuriated Israel and staunch ally the United States by granting full membership to Palestine in 2011.
Both countries suspended their funding to the agency — best-known for its prestigious World Heritage List — over the move, and on Thursday announced that they would withdraw from the organization.
On Wednesday, a prominent American Jewish organization charged that the Qatari frontrunner has sponsored “projects and programs with blatant anti-Semitic content.” The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said al-Kawari “is unqualified to lead an institution whose mission is to strengthen ties between nations, promote dialog and understanding among diverse cultures and religions and protect the heritage of all peoples throughout the world.”
Arab countries have complained that UNESCO has never had a boss from their region.
However, UNESCO does not observe the kind of rotation by world region which is used when choosing a UN secretary-general.