Egypt’s Jewish community backs country’s UNESCO candidate

Moushira Khattab
Updated 09 October 2017
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Egypt’s Jewish community backs country’s UNESCO candidate

CAIRO: The head of Egypt’s minuscule Jewish community has voiced support for Moushira Khattab, the country’s UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) candidate who has been criticized by Egyptian human rights activists.
But Khattab insists in her UNESCO candidacy statement that she will uphold freedoms enshrined in the agency’s values.
Intense diplomatic wrangling has marked the race among seven candidates to become the next UNESCO director general.
Khattab has shown an impressive and “genuine commitment to our cause to protect Egypt’s Jewish heritage,” said the statement from Magda Haroun, the Jewish community’s leader.
Egypt’s Jewish community is made up of six Jews, including Magda.
A US-educated longtime diplomat, Khattab is believed to be among the front-runners for the UNESCO top post. Voting is to begin on Monday in Paris.
Khattab is running to replace Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, UNESCO’s current director.
She is the second Egyptian candidate to seek UNESCO’s top post since 2009, when former Culture Minister Farouk Hosni ran.
In Egypt, Khattab has been criticized for not speaking up against some of the government’s policies.
But Haroun said Khattab is a “courageous woman who has the talent of successfully taking on challenging causes,” citing a 1990s campaigning for women’s rights when Kattab served as a top aide to the country’s first lady at the time, Suzanne Mubarak.
Khattab has also served as chairwoman of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.
Other leading candidates include Qian Tang of China and Qatar’s former Culture Minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari.
Bokova’s tenure was marred by funding troubles and tension over its inclusion of Palestine as a member.
Arab countries have long wanted to lead the organization, though divisions over Palestinian membership have complicated their push.
Voting by UNESCO’s 58-member executive board is expected to continue through the week until a candidate wins a majority.
The choice then goes to the full UNESCO general assembly next month for final approval.
A top priority for the next director will be shoring up finances at UNESCO, best known for its World Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions around the world.
The agency also works to improve education for girls in desperately poor countries and in scientific fields, promote better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust, and defend media freedom, among other activities.
The US — once UNESCO’s biggest financial contributor — and Israel suspended UNESCO funding when its members voted to make Palestine a member state in 2011.
Many saw the vote as evidence of ingrained anti-Israel bias within the UN, where Israel and its allies are far outnumbered by Arab countries and their supporters.
No. 2 UNESCO funder Japan then withheld its dues last year, saying it wanted to make sure UNESCO properly fosters trust among member nations — a decision widely viewed as a response to UNESCO’s listing of Chinese Rape of Nanking documents as a memory of the world. Japan disputes China’s historical views on the 1937 massacre, and a win for China in the director race could further jeopardize Japan’s financial contribution.
In interviews with The Associated Press, candidates insisted they would set aside national interests and lead UNESCO with neutrality.
But votes for the agency’s top job are routinely overshadowed by national and regional divisions.
Chinese candidate Qian said that “China does not want to replace the role of the United States.”
“I went to the State Department and I had a long discussion with officials there. I said ‘I really don’t think you Americans should give up your global responsibility especially in UNESCO,” he said.
“We need America.”


Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

Updated 24 June 2019
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Turkish civil society leaders on trial over 2013 protests

  • The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring
  • There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016

SILIVRI, Turkey: Sixteen leading Turkish civil society leaders went on trial Monday, accused of seeking to overthrow the government during the “Gezi Park” protests of 2013 — charges dubbed an absurd sham by critics.
The group includes renowned businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, whose detention since November 2017 has made him a symbol of what his supporters say is a crackdown on civil society.
Kavala rejected the “irrational claims which lack evidence” in his opening statement, shortly after the trial began under high security in the prison and court complex of Silivri on the outskirts of Istanbul.
He is accused of orchestrating and financing the protests which began over government plans to build over Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul.
The rallies snowballed into a nationwide movement that marked the first serious challenge to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s brand of Islamic conservatism and grandiose development projects.
The 657-page indictment seeks to paint the protests as a foreign-directed conspiracy with links to the Arab Spring, which, ironically, the Turkish government supported.
“None of these actions were coincidental... they were supported from the outside as an operation to bring the Turkish Republic to its knees,” the indictment says.
Amnesty International’s Andrew Gardner said the trial “speaks volumes about the deeply flawed judiciary that has allowed this political witch-hunt to take place.
“It is absurdly attempting to portray routine civil society activities as crimes,” he said.
“The idea that Osman Kavala led the conspiracy is utterly outlandish and unsupported by any credible evidence,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, the Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), told AFP.
One of the allegations is the claim that a map on Kavala’s phone showing bee species actually depicted his plans to redraw Turkey’s borders.
There has been a renewed crackdown on dissidents since a coup attempt in 2016, blamed by the government on US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, with thousands arrested and tens of thousands sacked from public sector, media and military jobs.
A respected figure in intellectual circles, Kavala is chairman of the Anatolian Culture Foundation, which seeks to bridge ethnic and regional divides through art, including with neighboring Armenia, with which Turkey has no diplomatic ties.
“I was involved in projects contributing to peace and reconciliation. There is not a single piece of evidence or proof in the indictment that I prepared the ground for a military coup,” Kavala told the court.
Think tank researcher Yigit Aksakoglu was also in pre-trial detention — since November — while six of the rest are being tried in absentia after fleeing Turkey, including actor Memet Ali Alabora and dissident journalist Can Dundar.
The case against Alabora focuses on his appearance in a play featuring a revolt against the ruler of a fictional country.
Others, including architect Mucella Yapici, have already been tried and acquitted for their role in the Gezi Park protests in 2015.
“I am on trial for the second time on the same charges. Peaceful protests cannot be banned. They are a right,” Yapici told the court on Monday.
Erdogan has linked Kavala to US billionaire George Soros, whose efforts to promote democracy around the world have made him a target for several authoritarian leaders.
Last year, Erdogan said Kavala was the representative in Turkey of the “famous Hungarian Jew Soros” whom he accused of trying to “divide and tear up nations.”
Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which ceased activities in Turkey last year, called Monday’s trial a “political sham.”
“At some earlier stage in Turkey’s descent into authoritarian rule, one might have described this trial as a test of judicial independence... but such exams have already been held, and the failing grades were handed down long ago,” wrote Freedom House, a US-based rights group, this week.
“The point of the coming show trial is quite simply to intimidate Turkish citizens and deter them from exercising their rights,” it added.
The hearing will continue on Tuesday.