France Candidate Selected to Lead UNESCO

A former French culture minister was selected to lead UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, on Friday, October 13, 2017.

Audrey Azoulay served as the French Minister of Culture from 2016 to 2017. She was one of nine candidates put forward to succeed outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova, who is from Bulgaria, for leadership of the organization.

UNESCO is a specialized agency of the United Nations tasked with helping world peace by preserving and reforming issues of education and culture. It is perhaps most famous for its list of World Heritage Sites, locations around the world which the organization deems to have enough cultural importance to be preserved.

Azoulay must now be formally approved by a vote of the organization's 195 members, but this is seen as a formality. She is expected to take office starting on November 10 and serve for a five year term.

The other eight candidates were from Qatar, Egypt, China, Lebanon, Vietnam, Guatemala, Iraq and Azerbaijan. By Wednesday's third round of voting, the group had effectively been whittled down to just Azoulay and her Qatari counterpart, Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, also a cultural minister.

The loss of Qatar and the other Arab states will likely be seen as an annoyance by the Arab nations, who have complained that UNESCO has never had a Director-General from their region. Unlike the main United Nations body, UNESCO does not use a rotation by world region when selecting their leader.

Azoulay's election comes at a difficult time for the UN body, which was first established 71 years ago. Most of the candidates acknowledged that it has become bloated by bureaucracy to the point of becoming inefficient.

Also of concern is the politicization of the organization, particularly concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. UNESCO allowed "Palestine" to enter in 2011, despite Palestinians not reaching an agreement with Israel to create such a state, and both Israel and the United States have left the organization over alleged anti-Israel bias.

Most notably, UNESCO declared both the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem and Old City of Hebron to be Palestinian cultural sites, despite those also containing the two holiest sites in Judaism.

In this regard, Azoulay's background is an interesting point: born to a Moroccan Jewish family, she "grew up in a very left-wing environment" "politicized on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict." Her father is also an adviser to the King of Morocco.

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