United Nations

China withdraws candidate to lead Unesco and backs Egypt after US and Israel quit heritage body

Beijing to support Moushira Khattab’s candidacy to head the UN cultural agency after its leading donor quits in protest over ‘anti-Israel’ bias

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 10:49am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 October, 2017, 1:05pm

China has withdrawn its candidate to be director general of Unesco in favour of Egypt’s candidate Moushira Khattab.

The announcement follows the decision by the United States and Israel to pull out of the UN’s cultural agency in protest at what they claim is an “anti-Israel bias”.

The body has been critical of Israel in the past and the decision to nominate the West Bank city of Hebron as a Palestinian world heritage site angered Israel, which wanted its long Jewish history to be recognised.

The withdrawal of the United States, which is meant to provide a fifth of Unesco’s funding, is a major blow for the Paris-based organisation founded after the Second World War to help protect cultural and natural heritage around the world.

US and Israel withdraw from Unesco, as world body recognises Palestine

China had nominated Qian Tang, who has been serving as assistant director general of Unesco since April 2010, to be the agency’s head, but decided to withdraw after the latest round of voting on Thursday.

“China announces the withdrawal of its candidature to Unesco in support of Egypt,” wrote Egypt’s foreign ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid on his official Twitter account.

He described China as a “long-standing and true friend” in the tweet, Egypt’s Ahram Online media reported.

The head of Unseco is selected by a vote of its executive board members and Qian got five votes in the third round of voting on Thursday, while Khattab got 13 votes.

The withdrawal of Qian in favour of Egypt should give Khattab 18 votes, which would put her on a par with two other leading candidates: Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari and France’s Audrey Azoulay.

Three other candidates remain in the running – Azerbaijian’s Polad Bulbuloglu, Guatemala’s Juan Alfonso Fuentes Soria and Vietnam’s Pham Sanh Chau.