A Bulgarian diplomat became the first woman to lead the UN’s agency for culture and education, beating a controversial Egyptian candidate whose one-time threat to burn Israeli books had galvanised opposition.
Irina Bokova, 57, defeated Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny after a drawn-out race, sealing victory in the fifth round of balloting at the Unesco organisation’s Paris headquarters. The vote among board members was 31 to 27.
The race was tight and closely watched, with a flurry of secretive diplomatic efforts between each round, allegations of fraud and an uproar over Mr Hosny’s candidacy.
For months, Mr Hosny had been considered the favourite. But critics raised Egypt’s contentious record of cultural censorship and highlighted his threat last year to burn Israeli books, a comment he later apologised for. Ms Bokova’s candidacy took off late in the race as delegates sought a consensus figure.
Mr Hosny and Ms Bokova tied on Monday night – and if yesterday’s vote had also been a draw, officials were prepared to pick a name at random from a bag.
Ms Bokova, who has witnessed Bulgaria’s transformation from an Eastern bloc nation to an EU member, was her country’s foreign minister for a brief period in 1996-1997 and helped negotiate Bulgaria’s entry into the European Union and Nato. She is currently Bulgaria’s ambassador to France.