Lebanon’s candidate for UNESCO chief sparks controversy

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s failure to endorse former Minister and prominent academic Ghassan Salameh’s nomination for the post of Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has sparked controversy among the country’s political elite particularly after the Cabinet decided to nominate Vera Khoury for the post.

Khoury, who has served as a representative of Saint Lucia at UNESCO, enjoys the support of Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Culture Minister Roni Araygi, and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, a source told Annahar.

Saint Lucia’s permanent delegate to UNESCO Gilbert Chaghouri, the influential businessman who played a pivotal role in bringing Future Movement leader Saad Hariri and Marada Movement Chief Suleiman Franjieh closer together, reportedly lobbied Lebanese officials to support Khoury’s nomination.

However, several prominent Lebanese politicians, including Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, have called on the Cabinet to withdraw Khoury’s candidacy in favor of Salameh’s given the latter’s impressive political, academic and diplomatic resume.

Jumblatt has also argued that Khoury has been representing a different country and holds a foreign citizenship.

Salameh, who had announced his bid to head UNESCO during a recent television interview, was informed that Khoury was the country’s official nominee, the source said.

Salameh said that he will not withdraw his candidacy even if Khoury stays in the race.

Born in 1951, Salameh served as special adviser to the U.N. secretary-general from 2003 to 2006 and as the political adviser to the U.N. mission in Iraq. Salameh is also a professor of International Relations at Sciences-Po Paris and the founding Dean of its Paris School of International Affairs – PSIA.

The new Director-General of UNESCO is expected to hail from the Arab world, and, therefore, Lebanon’s odds of winning the elections are very high, a diplomatic source told Annahar.

The Lebanese candidate will be competing with Qatar’s culture minister and a representative of Egypt who has yet to be officially named.

UNESCO’s next chief will not be chosen until 2017 unless current Director-General Irina Bokova assumes the post of U.N. secretary-general when Ban Ki-moon’s term expires at the end of this year.