Shawkan: How can Egypt lead UNESCO? 

Editor’s note: Moushira Khattab is in the running to replace UNESCO’s current director, the Bulgarian national Irina Bokova. Khattab chaired Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and is mostly known for campaigning for legislation concerning child marriage and female circumcision. She served as the family and population minister under deposed President Hosni Mubarak. Several Egyptian rights groups have criticized Khattab’s nomination, claiming that she is not the right candidate for the job, due to her silence on government policies that they assert restrict rights and freedoms.

The first of a possible four rounds of UNESCO voting took place on Monday October 9, with Khattab garnering 11 votes, Qatar’s Hamad Abdul Aziz al-Kawary 19, and France’s Audrey Azoulay 13. The executive board of 58 member states will meet on Tuesday October 10 ahead of a closed ballot expected to be held later in the day. To secure the director position, a candidate must receive 30 votes in one of the four rounds of voting. If no one candidate secures the necessary total, the two candidates who receive the highest number of votes in the fourth round will proceed to a final vote.

Mada Masr is publishing the letter below on Khattab’s nomination as we received it from jailed photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid (Shawkan), who was arrested along with two foreign nationals working as journalists in covering the state’s violent dispersal of the August 2013 Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in. Although the two foreign nationals were quickly released, Shawkan has remained in detention since, awaiting a verdict in his trial. His health has deteriorated, and he has been reportedly denied access to medication. According to Amnesty International, Shawkan has faced torture in prison, and lawyers have been denied full access to key documents in his case.

For so long, I have been languishing here in this black rat hole, for no reason, without having committed any crime. I am locked up for 22 hours a day, surrounded by walls, ill-treated and abused. My health is deteriorating rapidly. I am experiencing all of this just because I was doing what I had to do as a journalist, bringing reality to people.

For four long years and still counting, through endless court sessions, along with 739 other defendants in a mass trial, charged based on trumped up accusations. It is a parody of justice!

UNESCO is an organization that is promoting independent media, freedom of the press, the preservation of human rights and other things related to education and literacy. However, Egypt has a bad track record with these things. So, when I first heard that the ambassador, Moushira Khattab — the Egyptian government’s candidate — was nominated for the position of chair of the organization, I wondered?!! — How could my country take such a step, while the Egyptian regime is violating the culture of freedom of the press and expression?

What about jailing journalists? What about bloggers as well? What about political and human rights activists and advocates? What about closing libraries? What about blocking websites? etc. The Egyptian regime is at war against all that falls under allegations of supporting the war on terrorism. So, the regime is confronting terrorists and terrorism by terrorizing all dissidents. And all of this is happening while the entire world is watching. The regime is attempting to paint the political scene in only one color. It is curious. And we say it should be the same! Because political rights pave the way to other things.

Up to this moment, we have not even heard Mrs. Kattab’s comments about UNESCO’s principles, which tells us that her thoughts and beliefs are tallied with the regime in its war against freedom of the press, under allegations of supporting the war on terrorism. She has kept her mouth shut on these things.

It has been said, you should have them to give them [freedoms and rights]. Yet, neither the Egyptian regime, nor Mrs. Kattab have any [aspects] of the culture of freedom of the press and expression in order to hand them back to the world via UNESCO!

Therefore, we, the global community, need someone who is going to lead the organization that believes in the right to freedom of the press and freedom of expression and, indeed, has any knowledge of its value.

In short, it must be a person who has thoughts that are consistent with UNESCO’s principles. And Egypt and its candidate are far away from this!!


Cairo prison

October 3, 2017



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