Audrey Azoulay wins vote to be next UNESCO chief

Former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay delivers a speech to the press after being elected director general of the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Paris

Former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay delivers a speech to the press after being elected director general of the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation in Paris

The balloting for director general is secret, making it difficult to know how each member state on the board voted, but Ms. Azoulay, a latecomer to the race, might have benefited in the final round from the rivalry between Qatar and Egypt. According to an official statement released by the State Department: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects U.S. concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO".

There were seven candidates in the fray, namely HE Dr Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kuwari, Audrey Azoulay (France), Moushira Khattab (Egypt), Vera El-Khoury Lacoeuilhe (Lebanon), Qian Tang (China) and Pham Sanh Chau (Vietnam), after the withdrawal of the candidates of Guatemala and Iraq before the first rounds of voting.

During the five rounds of the elections, Dr al-Kuwari was able to win the confidence of many countries which underscored Qatar's international standing and the suitability of its candidate.

Confronted with Arab divisions, France presented Azoulay as a consensus figure, who could mend fences within the organization and soothe tensions caused by recent resolutions against Israel.

After President Obama pulled U.S. funding-which accounted for more than 20% of UNESCO's operating budget-the organization was forced to cut programs and institute a hiring freeze.

Macron congratulated Azoulay on his twitter account, adding that France will continue to fight for education and culture in the world.

In fact, countries hosting UN agency headquarters rarely seek to also conquer the agencies' leadership. It is also known for its educational programs, and it works extensively on the promotion of sex education, literacy, clean water and equality for women.

Egypt is the fourth Arab country besides Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain which has severed ties with Qatar over its alleged support for terrorism.

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Washington returned to the fold in 2002, seeing UNESCO as a vehicle for combating extremism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Azoulay's nomination was based on the request of former French President Francois Hollande, yet she received great support from President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Israel itself announced shortly afterwards that it would follow suit.

"U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense", Haley said.

"If I'm confirmed... the first thing I will do is to restore its credibility, restore the faith of its members and its efficiency so it can act".

USA Today reports that the U.S. will pull out of UNESCO effective next year.

The agency's outgoing head, Bulgaria's Irina Bokova, told French radio that UNESCO's "universal mission was in jeopardy".

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