By Bianca Taipe
Former Cultural Minister of France, Audrey Azoulay, was elected to lead the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Agency on October 13, reports the New York Times.
Azoulay was running against a Qatar diplomat, Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, for UNESCO’s leading position. US News reports that Azoulay beat her opponent in the final 30-28 vote after she won a runoff with a third finalist from Egypt. Controversy arose during the election concerning Azoulay’s late entrance into the race.
The appointment of UNESCO’s new leader was announced nearly a day after the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from UNESCO, according to the New York Times. According to The Japan Times, the United States was motivated to withdraw due to the organization’s anti-Israel bias. The timing of UNESCO’s new leader announcement was fairly hectic considering Trump’s latest decision. The Trump administration’s withdrawal contributed to the further weakening of UNESCO following their lack of funding and the withdrawal of Israel.
In response to the organization’s recent controversies, Azoulay shared some brief remarks upon winning the election: “In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform. And not leave it”, US News states
Azoulay, 45, is UNESCO’s second female chief. Born in France, Azoulay spent most of her childhood in Paris and Morocco. A graduate of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration and the Paris Institute of Political Studies, the new leader of UNESCO began her career on an international news channel. According to The Washington Post, the new chief’s connection to the Arab world originates from her Moroccan father’s position as an influential adviser to Moroccan kings. Azoulay is determined to reform the agency in its unsteady state.
The U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Agency was founded in 1945 following World War II. Located in Paris, France, the U.N. agency is best known for its prestigious World Heritage List of outstanding cultural and natural sites. Since its founding, UNESCO promotes education and sustainable development for all, focusing mainly in Africa.
In July 2017, UNESCO’s World Heritage Council passed a resolution denouncing Israeli activity in the Old City of Jerusalem, resulting in backlash and ultimately the beginning of trouble for UNESCO, reports the Times of Israel. Since the outburst of UNESCO’s Arab-sponsored resolutions, the organization has been facing turmoil that led to the withdrawal of both the United States and Israel.
The new leader promises that she will dedicate her work to “focus on restoring its credibility,” following the withdrawals of two of its members, states the Washington Post. UNESCO was founded in an effort to restore peace after two world wars, in which Azoulay has promised to uphold as the new leader despite the ongoing conflict between Arab state members and Israel’s allies.
UNESCO’s general assembly is to give the official confirmation vote by the end of the month. This confirmation vote is typically a formality which will not affect the end result of the election.