Normally, this is a humdrum affair to which no one really pays any attention, save perhaps the personnel of the organization. But this time it was interesting enough to lure journalist from all around the world.
I will not bore you with the details. But I thought that there were a couple of ironic twists that you might find interesting.
First funny bit was the French candidacy.
"She is a good girl" Criterion
There is an unwritten rule that stipulates that UN agency host countries do not field candidates.
UNCTAD, based in Geneva, never had a Swiss Secretary General or Officer in Charge. Or no Austrian ever helmed UNIDO, which is headquartered in Vienna.
True, a Frenchman named René Maheu had a stint as Director General of UNESCO in the early 60s but he more or less fell into the job after becoming Acting Director General in 1961.
Now, if brushing aside this unwritten rule was done on the basis of some outstanding merit I would be in favor of it. In fact, I believe no such tacit understandings should block deserving candidates.
But in this instance, it was just a whim of the departing President Francois Hollande. And the candidate had no discernable qualities other than being well connected.
You see, Arab states had claimed that it was their turn at the head of UNESCO as no one from the Arab Group had ever served as DG. And for the most part, Quai d'Orsay lent its support to that claim.
But things changed when Francois Hollande's then mistress (and current girlfriend), actress Julie Gayet told him about her good friend Audrey Azoulay who badly needed a job.
(You will remember Gayet from Hollande's picture on his bodyguard's scooter on his way to her appartment for an illicit rendezvous)
In 2014, Azoulay met François Hollande when he was on a presidential trip to Mexico. The then president was impressed by what he saw as Azoulay’s competence and energy. “She's a good girl – we’ve got to find a job for her,” Hollande said after meeting her, according to the French weekly L’Express.I will leave it to you to discuss how demeaning this moniker is and how he managed to determine her "competence and energy" in one meeting.
Hollande first gave her a job at Elysees, then promoted her as his Minister of Culture. At that point, Azoulay had never been elected to any office and she had had a checkered career.
Before the presidential election last May, he tried to make her a candidate for Assemblée Nationale from the Paris region but apparently, Annie Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris said "non."
Possibly with more prodding pillow talk, the upcoming vacancy at the top of UNESCO looked like the perfect solution to Azoulay's unemployment problem.
He announced her candidacy three days before the deadline to the dismay of Quai d'Orsay diplomats and howling protests from the Arab world who accused France of last minute betrayal.
In short, Francois Hollande, unburdened by re-election worries, scrapped an unwritten rule of international diplomacy, just to please his mistress.
When you remember the depth and frequency of Western derision for nepotistic appointments in the developing world, the irony quotient here is quite extraordinary.
Initially, people assumed that French Foreign Ministry was not going to push her too hard and for a long time, she was not seen as a front runner. But in recent weeks, Jean-Yves Le Drian lobbied vigorously on her behalf.
But the bulk of the credit goes to the world's Wahhabi countries. And there are just two of them.
Wahhabis for Jews
(That subtitle is for Mel Brooks fans)
Of the seven initial candidates, the remaining three were Qatar's former Minister of Culture Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari, Egypt's former Minister of Population and Family Moushira Khattab and France's former Minister of Culture and all around "good girl" Audrey Azoulay.
Calling them lackluster is being charitable.
Al-Kawari's only credential to lead UNESCO was embedded in his campaign slogan: "I am not coming empty handed." I took it as a reminder of how Qatar bribed FIFA folks to get the 2022 World Cup to be played in 45 degree heat.
"Elect me and I'll get you more money that you need" was his promise to a badly cash-strapped organization.
Moushira Khattab, a respected human rights activist, was hampered by her association to former President Hosni Mubarak, under whom she served as a State Minister.
Moreover, her candidacy was bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and UAE, raising questions about her independence as UNESCO's future DG.
As for Azoulay, well, we already know she was a good friend of Julie Gayet. And as far as I am concerned, that's good enough for the job.
UNESCO's DG elections are fairly simple.
There is a body called Executive Board composed of 58 member states (out of a total of 195). They start voting on a Monday and continue to do so every day until Friday. Any time a candidate gets 30 votes s/he is elected. Otherwise, come Friday, the highest two vote-getters face off and whoever gets more than the other is elected.
On Thursday, al-Kawari received 22 votes and the next two candidates, Moushira Khattab and Audrey Azoulay both got 18 votes each.
That necessitated an extra round of voting on Friday morning to eliminate one of the two women candidates. Khattab lost that round.
Apparently, the rest of the day, the Egyptian, Saudi and UAE delegations went on an intensive campaign to get Azoulay elected.
There were reports of protesters marching outside UNESCO building with banners denouncing Qatar's support for terrorism.
I have seen similar protests in New York during the General Assembly in September and they are typically people who are paid by Saudi Arabia to make some noise for media outlets.
After Khattab was eliminated, the Saudi Ambassador to UNESCO told delegates that, if al-Kawari was elected, his country would withdraw from UNESCO adding to its financial woes.
In the end, the winner was Audrey Azoulay.
This all well and good you may say, but where is the irony?
Well, Audrey Azoulay is hailing from a Sephardic Jewish family.
In other words, Qatar and Saudi Arabia worked hard to get a Jewish woman elected. Knowing the deeply ingrained anti-Semitism in these countries and the Arab world in general, I relished the irony.
Indeed, while other media outlets avoided the Jewish qualifier, Israeli media highlighted it to emphasize that irony.
Times of Israel's headline was "French Jewish Candidate Defeats Qatari to Win UNESCO Leadership."
Ha'aretz intoned: "Jewish-French Candidate Defeats Qatari Runner-up in UNESCO Director-general Election."
We live in interesting times.