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UNESCO leadership race exposes rift between Egypt, Qatar

UNESCO meeting room [Cancillería Ecuador/Wikipedia]
UNESCO meeting room [Cancillería Ecuador/Wikipedia]

A race for the helm of the United Nations' cultural agency has exposed a diplomatic tiff between Egypt and Qatar.

On Friday, UNESCO selected former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay as its new chief after edging Qatar's Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari after a fifth round of voting.

This came hours after Azoulay defeated Egyptian candidate Moushira Khattab in a run-off vote for the post.

The UNESCO vote was marred by tension between Egypt and Qatar with Cairo accusing Doha of using its financial power to influence the UN agency's 58-member executive council.

The vote was shadowed by the US withdrawal from UNESCO last week. On Thursday, the US confirmed that it would be withdrawing it's funding for the agency and reducing it's presence, explicitly citing the reason as UNESCO's anti-Israel resolutions.  A day later, Israel confirmed that it too will be leaving the UN agency.

In a statement on Saturday, Qatar's foreign ministry said the results of the Qatari candidate "have reflected its good reputation and distinguished stature" in the world.

The ministry said it has not been dragged by "conflicts caused by some officials of a competitor state, which only sought to undermine the Qatari candidate", in an implicit reference to Egypt.

Timeline: Arab rift with Qatar

On Friday, Al Jazeera television aired a video it said was by an Egyptian diplomat chanting against Qatar during the final round of vote.

Egypt's foreign ministry, however, denied that the person who chanted against Qatar was a diplomat or a member of Egypt's mission at UNESCO.

In Twitter post on Saturday, ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid accused Al Jazeera television of "spreading misinformation and lies".

In June, Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, severed diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. The four states presented a list of demands for Doha to end the sanctions or face further penalties. Doha, for its part, denies the accusations and content that the blockade was in violation of international law.

Read: Arab countries cancel draft resolution against Israel

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