Ismail Serageldin


Ismail Serageldin was a leading candidate for the position of Director-General (DG) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999. Throughout this campaign, we maintained a website.

Serageldin's candidacy was ultimately put forward by the Governments of Burkina Faso and the Netherlands, and supported by the Governments of Sweden and Egypt, and the OAU.

But above all, Ismail Serageldin was the candidate of the international civil society. Over 300 of the most eminent persons in the fields of education, science, culture, human rights, women's rights, development and finance formally signed a declaration of support or wrote letters supporting this candidacy. Among these eminent public figures were no less than 48 Nobel laureates and two other Nobel laureates wrote separate letters of support, making an unprecedented total of 50 Nobel Laureates supporting Ismail Serageldin's candidacy. It speaks poorly of the voters at UNESCO that this enormous moral weight was not given consideration in the decision-making.

The campaign started in May of 1998 when Egypt formally nominated him for the position of DG of UNESCO and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) endorsed him unanimously at the 34th summit of Heads of States and Governments in Ouagadougou in June 1998.

Subsequently, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Egypt agreed not to put forward the nomination papers and to allow the candidate of Saudi Arabia an unrestricted chance to get the endorsement of the Arab League, with a caveat filed by Egypt in March 1999. But from the decision of the Arab Ministers to support the Saudi candidacy, there were questions whether Serageldin would withdraw. The first news item in the archive of the campaign news is therefore relating to the non-withdrawal of Serageldin in December 1998.

A key instrument during this civil society campaign was a website that was carried through the whole period. The results of the campaign were disappointing, and the candidate of Japan won by exerting enormous pressure on the voting countries. Serageldin wrote a letter to all those who supported the campaign, and we wrote our own views on the whole affair.


Ray Vincent and Obsis Madkour
November 5, 1999

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