Renowned Egyptian human rights activist Ambassador Moushira Mahmoud Khattab is poised to become the next Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) following her surprising nomination for the coveted position by the Egyptian government last year.
Khattab, a former Egyptian Minister of Family and Population, has been meeting officials from the UNESCO member states in a bid to convince them to vote for her at the ongoing board’s 202nd session. The board is expected to conclude its seating on October 18, after which the new Director-General will be announced.
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Several Egyptian human rights organizations and political parties have thrown their weight behind the 70-year-old ambassador in her quest to be the next Director-General of UNESCO. Her nomination has also received strong support from the Egyptian National Council for Women (NCW).
“The nomination should be held up as an example, proving that Egyptian women have the qualities to compete for the highest national and international positions,” NCW’s president, Maya Morsy, was quoted by Egypt Today in April last year.
But not every Egyptian is content with her nomination. A local human rights advocate, Gamal Eid, has openly expressed his misgivings about Khattab’s nomination, arguing that she is a remnant of the oppressive regime of President Hosni Mubarak.
President Mubarak was unceremoniously ousted by the current regime in the 2011 Arab Spring.
Other than being a cabinet minister and a human rights campaigner, Khattab has served as a secretary-general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and as an Egyptian ambassador to several countries, including South Africa, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Czechoslovakia.
In her ambassadorial capacity, Khattab has also served at various diplomatic missions in Budapest, Melbourne, Vienna, New York and UNIDO headquarters in Vienna.
Khattab holds a PhD in children’s rights from Cairo University, a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of North Carolina and a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Cairo University.
She has also received numerous international awards, honours and orders in recognition of her work in both international peacekeeping and social and human development. In 2010, she received the Knight Grand Cross of the Italian Republic from the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
Two years before that, Ambassador Khattab was awarded with the International Women of Courage Award by the U.S. State Department. She also received the Order of Good Hope by the South African President Thabo Mbeki in 1999.
If the board votes in her favor, Khattab will be the first African and the second woman to serve as the Director-General of UNESCO.