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In Egypt, a year-old controversy over book burning is sparked anew

By Matthew Shaer / June 11, 2009



It's enough to raise the hackles of bibliophiles from Cairo to California.

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Last year, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosni was asked about the availability of Hebrew language books in the storied Library of Alexandria. “If there are any there, I will myself burn them in front of you,” he reportedly said. The comments were picked up several Western news sources, but did not really hit headlines until this spring, when Hosni was nominated for the head of UNESCO.

Now Hosni is being assailed by authors such as Bernard-Henri Lévy and Elie Wiesel, the Nobel peace laureate. Lévy, Wiesel, and Claude Lanzmann, a filmmaker, recently wrote an open letter demanding the international community reject Hosni's "nauseating" positions.

"Farouk Hosni is the opposite of a man of peace, dialogue and culture, he is a dangerous man who inflames hearts and spirits," they wrote. “We invite all countries dedicated to liberty and culture to take the initiatives necessary to avert this threat and avoid the disaster that would be his nomination."

Hosni has repeatedly said his words were taken out of context. Today, in an interview with England's Telegraph newspaper, he said, "I did not mean it at all... UNESCO's work is to set up good international relations and the creation of peace between nations. Israel is a member state... I am not opposed to Israel, or Jews, or anyone."

Hosni is considered the leading candidate for the UNESCO job.

According to the BBC, the culture ministry in Egypt today announced that it will publish Arabic translations of novels by 27 Jewish writers, including Amos Oz and David Grossman. They will appear in Arabic for the first time – a clear sign Egypt wants to placate its most bookish critics.

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