Rebranding UNESCO: An interview with H.E. Dr. Hamad Al Kawari UNESCO Director General candidate Dr. Hamad Al Kawari (right) with Prime Minister Gaston Browne (left) of Antigua & Barbuda
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ince his nomination for the position by Qatar in March 2016, Dr Al Kawari has also won support of a number of countries representing various continents Africa, Europe, Asia and Americas. UNESCO needs rebranding and he believes that under his leadership, the Organization will make a fresh start so that it can achieve the goal of the founding fathers. Will Dr Al Kawari be the first Arab leader in UNESCO? In an exclusive interview to Modern Diplomacy and Dimitris Giannakopoulos, he shares his vision about the prestigious Organization, towards the November election.

How important is UNESCO leadership for Qatar?

UNESCO incarnates the conscience of the world, through the deep interest it has given to the human issues which, through education, culture, science as well as heritage, have shaped up the past, current and future intellectual, social and cultural development of human beings.

Of equal importance are UNESCO’s other areas of interest including gender equality, the promotion of dialogue between civilizations, the development of youth programs, sustained focus to the environment in all its dimensions and safeguarding human memory, all of which are structured around human development.

It is against this background that the State of Qatar is seeking to serve these humanitarian goals. Since it became a UNESCO member, the State of Qatar has been very supportive towards this Organization in terms of the implementation of educational programs (Educate a Child), heritage protection programs as well as other programs, not to mention the financial support it has been providing throughout the Organization’s many various critical stages of its existence, its unshakable aim being to better serve the Organization and its humanitarian goals.

Let there be no doubt that the presence of one of its nationals at the head of the Organization will make Qatar and its sister countries even more keen to provide him with all the support that he would need to succeed in his mission and to help the Organization overcome its crisis and move forward.

Once elected, which initiatives will you first start working on?

There are several aligned and interrelated initiatives that need to be taken by the Organization. The ultimate purpose of such initiatives should be to address the crisis facing the Organization and help it make a fresh start so that it can achieve the goal of the founding fathers.

However, UNESCO needs rebranding, as it no longer enjoys the image it used to have. As I was making my visits to the various continents, I have come to realize that some people do not know the location of UNESCO, nor are they familiar with its fields of competence. Some even confuse it with other organizations. Refocusing the image of UNESCO and ensuring a more effective dissemination of its noble objectives will definitely help secure more support from everyone.

Among other feasible initiatives that could be conjured up is the setting up of a Small Projects Fund which would cater for the needs of countries for such projects.

With respect to the financial aspect, the situation was examined and possible actions are envisaged in cooperation with senior officials, the President of the Executive Board and the President of the General Conference.

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Which other issues do you think are of paramount importance?

One of the most critically important issues to urgently deal with is the political dimension of the UNESCO crisis. During the Candidates general discussion held at the end of April in Paris, I happened to be the only one who dared to speak openly about the role of the United States which has frozen the payment of its share to UNESCO’ budget since 2011 following the admission of Palestine to UNESCO. Since then, the crisis has become increasingly critical. The growing concern about issues related to the Memory of the World and the positive observations made on transparency and arbitration during the Organization's journey are but a few issues that need to be addressed bravely in order to solve them. The Director-General plays a vital and effective role in raising these issues whenever and wherever appropriate, and in initiating dialogue with the concerned parties in order to overcome the problems. Turning a blind eye on the political aspect or shying from it will prove a not so constructive approach at all.

Cultural Heritage has become some kind of hostage to terrorist groups such as ISIS. Can this threat be averted?

Extremists and terrorists aim at destroying not only human lives but also the conscience of the world, its past, civilization and history, and in a nutshell its heritage.

The world should be made aware of this. There are urgent measures to be taken akin to the Heritage Support Fund established in Abu Dhabi and the Security Council Resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage, and stressing the importance of preserving and restoring it.

In the discussions held at the end of April, I raised the slogan "Let UNESCO be the best means to combat terrorism through education and culture". During the discussions and the campaign, I put forward specific proposals regarding this matter, in particular emphasizing the upstream role to be played by education in addressing the root causes of terrorism. The eradication of its financial roots alone is not sufficient To wage an efficient war against terrorism, emphasis should also be placed on qualitative education through shared human values such as tolerance, mutual respect between cultures and the fight against poverty.

In line with this, I called for a world cultural day to be devoted to the promotion of the role of culture and the culture of peace in the fight against terrorism and extremism. In fact, UNESCO and its programs are as most effective in combatting terrorism as the use of military means.

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Is the current Budget enough to carry out the tasks of the organization?

Needless to say that, for optimum performance of the task, more financial resources is needed. Abu Dhabi Conference and the Heritage Support Fund are important, but the task is huge, especially after the sabotage acts perpetrated by the terrorists.

Having been named the ‘Man of the Arab Heritage’ for 2016, and considering my immutable interest in heritage, human heritage and its preservation is bound to be a cornerstone in my work as Director-General, once elected.

Should governments be more cooperative in other ways?

During my trips to the countries of the world, namely, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, I have come to realize that the world has faith in the importance of UNESCO and is aware of the dangers facing us. This is a good sign indicating that there exists a genuine political will to overcome such dangers and to steer UNESCO back to the successful path it used to follow.

UNESCO is a just cause, but one which needs an advocate who believes in it, who is fully aware of the intricate implications of its goals and who has the required competence, experience, vision, public relations, international network and friends to enable him to undertake the needed rescue operation. Only then will the cause achieve the desired success.


Hamad Bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari is a Qatari diplomat and statesman. Dr. Al-Kawari serves as an Adviser at the Amiri Diwan (Royal Palace of Qatar), and was formerly the Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage of Qatar (2008-2016). He was previously the Ambassador of Qatar to France, the United States, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the UN. Dr. Al-Kawari is a candidate in next election of the Director-General of UNESCO, to take place in autumn 2017. He is married and the father of three children.

Dimitris Giannakopoulos

Modern Diplomacy Editor-in-chief

Journalist, specialized in Middle East, Russia & FSU, Terrorism and Security issues. Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Modern Diplomacy magazine. follow @DGiannakopoulos

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