UNESCO's executive board on Friday chose former French Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay to be the UN cultural agency's next leader over a Qatari candidate in an unusually heated race overshadowed by Mideast tensions.
The US announcement this week that it's quitting UNESCO rocked the multi-day election and heightened concerns about the agency's funding and future direction.
Azoulay succeeds outgoing Director-General Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, whose eight-year term was marred by financial woes. On Thursday, the US and "Israel" said they plan to pull out of the Paris-based organization.
The 45-year-old took the stage to chants of "Audrey! Audrey!" following her victory and said the response to UNESCO's problems was to reform the agency, not to walk away.
"In this moment of crisis, I believe we must invest in UNESCO more than ever, look to support and reinforce it, and to reform it. And not leave it," she said.
In a short address, she also thanked "the Executive Board member states that gave me their trust"-in her surprise 30-28 vote win Friday over Qatari candidate Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari.
UNESCO's general assembly will have to sign off next month on the executive board's leadership pick, but it's seen as a formality.
Azoulay will be the second French leader of the organization since Rene Maheu, UNESCO's director general from 1961-74. Azoulay's father is Moroccan and was an influential adviser to Moroccan kings, so she does have a connection to the Arab world.
"UNESCO is going through a profound crisis," Azoulay told journalists on Friday after making it to the final vote. "As a response to these difficulties, France has chosen not to leave but at the contrary to invest more ... because we believe in multilateralism. We believe in universal values."
French media reported that Qatar recently invited several members of the UNESCO executive board on an all-expenses-paid trip to Doha.
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal from UNESCO for months, the timing of the State Department's statement Thursday was unexpected. Bokova expressed "profound regret" at the US decision and defended UNESCO's reputation.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team