CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt's Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, a candidate to head UNESCO but under fire from the Jewish state, said on Tuesday he "dreams" of normal ties with Israel once it has made peace with the Palestinians.
Hosni has drawn fire from Israel and the Wiesenthal Centre for saying he was prepared to burn Israeli books.
"I'd burn Israeli books myself if I found any in libraries in Egypt," the minister said in parliament on May 10 in reply to questioning from an opposition MP.
Hosni says he only used "a popular expression to prove something does not exist": Israeli books in Egyptian libraries.
On Tuesday, he went a step further, telling AFP it was "a big mistake that Israeli books have not yet been translated (into Arabic). I have officially asked for it to be done. If people protest, I don't give a damn."
But he opposed a normalisation of cultural ties with Israel before it has made peace with the Palestinians.
"It is a dream. We must wait for the right moment to come when Israel will have signed peace with the Palestinians. If it happens tomorrow, I will be in the front row the next day for this normalisation," he said.
Hosni said it would be "a coup for Israel if I am named to the post (of UNESCO director general) because I will work for reconciliation".
Egypt broke ranks with the rest of the Arab world and signed the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Only Jordan has since followed suit, sealing a peace deal in 1994.
President Hosni Mubarak's regime has political, security and economic links with Israel, but does nothing to promote cultural cooperation between the two former foes.
Israeli works are rarely translated, and no Israeli-made film -- even pacifist -- is shown in Egypt where a total boycott is imposed on all artists and intellectuals from the Jewish state.
Hosni, culture minister for the past 21 years and close to Mubarak, is slammed by Islamists in Egypt for being too liberal and also shunned by intellectuals hostile to the regime.
Several Arab and European states, including France, have expressed their support for Hosni's candidature to head the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
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