UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova spoke at a news conference at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt on 13 May and expressed her “profound appreciation” for Al-Azhar’s efforts in “combating ignorance, poverty, distrust and the propagation of hatred, tension, and conflicts, as a historic platform of science, learning, dialogue and cultural coexistence, inspired by the tolerance of Islam.” Bokova emphasized the importance of Al-Azhar’s leadership in a world that “relies on knowledge and cultural awareness” and recognized the “diversity and richness of Islamic history” found in historic Cairo.
Bokova was in Cairo to participate in the “Culture Under Threat” conference, 13-14 May, which brought regional leaders together to address the growing destruction, looting and trafficking of antiquities across the Middle East. At the conference, Bokova stressed, “The stakes are high. The destruction and looting of archeological sites and museums have reached unprecedented levels. The destruction of cultural heritage, the cultural cleansing, is being used as a tactic of war to terrify populations, to finance criminal activities and to spread hatred.” Bokova also praised Egypt’s efforts against this “war crime” saying, “Egypt has succeeded in proving to the whole world its capability to protect its cultural heritage.”