By John Irish
PARIS (Reuters) - The United Nations' cultural agency will elect a new chief on Friday, seeking someone who can revive UNESCO's fortunes after the United States and Israel pulled out.
Whoever gets the job will need to restore relevance to the agency whose mission to protect the world's cultural and natural heritage has been hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of money.
After four days of secret balloting at UNESCO's Paris HQ, Qatar's former culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari qualified for the final vote, scheduled for Friday evening.
He will face off against either Moushira Khattab, an Egyptian diplomat and politician, or Audrey Azoulay, a former French culture minister, whichever woman wins a ballot on Friday afternoon.
"More than ever UNESCO needs a project that rallies the member states, re-establishes trust and cuts through the political divisions for the sake of UNESCO," French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne said ahead of the vote to replace Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian who has led the agency since 2009.
The United States is meant to provide a fifth of UNESCO's funding, but had already been withholding that since 2011 when the body admitted Palestine as a full member. It announced its departure on Thursday accusing UNESCO of anti-Israeli bias. Israel itself followed.
"Unfortunately, this venue has become politicised, undermining the work of UNESCO across its mandate. It's become a venue for anti-Israel bias, and unfortunately we are taking the decision to withdraw from UNESCO at this time," U.S. charge d'affaires at UNESCO, Chris Hegadorn told Reuters.
With a Qatari and an Egyptian vying for the job, the election has been troubled by the standoff between Doha and several of its Arab neighbours that have severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism, something it denies.
The Qatari, Kawari, who has been subject of barbs from Egyptian officials over the last week and been subjected to online abuse said on Thursday night he was confident he would win and wanted to reunite the member states.
(Additional reporting by Miranda Alexander-Webber; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)