CAIRO - Egypt's foreign minister was confirmed as the Arab League's next chief on Sunday after becoming the only candidate in last-minute diplomacy and will lead the organization amid unprecedented turmoil in the region.
Nabil Elaraby, nominated shortly before foreign ministers were due to meet on Sunday, will take over from Amr Moussa, another former Egyptian foreign minister who led the 22-nation Cairo-based body for 10 years. Qatar withdrew its candidate.
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Since the start of 2011, Egyptians and Tunisians have thrown out presidents who ruled for decades. Libya, Yemen and Syria have faced unprecedented challenges to well-established rulers and protests have unsettled other Arab monarchs and presidents.
"For Egypt to sacrifice its foreign minister is sending a message that
it is keen on keeping the Arab League alive at a time when the political
circumstances in the region may weaken it," said Hassan Abou Taleb of
Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
The League has long been viewed by many Arabs as a talking shop for
leaders that has failed to adequately deal with challenges besetting the
region, such as the Palestinian and Israel conflict and other sources
of Middle East tension.
Since the League was founded in 1945, its chief has been Egyptian except
for a 10-year hiatus when Egypt was suspended from the League for its
1979 peace treaty with Israel.
"I am taking this difficult task at a time when the Arab nation is going
through many problems." Elaraby said in a speech. "This is the toughest
assignment I will have."
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Egypt initially fielded a career diplomat Mostafa Fekki, a former
member of parliament for Hosni Mubarak's ruling party although he quit
his post during the 18-day uprising that led to the Egyptian president
being pushed from power on Feb. 11.
But Egypt at the last minute switched its candidate to Elaraby, a former
judge at the International Court of Justice and previously Egypt's
representative at the United Nations.
Elaraby, appointed foreign minister after Mubarak was ousted, has carved
a new diplomatic track for Egypt since becoming minister. He has been a
tougher critic of Israel, more supportive of Palestinians and offered
an opening to Iran.
"The Arab League is facing a major challenge. It needs restructuring,
face lifting and a new spirit that should reflect the aspirations of the
Arab people for more freedom," said Anissa Hassouna from the Egyptian
Council for Foreign Affairs.
Egypt's state news agency announced the change in Cairo's candidate and
then Qatar-based channel Al Jazeera reported the withdrawal of Qatar's
Abdulrahman bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, a former secretary-general of the
six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.
"It seemed that Qatar and Egypt were going to have to win or lose at the
expense of the other and withdrawing both candidates is likely to have
been a compromise," said Abou Taleb.
Moussa, known for his outspoken comments including criticism of the
U.S.-led Iraq war that he said would open "the gates of hell", is
running as a candidate in an election to become Egypt's next president.
Elaraby was Egypt's permanent representative to the United Nations and
director of the Regional Cairo Centre for International Commercial
Arbitration before replacing Ahmed Aboul Gheit as foreign minister in
He received a degree from Cairo University's Faculty of Law in 1955, a
masters in international law and later a doctorate in juridical science
from New York University Law School.
Elaraby served as the head of Egypt's delegation to negotiate an end to
the Taba border dispute between Egypt and Israel that was settled by
international arbitration in Egypt's favour and was also a legal adviser
to the Egyptian delegation during the Camp David Middle East Peace
Conference in 1978.