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."

NEW DIPLOMATIC TRACK

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 March.

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.




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