Egypt FM Nabil El-Arabi named Arab League chief

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 15 May 2011

Faced by strong rejection from Arab states, Cairo takes an 11th hour decision to withdraw its candidate for Arab League Secretary General and nominate FM Nabil El-Arabi in his stead

Nabil Elarabi

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi was unanimously elected Arab League Secretary General early Sunday evening.

Egypt officially withdrew the nomination of retired diplomat and former Parliamentarian Mustafa El-Fiqi for the job of Arab League Secretary-General and presented instead the name of Nabil El-Arabi, Egypt's Foreign Minister.

"We told Egypt that the only way to bring the standoff to an end is to nominate El-Arabi; we have been saying this for weeks," said a Cairo-based Arab diplomat.

Egypt had insisted on El-Fiqi in the face of strong opposition from many Arab states, and Qatar’s alternative candidate, senior diplomat Abdel-Rahman Al-Attiyah, who had served as secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Cairo’s change of candidates came at the very last moment. "We received and official notification, just a few minutes before the (foreign ministers) meeting started and we sent it immediately to the secretary-general," said an administrative source at the Arab League.

In response, Qatar has officially withdrawn its candidate.

Arab foreign ministers started their meeting at 5 pm Cairo Local Time to consider the top Arab League job which has been held by outgoing Secretary General Amr Moussa for the past ten years. Moussa officially ends his tenure at the head of the Arab League today.

Moussa leaves the Arab League to launch his presidential campaign within a few days and had declined a Saudi demand to keep the job for a few more months.

Foreign Minister El-Arabi was reluctant to take the job but has succumbed finally to pressures from within the Egyptian ruling powers to accept his candidature for the top post at the Arab organization.

Opposition to El-Fiqi’s nomination had also come from Egyptian public opinion and post-revolution political forces, citing his membership of former president Mubarak defunct National Democratic Party, and his alleged involvement in vote rigging in his constituency in the 2005 parliamentary elections.

El-Arabi is unlikely to take his new job before eight weeks – pending the nomination of a new foreign minister.

El-Arabi assumed his job as foreign minister a little over two months ago, following the dismissal of Ahmed Abul-Gheit, the highly unpopular foreign minister under Mubarak. His performance and political positions since then have been met with a high rate of public approval inside Egypt, and across the Arab world.
Shortly after the announcement of the nomination of El-Arabi, hundreds of demonstrators at the gates of the Arab League in Cairo's Tahrir square started chanting "Long live Egypt; Long live El-Arabi".

Sources close to Egyptian diplomacy and government suggest El-Arabi's successor will most likely be respected veteran diplomat Nabil Fahmi, who last served as Egypt's ambassador in the US, and is currently on a leave of absence from the Foreign Ministry, while serving as Dean the American University in Cairo’s School of Public Affairs.

During the Egyptian revolution both Fahmi and El-Arabi helped found the Committee of Wise Men, which brought together a number of prominent Egyptian public figures with the aim of supporting the revolution. Much less known was the Arab League’s Moussa’s support for the Committee, which was not made public due to the sensitivity of his post.

Fahmi was political advisor to Moussa during the latter’s term as foreign minister of Egypt.

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