New foreign minister Nabil El-Arabi reshapes Egyptian foreign policy

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 13 Mar 2011

Egypt is reaching out to strengthen ties with "all Arab states", according to its new foreign minister

Nabil Elarabi
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elarabi emerging from Saturday's Emergency meeting of the Arab League Council on Libya

Newly appointed Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil El-Arabi made an impressive debut this week as he headed Egypt's delegation to the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers meeting on developments in Libya.

Amid much attention from Arab satellite channels, El-Arabi arrived at 2pm on Saturday at the Cairo headquarters of the pan-Arab organisation. He entered the meeting hall and exchanged greetings with some of foreign ministers and diplomats known to him during his years in the Egyptian foreign service and as a judge for five years at the International Court of Justice.

The key message El-Arabi put across regarding Egyptian foreign policy was of "a new beginning based on good relations" with "all Arab countries". His message was commended by other Arab foreign ministers who deemed this the right beginning for Egypt to resume its erstwhile traditional role as "a leading country in the Arab world".

El-Arabi's himself was also welcomed by participants in the meeting, who underlined his "perceptive intervention", "coherent views", "clear orientation" and "elaborate speech". Some made the comparison between El-Arabi and his predecessor, Ahmed Abul-Gheit, whose entry into the Arab League building at the heart of Tahrir Square a week ago was met with angry demonstrators shouting "The people want Abul-Gheit out!"

Abul-Gheit was never particularly popular. His style of speech did not endear him to other diplomats or the Arab street.

El-Arabi, on the contrary, is a veteran Egyptian diplomat whose name is closely associated with Egyptian diplomatic efforts to restore Taba to Egypt from a resistant Israeli occupation in the 1980s.

El-Arabi's name is also associated with daring opposition to late President Anwar Sadat over the Camp David Accords. At the time a young diplomat working as part of the Foreign Ministry team accompanying the Egyptian president, El-Arabi went to Sadat to tell him that the accords compromised some of Egypt's most fundamental rights. His remarks were shrugged off by Sadat.

Most recently, El-Arabi spoke up against Egypt's decision to keep closed its borders with the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip, on the basis that this constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law.

El-Arabi's name has been proposed as a possible Egyptian candidate for the soon-to-be-vacant position of the Arab League secretary general as the incumbent, Amr Moussa, will return to national politics and run for the Egyptian presidency in upcoming elections.

Short link: