Arab League top job still undecided

Dina Ezzat , Monday 4 Apr 2011

The competition for the job of secretary-general remains open, with non-Egyptian candidates proposed by some

Arab league

“This is something that we are contemplating – we have not made a final decision about it,” said a Cairo-based Qatari diplomat to Ahram Online on the possible running of a Qatari candidate for the top job at the Arab League.

 The name Abdel-Rahman Al-Attiya, a long-time secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, is being proposed already in Gulf diplomatic quarters. According to the same Qatari official, the traditional Saudi opposition to a Qatari candidate for the job of Arab League secretary-general is now suspended.

Attiyah, according to another Cairo-based Gulf diplomat, who spoke on Monday afternoon, “has excellent relations across the Gulf”. However, this diplomat did not specify whether or not those relations are excellent enough for Riyadh to support the Qatari candidate.

The job of the secretary-general of the Arab League will be vacant from 15 May, when the second five year term of the current secretary-general will end. Amr Moussa, who announced his plan to run in the Egyptian presidential elections, is not going to seek re-election.

Since the establishment of the League over 60 years ago, the role of secretary-general has traditionally been reserved for Egyptian candidates, with the exception of the decade of the Arab boycott when the headquarters of the League were moved to Tunis. At that time the secretary-general was Tunisian.

“The de facto and not de jure practice is that the secretary-general comes from the country of the headquarters, and we are determined to keep this practice,” said an Egyptian diplomat on Monday afternoon following the circulation of news on a possible Qatari candidature.

Egypt is, however, having problems finding the right candidate. Before the end of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Mubarak himself had pressured Moussa to run for a third term. During the early days of the January 25 revolution, Egypt nominated, withdrew and then re-nominated Moufid Shehab, a long time parliamentary affairs minister under Mubarak.

 Then the name of Nabil El-Arabi, the current minister of foreign affairs, was proposed as a consensual candidate who commands respect. El-Arabi was just assigned the crucial foreign affairs portfolio about a month ago, and now appears to be trying to reshape Egypt’s foreign policy, which has sustained serious damage from the last years of the Mubarak regime. As such, it is not likely that he would be nominated for a new position only two months after taking on that task.

 “We are examining possible candidates and we would be ready with at least one consensual name within two weeks,” said the same Egyptian diplomat.

 Egypt would have to present the candidature officially to the member states and get a vote at the upcoming Arab summit, scheduled for 11 May in Baghdad.

There are, however, serious concerns that this summit will not take place on time, due to the current security situation in Iraq and the wide unrest across the Arab world, which make it unlikely that many Arab leaders will be prepared to go to Baghdad.

If the summit is delayed then Egypt might have a better chance to nominate El-Arabi, who is considered in many Arab diplomatic quarters to be “the best Egyptian candidate”. If he is nominated it is highly unlikely that any of the Arab countries that are currently suggesting alternatives would run an opposing candidate, according to several diplomats. The Qatari diplomat would not comment on this matter.

But this would make the seat of the secretary-general empty for a few weeks or maybe a few months. “The deputy secretary-general (Algerian diplomat Ahmed Ben Helli) could take over temporarily,” said an Arab League source.

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