CAIRO: Egypt’s newly appointed foreign minister Nabil El-Araby is a respected veteran diplomat who joined the Camp David negotiations that yielded a peace deal with Israel.
El-Araby was one of the names proposed by a coalition of pro-democracy activists who helped to launch nationwide protests that led to last month’s overthrow of president Hosni Mubarak.
The US-educated diplomat will tap into his vast international experience to chart a new foreign policy in the challenging post-Mubarak era, amid deadly protests raging across the region demanding political change.
A respected international law expert, El-Araby was one of 15 judges at the UN International Court of Justice from 2001 to 2006, and he sits on several international arbitration panels.
He joined the foreign ministry shortly after receiving his doctorate from New York University Law School, rising through the ranks to become Cairo’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and later in New York.
After retirement, El-Araby set up the Cairo Regional Centre for International Commercial Arbitration, a non-profit organization which administers both domestic and international arbitrations.
The US-educated diplomat is “very well-respected in diplomatic circles,” a source at the foreign ministry told AFP.
El-Araby replaces Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt’s foreign minister since 2004, who had survived a cabinet reshuffle by Mubarak aimed at placating protesters.
As a young diplomat, El-Araby took part in the Camp David negotiations that led to Israel’s first peace deal with an Arab country in 1979 and also saw Egypt suspended from the Arab League.
The Egyptian uprising that erupted on Jan. 25 led to fears in Israel that the treaty would be jeopardized, but in a recent article in the independent daily Al-Shorouk, El-Araby said the peace deal must be maintained.
But he stressed that Egypt did not have to respect a controversial Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
He criticized Egypt’s foreign policy in recent years as outdated and reactionary, saying that “decisions were taken randomly and unilaterally.”
“Egypt is a heavyweight in the region… and it is not appropriate for its foreign policy and positions to be improvised or to violate international laws,” El-Araby wrote, in reference to Egypt’s quiet support for a blockade on the Gaza Strip.
He said the country should consider signing international human rights agreements, including the Geneva Convention.
El-Araby was born in March 1935, and is married with two sons and a daughter.