CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Nabil El-Araby was named the new head of the Arab League, after Qatar withdrew its candidate — and only other contender — from the race, Arab diplomats said on Sunday.
Just moments before voting for the head of the 22-member body was due to start, Egypt withdrew the candidacy of Mustafa El-Fiqi and nominated El-Araby instead, an Arab diplomat said.
El-Fiqi, a diplomat under the regime of Egypt’s ousted president Hosni Mubarak, had faced strong opposition both on the Egyptian street and from within the 22-member Arab League, sources said.
Protesters who had gathered outside the league’s headquarters in Cairo to denounce El-Fiqi’s nomination, broke out into cheers when El-Araby’s name was announced, an AFP correspondent said.
El-Araby’s nomination was quickly followed by the news that Qatar withdrew its own candidate, Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah, a former Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) secretary general.
"There is a general consensus among foreign ministers and permanent representatives for El-Araby to take over the post of secretary general of the Arab League," Egypt’s ambassador to the Arab body, Afifi Abdel Wahab, told reporters.
El-Araby, a respected veteran diplomat, had the challenging task of charting a new foreign policy for Egypt after Mubarak was overthrown in a popular uprising in February.
A US-educated international law expert, he was one of 15 judges at the UN International Court of Justice from 2001 to 2006, sitting 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.
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 body’s secretary general has customarily been an Egyptian, except when the organization was suspended and its headquarters moved to Tunis, it was headed by Chedli Klibi, a Tunisian.
Arab foreign ministers had gathered in Cairo earlier on Sunday to begin discussions on who would succeed Amr Moussa as the new secretary general of the pan-Arab organization, as political upheavals sweep the region.
Moussa, who’s last day at work is on Monday, has decided to contest the top job in his native Egypt, in the first presidential election since an uprising toppled Mubarak in February.
The new Arab League chief will take on the job after two uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled long time presidents, deadly protests sweep the region and war rages in Libya.