Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The Egyptian Arab League | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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As students from Washington, we visited Cairo in the early eighties as part of our politics lessons. I do not know why our teacher chose to visit that beautiful old building on Talaat Harb Street known as the Egyptian Diplomatic Club. There we met a number of Egyptian Foreign Ministry employees, and everything at the club suggested aristocracy and the days of the Pashas. Alan Taylor, our teacher, commented that Egyptian diplomacy remained even after the 1952 revolution.

Those who held significant political positions abroad were from elite families or had excelled in their studies. The club was a private one and was built by a French architect. It symbolises high end diplomacy; from ambassadors to chefs who are assigned to Egyptian embassies around the world. Ancient Egyptian diplomacy, just like the Diplomatic club that is one hundred years old, maintains its traditions and expertise.

Like high end diplomacy, Ahmed Aboul Gheit has a distinctive C.V. that features Egyptian diplomatic missions ranging from New York to Moscow. He was foreign minister and dealt with different issues in the region and its networks with the world and big powers.

Although some complain about Egypt’s monopoly over the Secretary General of the Arab League post, no Arab country has been able to provide a common platform for member agreement except for agreeing to the host country’s recommendations. There were no other candidates or countries that were acceptable to all. Past events reveal that the real problem is not the Secretary General himself or his post. However, it appears that the main problem is the persistence of Arab conflict. The headquarters of the Arab League, the post of Secretary General or the individual who holds this post is not a problem. Evidence for this is the fact that the former presidents of Iraq and Syria; Saddam Hussein and Hafez Al-Assad respectively, pressurised Arabs to move the Arab League’s headquarters from Egypt to Tunisia. Chedli Klibi became the Secretary General yet the Arab League made no progress.

We do not expect miracles even though Aboul Gheit, who is the best suited person to manage the League, has taken over this office. The new Secretary General realises the importance of the League, the importance of what it represents and that it can be a large, valuable and global institution if the governments of member states overcame their differences and agreed to give the League an opportunity to achieve cooperation.

The Arab League represents a huge area with resources that can make it a major power. The region has the fourth biggest global population (300 million people) and the second in the world in terms of area. The challenge is to achieve joint Arab action; Arab governments have failed to take advantage of the League’s umbrella to benefit its citizens and their countries and have reduced its role to a forum for disputes. I do not think that the new Secretary General can change this reality to a great extent as long as member governments fail to agree on proposals for common projects that lead to development and therefore stability.

Dr Nabil El-Araby, the Secretary-General whose term has ended, held the position during the height of chaos and revolutions. To his credit, he was able to save the League from collapse, chaos and anarchy. The new Secretary General, Aboul Gheit, will manage the League at a time that is no less dangerous; there are growing threats from Iran, fighting raging in three Arab countries ( Syria, Libya and Yemen) and political differences between member states are at their worst.