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Sun 15 May 2011 09:39 PM

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Egypt's Elaraby is named next Arab League chief

Foreign minister set to lead organisation amid unprecedented turmoil in the region

Egypt's Elaraby is named next Arab League chief
Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby (L) with his British counterpart William Hague. (KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt's foreign minister was confirmed as the Arab League's next chief on Sunday to lead the organisation amid unprecedented turmoil in the region after last minute diplomacy left him as the only candidate in the race.

Nabil Elaraby, nominated shortly before foreign ministers were due to meet on Sunday, will take over from Amr Moussa, another former Egyptian foreign minister who led the 22-nation Cairo-based body for 10 years. Qatar had withdrawn its nominee.

Since the start of 2011, Egyptians and Tunisians have thrown out presidents who ruled for decades. Libya, Yemen and Syria have faced unprecedented challenges to well-established rulers and protests have unsettled other Arab monarchs and presidents.

"For Egypt to sacrifice its foreign minister is sending a message that it is keen on keeping the Arab League alive at a time when the political circumstances in the region may weaken it," said Hassan Abou Taleb of Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

The League has long been viewed by many Arabs as a talking shop for leaders that has failed to adequately deal with challenges besetting the region, such as the Palestinian and Israel conflict and other sources of Middle East tension.

Since the League was founded in 1945, the head has been an Egyptian except for a hiatus of a decade when Egypt was suspended from the League for its peace treaty with Israel in 1979.

Elaraby was confirmed as the next leader during a session that was broadcast live on television.

"This is the toughest assignment I will have," Elaraby said in an acceptance speech.

Egypt had fielded a career diplomat Mostafa el-Fekki, a former member of parliament for Hosni Mubarak's ruling party although he quit his post during the 18-day uprising that led to the Egyptian president being pushed out of power on February 11.

Egypt then switched its candidate to Elaraby, a former judge at the International Court of Justice and previously Egypt's representative at the United Nations.

Elaraby, appointed foreign minister after Mubarak was ousted, has carved a fresh diplomatic track for Egypt since taking over the ministry. He has been a tougher critic of Israel, more supportive of Palestinians and offered an opening to Iran.

Egypt's state news agency announced the change in candidate and, shortly after, Qatar-based channel Al Jazeera reported the withdrawal of Qatar's Abdulrahman bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, a former secretary-general of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

"It seemed that Qatar and Egypt were going to have to win or lose at the expense of the other and withdrawing both candidates is likely to have been a compromise," said Abou Taleb.

Moussa, known for his outspoken comments including criticism of the US-led Iraq war that he said would open "the gates of hell", is running as a candidate in an election to become Egypt's next president.

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