Egypt's Arabi elected Arab League chief

'The Arab world is going through many crises'

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi was unanimously elected Arab League chief on Sunday to succeed Amr Mussa, embarking on a challenging task as political upheaval sweeps the region.
The surprise announcement of his candidacy came after Egypt withdrew diplomat Mustafa al-Fikki from the race just moments before voting for the head of the 22-member body was due to start.
The new Arab League chief stood up to salute the delegates who gave him a standing ovation after Omani Foreign Minister Yussef bin Alawi, who chaired the session, presented him as the secretary general.
"The Arab world is going through many crises. We must all stand together and find solutions," Arabi said, admitting he did not have a speech prepared.
Fikki, 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 league, sources said.
Protesters who had gathered outside the league's headquarters in Cairo to denounce Fikki's nomination broke out into cheers when Arabi's name was announced, an AFP correspondent said.
Mussa, whose last day at work is on Monday, has decided to contest the top job in his native Egypt, in the first presidential election since Mubarak was overthrown in February following 18 days of popular protests.
He said he was "proud" of his 10 years at the Arab League, boosting in particular the domains of development and culture.
For his part, Arabi said he would call on Mussa for advice as he takes on a political assault course, with a region throbbing with conflict and protests as it seeks to replace its decades-old autocracies with democracy.
Arabi "does not have an easy job. We must all stand together and support him in his new job," Oman's bin Alawi said.
And in a sign of the popularity of the choice of Arabi, he said "the Arab world is in good hands," to yet another round of applause.
"We are full of hope that the Arab League under his leadership will open new horizons for Arab cooperation," said Syria's ambassador to the Arab League, Yussef al-Ahmad.
Arab foreign ministers had gathered in Cairo earlier on Sunday to begin discussions on who would succeed Amr Mussa as the new secretary general of the pan-Arab organisation.
The new Arab League chief will take on the job after two uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt toppled long time presidents, and as deadly protests sweep the region and a war rages in Libya.
Arabi's nomination had been quickly followed by the news that Qatar withdrew its candidate -- and the only other contender -- Abdulrahman al-Attiyah, a former Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general, from the race.
"There is a general consensus among foreign ministers and permanent representatives for Arabi to take over the post of secretary general of the Arab League," Egypt's ambassador to the Arab body, Afifi Abdel Wahab, told reporters ahead of the vote.
Arabi, a respected veteran diplomat, had the challenging task of charting a new foreign policy for Egypt after Mubarak's ouster.
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, Arabi 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 organisation was suspended and its headquarters moved to Tunis, it was headed by Chedli Klibi, a Tunisian.