Aboul Gheit becomes Arab League secretary-general for second round


Reluctantly, and amid muted disagreement the signals of which have emerged in public, Arab foreign ministers have reselected the Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Aboul Gheit as secretary-general of the Arab League, which is based in Cairo, for a second five-year term beginning in mid-May. Aboul Gheit’s reappointment comes despite an apparent disagreement between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a general Arab desire to end Egypt’s monopoly on the position of secretary-general of the league of Arab states, and the established tradition that this position is the right of the state where the headquarters is based.

Muffled dispute between Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Immediately prior to the reselection of Aboul Gheit, the delegation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent hard-hitting notes, which were distributed to all the delegates of the member states of the Arab League, with a copy sent to the general secretariat, saying that Riyadh saw that the payment of its annual budget in the Arab League is linked to carrying out fundamental financial and administrative reforms; the first of which is reducing financial dues to the secretary-general and reviewing the non-permanent employment policy.

The letter refers to administrative blame which has been placed on the work of the general secretariat of the Arab League, which Aboul Gheit assumed in March 2016. Among them is his failure to appoint a vice president, failure to adhere to the decisions of reform and development of the structural entity of the general secretariat, and implications of this failure on following up the main issues.

Sources in the general secretariat of the Arab League said that the timing and content of such a statement is an unambiguous indication that passing the re-nomination of the current secretary-general for a second term comes without the required reverence and support, although Aboul Gheit and his aides have never hesitated to support and implement the requests of countries they fear losing their contributions in the budget of the Arab League. These countries are led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait. For this reason, the letter is not necessarily to Aboul Gheit in person, but perhaps to the headquarters country that nominated him and decided to renominate him.

Saudi Arabia’s objections come amid undeclared Saudi anger towards Egypt, which has not issued statements condemning or questioning an American intelligence report accusing the Saudi crown prince of direct responsibility for the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi  

This perception was reinforced by the TV appearance of the Kingdom’s former ambassador to Cairo, Ahmed Qattan, to announce that during his tenure in Egypt, the prime minister and former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq had won the first democratic presidential elections in Egypt in 2012, hinting that the Egyptian military council was subject to the dictates of the American democratic administration by announcing the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi.

It is noteworthy that Shafiq was subjected to a short detention followed by house arrest after he announced his intention to run for the presidency of the republic in competition with the current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

On 2 March, Qattan published several tweets and then deleted them, in which he said that the secretary-general of the Arab League allowed heads of the league’s delegations for more than four years and called for ending the services of those who exceeded 65 years to allow others to take up these positions.

The Saudi official emphasised the necessity of abolishing the reward of the secretary-general, for which $5 million were allocated, then $2 million, in addition to the statutory reward estimated at $300,000 for every five years. Accordingly, the average obtained by the former secretary-general reached about $70,000 a month without including the cost of assignments and travel.

Other countries reject Aboul Gheit

Aboul Gheit’s renomination for a second round has never been welcomed by the Arabs, not only from a country like Qatar, which blames Aboul Gheit for his positions on Doha during the crisis with Saudi Arabia and the Arab Quartet from the summer of 2017 until January of this year. Indeed, a state like Palestine blames him also for not keeping the minimum formal Arab support for the Palestinian cause in the face of attempts to abort the Palestinian struggle.

Sources in the secretariat of the league said, in statements to Mada Masr news website, if there has already been a skirmish that cannot be overlooked over the monopoly of Egypt on the seat of the secretary-general. They added that after the second term of Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League, which ended in the spring of 2011, there was serious talk, especially from the Arab Maghreb countries and the Arab Gulf states, that there should be a rotation of the secretary-general seat of the Arab League, which did not happen with the advent of the Arab Spring, which brought Egypt back to the forefront of joint Arab action after the January revolution.

The source added that the situation is different now, and Egypt no longer has an excuse to continue its acquisition on the position of secretary-general, except for the stable tradition that this position is the right of the headquarters country, including the period in which the headquarter was transferred to Tunisia after Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel.

The source pointed out that the decision to agree to the Egyptian request to retain Aboul Gheit in his post came “reluctantly,” given that all countries that oppose Egypt, and those that do not oppose it but do not feel comfortable with the performance of the Arab League, realise that submitting another candidate from another country, with cross-country support, won’t be easy.

The implicit agreement, then, between supporters and opponents, was to keep the situation as it is until further notice, bearing in mind that the Arab context that was the basis for the launch of the Arab League more than seven decades ago has changed significantly, not only in terms of the traditional status of some countries, including Egypt, but also in terms of the traditional position of the Palestinian cause, and the idea of ​​Arab nationalism in itself, which is a thing of the past and will not return in the years of official and accelerated Arab normalisation with Israel.