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Mubarak's foreign minister elected Arab League chief

Abul Gheit has often faced criticism for his soft approach to Israel [AFP]

Date of publication: 11 March, 2016

Ahmed Abul Gheit, Hosni Mubarak's foreign minister and veteran Egyptian diplomat was on Thursday elected as the Arab League's new secretary general, amid Qatari reservations.

The Arab League on Thursday elected Mubarak-era foreign minister and veteran diplomat Ahmed Abul Gheit as its new secretary general, amid Qatari reservations.

Abul Gheit who was the only candidate for the position was opposed by Qatar due to his "hostile positions" towards Doha, Arab diplomats said, in a sign of divisions within the pan-Arab body.

"The consultations resulted in the nomination of Ahmed Abul Gheit to the post of secretary general," Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa announced in televised remarks at the end of a ministerial meeting.

Abul Gheit, who served as foreign minister under Egypt's ousted president Hosni Mubarak, takes office at a time when the Cairo-based Arab League is facing several serious challanges.

At the top of the list is the war in Syria that has killed more than 270,000 people and displaced millions since it erupted in 2011.

The more than five-year-old conflict has seen regional heavyweights Saudi Arabia and Iran backing opposite sides.

In addition, relations between Qatar and Egypt, which traditionally chooses candidates for the post of secretary general, have soured.

Qatar had accused Abul Gheit of pushing Egypt to boycott a Qatari-proposed Arab summit in 2009 to discuss an Israeli assault on Gaza, according to several diplomats.

Cairo accuses Doha of supporting its outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement of former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was toppled by a military coup in 2013.

The Brotherhood has been the target of a brutal crackdown since then, and Doha has regularly denounced the operations that left hundreds dead and thousands in jail.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani expressed Doha's "reservations" over Abul Gheit but voiced hope the next secretary general "will maintain contact between all Arab countries in the interest of joint Arab action."

Qatar had accused Abul Gheit of pushing Egypt to boycott a Qatari-proposed Arab summit in 2009 to discuss an Israeli assault on Gaza, according to several diplomats.

Abul Gheit has often faced criticism for adopting a soft approach towards Israel, especially since he accused the Palestinian movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, of being responsible for the Israeli assault on the besieged strip.

Cairo proposed Abul Gheit, 73, for the post after the incumbent, Nabil al-Arabi, another Egyptian, declined a second five-year term as secretary general. His term ends in July.

Traditionally, the secretary general has held the position for two terms and the post has gone to an Egyptian, with Tunisia's Chedli Klibi the sole exception.

Abul Gheit will be the eighth secretary general of the League since it was founded in 1945.

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