Voting on Arab League top position to test Egypt, Qatar ties as uncertainties still envelop relations

 Qatar hints at reservations over renewing Aboul Geit's term in office.
Wednesday 27/01/2021
Secretary-General of Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks during a news conference after the 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, April 15, 2018. (REUTERS)
Secretary-General of Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit speaks during a news conference after the 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, April 15, 2018. (REUTERS)

CAIRO - Doha’s position on whether to nominate Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a second term as Arab League secretary-general will be a serious test of whether Egyptian-Qatari relations have thawed, especially after a tweet by former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani calling for "pulling the Arab League from its sad and miserable situation and pumping new blood into it."

His remarks were seen in Cairo as a hint at possible Qatari opposition to renewing Abou Geit's term in office.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim wrote on Twitter that if “hope materialises in the coming days and weeks towards a serious redirection towards rebuilding the Gulf Cooperation Council in a way that ends the state of division, puts the relationship between its member countries in their proper context and ensures a real Gulf breakthrough, then this will undoubtedly contribute to pulling the Arab League from the sad and miserable situation where it has been for decades.”

He called for "new blood, a new spirit, and new policies into the Arab League, that would be based on a philosophy that is detached from the individual policies of the member states of the League, puts Arab public interest first, and makes sure the Arab League is not a place to honour retirees, with all due respect and appreciation for some of them."

Analysts say that such tweets are usually carefully drafted and can be construed as an indication of an official stance, even if the account holder does not seem to hold an official position.

The former Qatari prime minister's words suggest the tweet comes in the context of a Gulf and Arab stance in favour of reforming the league, and are not just an expression of Qatar's demand.

This post was interpreted as an expression of Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim's opposition to renewing the Egyptian candidate's term in office and as indicating that Qatar's position towards Egypt has not changed despite the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

In 2016, Qatar objected to the candidacy of the current secretary-general and tried to mobilise a number of Arab countries to support its effort to prevent him from obtaining a quorum needed to secure the position.

At the time, there was a tug of war within the corridors of the league between Qatar and Egypt. The situation was resolved after Saudi Arabia intervened and pressured Doha to soften its position. Signs of a serious boycott between Egypt and Qatar had not emerged yet at that time.

Egyptian analysts expect Doha to revert to its initial position on Aboul Gheit when Egypt resubmits his candidacy for the position, especially as the recent reconciliation drive between the two countries has not fully dispelled the lingering mistrust between them.

Cairo is still not reassured about the fundamentals of reconciliation with Doha, and expects Qatar to engage in manoeuvres aimed at deflecting attention. Under the pretext of commitment to reform, the Arab League file may be a means for Qatar to lower Egypt's expectations regarding the Muslim Brotherhood issue based on the reconciliation process.

Political sources confirmed to the Arab Weekly that Cairo has decided to re-nominate Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit for Arab League secretary-general for a second five-year term, as his first term expires in June. Egypt believes Aboul Gheit has a better chance than any other candidate to secure  the position, and there is no reason now to put forward other Egyptian candidates.

The same sources added that Egypt intends to contact Arab member states about this matter, and will send official presidential messages in the coming days to secure support for the renewal of Aboul Gheit's  term, hoping to obtain clear positive responses before the Arab summit that is to be held in Algeria next March, and hence block any attempts to disrupt the renewal momentum, as happened in the last session.

The situation has remained ambiguous since the Algiers summit, which was postponed last year and then canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Egypt hopes to avoid this kind of situation this time around, perhaps by holding the meeting online, if it is not possible to hold it directly, and hence make a vote on Aboul Gheit's nomination possible.

In the event that it is not possible to approve the candidacy of the the Arab League chief at the summit,  Arab leaders could authorise their foreign ministers to hold a meeting at the ministerial level to discuss the matter before the current secretary-general's first term in office expires.

Former Egyptian Assistant Foreign Minister Ambassador Hassan Haridi stressed that the secretary-general's candidacy is subject to political consensus among Arab leaders, and is not subject to diplomatic intervention below the presidential level. He pointed out there may be candidates from other countries, but in the end, the position will go to whoever draws the greatest consensus.

Haridi further told the Arab Weekly that “Qatar's hinting through a current or former official of its rejection of the Egyptian candidate or the nomination of a Qatari personality is not new, and Cairo has already withdrawn one of its candidates in the past (Mustafa Al-Feki before nominating Nabil Al-Arabi) in search of Arab consensus.”