Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amr Moussa's Move from Foreign Ministry to Arab League Signifies Cairo's New Emphasis on Arab Unity

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Amr Moussa's Move from Foreign Ministry to Arab League Signifies Cairo's New Emphasis on Arab Unity

Article excerpt

Amr Moussa's Move From Foreign Ministry to Arab League Signifies Cairo's New Emphasis on Arab Unity

Andrew Hammond is a free-lance journalist based in Cairo.

Egyptians, Arabs and Israelis were equally shocked to hear the news in February that Egypt had nominated its plucky pro-Palestinian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa for the post of Arab League secretary-general. Moussa has been Egypt's top diplomat for 10 years, and has become Egypt's most popular minister because of his strong statements in favor of the Palestinians and Arabs in general in their disputes with Israel. Indeed, Israel's Foreign Ministry and, reportedly, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on its behalf, complained about Moussa to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. In 1995 then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin famously talked of "poisonous winds" emanating from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry. Moussa, they have often griped, has never visited Israel.

When asked once about a leaked Israeli Foreign Ministry report recommending "punishments" for Egypt's strong public stance against settlement building, Moussa answered with succint diplomatic applomb: "Simply, I read the report and threw it in the bin."

This was around the time Egypt was formulating its strong opposition to Israel's post-Oslo idea of a "Middle East market," which posited Israel as the region's economic savior and pathway to U.S. technology. Moussa has been instrumental in the continuing attempt by Egypt to stymie these Israeli ambitions of regional leadership.

For that reason many Egyptians sniffed a plot when they heard the news that Moussa would no longer be their foreign minister. "The shock!" was the huge headline emblazoned across the front page of the Nasserist weekly al-Arabi. As newspaper columnist Salama Ahmed Salama pointed out, "He succeeded in making foreign policy a daily theme among ordinary people, and this is something new in Egypt. That's why people will miss him."

Last year Egyptians were treated to the scene of Moussa ferociously arguing with Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami in defence of Palestinians in a U.S. television debate aired on Egyptian state television. Moussa even made it into popular song after the current Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation broke out in late September. "I love Amr Moussa and I hate Israel," declaims singer Shaaban Abdel-Rahim in a recent huge hit. Some papers have suggested that because of this enormous street popularity--he had been mooted as a possible vice president to Mubarak--it isn't just Israel that will be glad to see the back of him.

But Israel's glee surely dissipated when its leaders realized what Egypt is up to here. Cairo wants to revive the role of the defunct, dormant and largely ineffective League, to use it to rally the Arabs as a whole round its own pan-Arab, pro-Palestinian policies. The advent of a Sharon regime in Israel makes that even more imperative than ever, in Egypt's view, and Moussa is the man to do it.

Egypt sees itself as the leader of the Arab world and has been the main force behind plans to create an Arab economic union and hold Arab summits once a year. It recently signed a free trade agreement with Iraq, which has accused current League Secretary-General Esmat Abdel-Meguid of siding with Kuwait in reconciliation efforts after Baghdad's 1990-91 occupation of the Gulf emirate. "The task of the Arab League is big in the new Arab system, based on an Arab summit every year and discussing Arab problems together," Moussa told Egypt's Middle East News Agency after news of his nomination came out.

Other Arab countries seem to agree with Egypt's vision. Moussa's nomination has ended talk of possible Yemeni, Jordanian, Algerian and Sudanese candidates, who have pulled out because of Egypt's weight and Moussa's stature in the Arab world. An Arab summit scheduled for late March in Amman is expected to approve Moussa's nomination. He would then replace fellow countryman Abdel-Meguid in May, when the secretary-general's second five-year term ends. …

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