By Tariq Alhomayed
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 20/04/2011
There is growing debate these days about the position of Secretary General of the Arab League, after Amr Musa's announcement that he would step down from the post and run as a candidate in the next Egyptian presidential elections. But, should the next Secretary General be an Egyptian, or not?
I think that the answer to this question goes beyond a simpl yes or no. The conditions currently experienced by the region mean that not only should the next Secretary General be an Egyptian, but there is also a need for the League's headquarters to remain in Cairo, as the official location for future Arab summits. Iraq, for example, is not qualified to host a summit. Inter-Arab relations are poor at the moment; the Arab body is tired and many Arab states are living in a state of intensive care. Therefore, Arab summits have become occasions for each state to act according to its own agenda, and circumstances. The summits have turned into lectures and battles, and now they must be limited to the headquarters in Cairo, where they can be efficient, quick, and not mere formalities, airport receptions, or other forms of useless publicity.
As for the position of Secretary General, and who will succeed Amr Musa, if it was to be a Saudi candidate, I would not be overly positive. Today, we need Egypt to be with us in heart and soul, and we must return to the real center of gravity, not propaganda. Egypt plays an undeniable role, both positively and negatively in the Arab region. If Egypt was experiencing conditions different to the ones it is going through today, it may have been acceptable to appoint a Secretary General outside of Egypt, but today this would not be a wise move. We have to stand with Egypt at this historical juncture because the absence of Cairo on the Arab scene, even for a short period, will have significant consequences.
The post of Secretary General of the Arab League, at this time when our region is experiencing a political earthquake that has ravaged many states, requires someone who is able to communicate with everyone without any sensitivities, or controversial political stances. What is happening today makes the role of the Arab League even more sensitive, and this requires an Arab figure who will not cause matters to escalate. This is what an Egyptian candidate offers, because there is an Arab consensus on the role of Egypt, its prestige, and its image today. The issue is not one of individual personalities, with all due appreciation and respect, but states are more important than individuals. The stage requires us to support Egypt rather than go against it. We must not get caught up in the issue of whether Egyptian candidate Mustafa al-Fiqi was a member of the former regime or not, for this press wrangling is of no value. The man paid the price for his disputes with the former regime, and that is well known.
Therefore it is in our interests for the Arab League headquarters to remain in Egypt, as the permanent location for future Arab League summits. This is more effective than postponing summits, due to the current conditions in some countries, or transferring the League to another country. The Arab League should follow the example of the UN General Assembly in New York. Furthermore, the Secretary General of the Arab League should be an Egyptian, and Dr Mustafa al-Fiqi is best suited for this stage.