Arab League to Elect New Chief

Arab League to Elect New Chief

CAIRO (AP) -- The Arab League's 22 members are voting on Thursday to elect the organization's new chief, with a veteran Egyptian diplomat the only contender for the post.

The vote comes at a critical time for the Mideast. Syria is marking the fifth anniversary of the start of its devastating civil war, regional proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran are on full display, and the battle against the Islamic State is raging in several Arab countries.

Egypt's Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, a former ambassador to the United Nations and veteran diplomat under autocrat Hosni Mubarak, is the only nominee for the post and is widely expected to win approval from the league members. It is a long held protocol that Egypt as host of the Arab League traditionally nominates the league chief. The league has been almost exclusively headed by Egyptians.

Divisions have weakened the Arab League since the 2011 uprisings that toppled three longtime autocratic rulers but also sparked three civil wars.

But despite its waning influence, a strong leadership might help shore up Saudi-led Sunni front against Iran at a time of ongoing military involvement by the Saudis and other Gulf Arab countries in Yemen and Syria.

Past league chairmen have included pan-Arab nationalists such as Amr Moussa and the outgoing head, Nabil Elaraby. Aboul-Gheit appears to mark a shift as he is known to be a pragmatic diplomat with strong enmity for political Islam factions like the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

Aboul-Gheit was the last foreign minister under longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, toppled in Egypt's 2011 uprising. He was replaced after Mubarak's ouster and kept a low profile while many of Mubarak loyalists were sent to courts for trials in corruption-linked cases.