Arab League Chief: Taking the Long View


SINCE his unanimous election last May as secretary general of the 21-member Arab League, Ahmed Esmat Abdel-Meguid a former Egyptian foreign minister, has given his organization a low profile. But as the Arab world continues to digest the impact of the Gulf War, he said in an interview that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the chances of restoring Arab unity.

What are the most fundamental changes that have occurred in the Arab world over the past 12 months?

A common Arab position developed on the Arab-Israeli conflict, namely the welcoming of the peace efforts. The Gulf war did not create that Arab position, but it provided the opportunity to set the peace process in motion, to lend it enough momentum.

Did the war usher in a new era in Arab affairs?

I would not agree that the region is now only a collection of disparate nations, but I cannot underestimate the impact of the Gulf crisis. We have to look at it as certainly unprecedented in the Arab world, but not the end of the Arab world.

It is here that our efforts should be deployed - not to forget the past, but to learn its lessons.

I do not say it is easy, but I am sure that the great majority of Arab people are conscious of the situation, and we in the Arab League are trying as much as we can to bring Arab countries back together again.

What are the prospects for a new order emerging in the region?

It needs more time; we have to be very patient in this regard. But for our friends in the West to say there is no hope would be a very unwise conclusion. We Arabs will come to an understanding ... the history is there, look at the attitude of the Arab countries when Egypt started the peace process with Israel. It took 15 years, but [acceptance] has come.

We have to plan for a long-range vision, not a short-term one. What is 10 or 15 years in the life of a nation?

Are you hopeful about the future?

I am cautiously optimistic. The Arab world has the ingredients for coming back together, and we have to accept that we can live with our differences, and not fight one another again. I consider myself an instrument to help bring things together.

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