Egyptian joins lineup of candidates from Africa for U.N. position

August 04, 1991|By Christian Science Monitor

CAIRO, Egypt -- Egypt's minister of state for foreign affairs, Butrus Butrus Ghali, has announced his candidacy for secretary-general of the United Nations.

Speaking to a small group of reporters here, Mr. Ghali said last month that President Hosni Mubarak agreed to present his candidacy to succeed Javier Perez de Cuellar, who steps down at the end of this year.

Seen as a potentially strong contender, Mr. Ghali joins five other Africans who have officially entered the race. No African or Arab has ever held the post.

Mr. Ghali, a lawyer by training, said that he was offering his candidacy to take advantage of "a unique opportunity for Egypt, now in the limelight" after playing a leading role in the coalition against Iraq in the Persian Gulf war.

He said that he thought he had "chances of support" from other member countries of the Organization of African Unity and cited his 30 years of work on African affairs, his role in mediating disputes between African countries, and his standing as the dean of African foreign ministers.

Mr. Ghali also played a major role in negotiating the 1978 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. It is not clear, however, that he can win enough OAU support against black African candidates who are running.

They include Zimbabwean Finance Minister Bernard Chidzero; former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo; Ghanaian U.N. official Kenneth Dadzie; former Ugandan Foreign Minister Olara Otunnu; and James Jonah, a senior U.N. official from Sierra Leone.

Mr. Ghali said that the African countries would present a slate of candidates rather than one name to the Security Council, which chooses the secretary-general.

"That way it will be difficult for them to say that none of the seven has the necessary political profile for the post," he said.

He said that he did not think the post should go automatically to an African just because no one from the continent had held it before. But, he asked, "why not an African representation, if you can combine capability with geographical origins?"

Though the Egyptian minister enjoys the advantage of coming from the Arab world, he is not a Muslim but a Coptic Christian. Asked whether he thought this would be a drawback in the eyes of other Arab countries, he said that he hoped it would instead be "a chance to show how liberal we are in this region."

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