CAIRO, March 25 (AFP) - Amr Mussa, Egypt's seasoned foreign minister who looks set to become the next Arab League chief, has emerged as one of the main architects of Arab policy toward Israel.
Mussa also happens to be one of the rare diplomats who is featured in a song that has become so popular it is heard in taxis, restaurants and shops throughout the Egyptian capital.
The 64-year-old Mussa was expected to be confirmed the league's new secretary general at the Arab summit starting in Jordan on Tuesday after his Arab counterparts unanimously endorsed his candidacy on Saturday.
Mussa is a seasoned and energetic foreign minister whom diplomats at Arab League headquarters here have called the right man for the job at a time of growing Arab-Israeli tension.
Born in Cairo on October 3, 1936, Mussa is a career diplomat who joined the foreign ministry one year after completing his law studies at Cairo University in 1957.
He followed the traditional path of young diplomats, occupying several posts abroad. In 1987, he became ambassador in New Delhi. In 1990, he was moved to New York where he headed Egypt's diplomatic mission at the United Nations.
Barely one year later in March 1991, Mussa was named foreign minister to succeed Esmat Abdel Meguid who was named secretary general of the Arab League, just as the pan-Arab organization returned to Cairo.
The league headquarters had been transferred to Tunis in 1979 after Egypt fell out with the rest of the Arab world over its peace treaty with Israel.
Mussa became Egypt's top diplomat after Egypt reconciled with the Arab world, and just months before the current peace process was launched in Madrid in October 1991.
Since then he and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have helped to develop the Palestinian policy toward Israel, with Egypt being the main Arab intermediary in the peace process and permanent advisor to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Mussa, whose sharp eyes glance from behind round glasses, is a diplomat born and bred as well as an expert in communications who peppers his carefully-chosen remarks with charm and humor.
His popularity stems much from the campaign he led in 1994 and 1995 against Israel's nuclear program as well as the perceived rush by some Arab countries to normalize with the Jewish state, and his sharp comments toward Israel.
It reached the point that Egyptian songwriter Shaaban Abdel Rehim praised him in a song which was a tribute to the Palestinian uprising. "I hate Israel. I love Amr Mussa," went the refrain.
In January 1999 in Tel Aviv, he refused in public to shake the hand of then foreign minister Ariel Sharon, the hardliner who was elected Israel's prime minister in February.
Answering photographers who asked him to shake hands, Mussa replied that he had heard that Sharon did not like shaking hands and he had refused such a greeting with Arafat.
The announcement of his candidacy for the league came as a "shock" to the independent and opposition press in Egypt, and some commentators suggested he had been demoted.
If he is confirmed as the new chief of the 22-member league, Mussa will seek solutions to inter-Arab conflicts, especially the Iraqi-Kuwait problem, and the Algerian-Moroccan dispute over the Western Sahara, Arab diplomats say.
During the Arab summit opening Tuesday in Amman, the heads of Arab states will have to approve Mussa and he will, for the second time, succeed Abdel Meguid whose term expires on May 15.
Mona Salem is a reporter for AFP.