Egypt’s five-way summit: A pragmatic approach to common challenges
Monday’s five-way summit in the Egyptian city of El Alamein is a further indication that the region’s leaders are moving along parallel tracks to formulate a new working relationship in a fast-changing world. Hosted by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the meeting included Jordanian King Abdullah II, Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, the UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi. This was not the first time that the leaders have held similar meetings to coordinate positions and synchronize policies. Bahrain is a relatively new addition to this working group.
Each of the countries represented has an interest in participating in these consultative meetings. The region is facing crucial challenges as the world faces what can be described as a perfect storm. The war in Ukraine, now six-months old, continues to rage on with deep impacts on the global economy, not to mention the growing threat of a proliferation into a nuclear showdown. The conflict has rattled regional economies with spiking inflation rates, interrupting key supply chains, currency fluctuations, rising energy cost, and the drying up of direct foreign investments and aid.
Jordan and Egypt have been particularly vulnerable to these challenges. But aside from the economic aspect, the region is bracing itself for a new set of political challenges. Iraq, for example, is embroiled in an unprecedented internal conflict that has hampered efforts to form a new government since last October’s elections. Tensions between various Shiite powers have left the country in a state of paralysis. Iraq is a key member of an emerging economic alliance that includes Jordan and Egypt. Recently, the UAE has shown interest in backing this alliance. The aim, other than boosting joint trade and achieving a sort of economic complementarity, is to distance Iraq from regional polarization and underline its Arab identity.
While the El Alamein summit can do little to resolve Iraq’s political standoff, it can help ameliorate the impact of a crippled economy, breaking public services and climate change on peoples’ lives. While Al-Kadhimi is now heading a caretaker government, with limited powers, he can still push on with previously agreed upon regional projects such as the regional electric grid connectivity and the building of a crucial oil pipeline between Basra and Jordan’s Aqaba port.
The reality is that pragmatism and realism are taking over the region away from ideological polarization and endless conflicts
The stability of Egypt, Jordan and Egypt represents a long-term Gulf national interest. The UAE is in a position to pick up from where the July Jeddah summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, left concerning inter-Arab coordination and economic cooperation. The UAE has shown interest in backing efforts by countries like Jordan and Egypt in investing in mega agricultural projects to boost Arab food security. Other GCC countries can also benefit from securing sources of food from nearby Arab countries.
In addition to expanding cooperation in such vital areas, the leaders must address regional conflicts that continue to beset the region as a whole. These include the Palestinian issue, where there is consensus and a clear roadmap, and others such as the Syrian civil war, the Libyan political impasse and the shaky truce in Yemen. The leaders seem to have a common view on the need to find an end to the Syrian conflict that includes rehabilitating the Assad regime.
One other geopolitical issue that must have been discussed in the meeting is the impact of a possible agreement between the 5+1 group and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program. Both Kuwait and the UAE have appointed ambassadors to Iran especially following the joint position adopted at the Jeddah summit. Iran’s imminent return to the international community and the lifting of international sanctions will be a regional game changer and all those attending the El Alamein summit will benefit from a united stand.
These meetings are taking place as new alliances and ties are built or restored across the region with effects on each and every country. Four of the countries represented at the summit have ties with Israel while Turkey is restoring diplomatic relations with Israel as it hints at starting dialogue with Damascus. The reality is that pragmatism and realism are taking the region away from ideological polarization and endless conflicts.
It is important to mention that the mini-summit in Egypt took place as the fate of the annual Arab summit, slated to be held in Algeria, hangs in the balance. As much as the Arab League and its institutions, chief among them is the annual summit, appear dysfunctional and irrelevant, Arab countries, especially those with shared interests and common goals, cannot afford to waste time when the world and the region are fast-changing.
• Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010