21.07.2021 Author: Viktor Mikhin

The Baghdad Summit: A New Reality in the Middle East


In the Middle East, against the backdrop of recent transformations at both the regional and international levels, and the shameful way the United States is fleeing Afghanistan, various alliances and partnerships are also being reshaped. One of the most important processes taking place in this context is the rapprochement between Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. For example, at the end of June, a promising meeting between the leaders of the three countries took place in Baghdad, during which they expressed readiness to rapidly develop their relations further.

The leaders of Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan have gathered together in Baghdad for a trilateral summit to strengthen economic ties and dovetail their political positions. The summit could not have taken place at a more opportune time; this is due to the efforts that many Arab countries are putting forth to maintain unity and prevent attempts at disintegration.  The three countries participating in the meeting also welcomed many other Arab countries that believe that perhaps in the future there will be a process whereby close cooperation occurs between all the states in the Arab world.

For this and other reasons, the title of the meeting – the Baghdad Summit – is significant as it was chosen among other titles that were proposed at a certain stage, including the Levant Project. But the error committed with this is that there is no Levant without Syria, and Egypt is not geographically part of the Levant. Some observers expressed the view that another name that was proposed – “New Arab Mashrek” – would imply excluding other Arab countries, which would create problems early on while developing the draft for the summit. And, on top of that, not only are the Maghreb countries not included in the Baghdad summit now, but in the future they can lodge complaints about the name of the summit and their participation in it.

Now that the title of the meeting has been elucidated, there are some other points that are important to raise about the Trilateral Summit in Iraq. The first concerns the warm welcome extended to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Baghdad. This is the first visit made by an Egyptian president to Iraq in 30 years, despite how their bilateral relations have been rapidly developing. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, and King Abdullah II of Jordan met in Baghdad during the Egyptian head of state’s first visit to Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. Back then, the conflict severed diplomatic relations between Iraq and Egypt, but they have improved in recent years, with many high-ranking officials from both countries exchanging visits.

In addition, the Iraqi government set up a magnificent demonstration of its demographic and cultural diversity to welcome the participants to the summit. Many Iraqi genres that manifest themselves in its music and traditional costumes were exhibited at the summit’s reception, and the stage bore a strong resemblance to the lavish reception given to Pope Francis when he visited Iraq in March. The Pope’s visit opened up many windows and opportunities in the grandeur of Iraqi history, just like what happened during the Baghdad Trilateral Summit.

A second point is that Iraq’s investment in hosting the summit raises expectations for a positive outcome to stem from the meeting in the long term. These high expectations will become a problem if they are not satisfied by the achievements made on the ground. This does not refer to the non-Arab regional powers that do not feel comfortable with the closeness demonstrated at the summit, or some of the Iraqi ideological elites, who may have their own political biases. Instead, it concerns the Iraqi public, which has high hopes for the Trilateral Summit due to its government’s persistent focus on the meeting, and the work synchronizing ambitious plans for joint projects in political, economic, and cultural areas.

According to statements made by the leaders from the three countries at the summit, the program that was approved includes large-scale commercial projects geared toward providing benefits for Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan, including linking the three countries’ power grids, an oil pipeline stretching from Basra to Egypt through Aqaba, and constructing a new industrial center. These projects must be completed as soon as possible, especially given the fact that many Iraqis now face daily power cuts that can last for hours, even though temperatures sometimes reach as high as 50 degrees.  For its part, Egypt signed 15 deals and memorandums of understanding across various sectors, including those involving oil, roads, housing, construction, and commerce; this happened after the Iraqi Cabinet of Ministers approved extending a contract to deliver Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) 12 million barrels of Basra Light crude oil in 2021. “The Baghdad Summit reaps real economic benefits for all three partners, especially in the area of energy diplomacy,” said Hafsa Halwa, a scholar at the Middle East Institute.

This reaffirmation of Iraq’s Arab identity is fostered through the process of satisfying its basic needs, and in this regard Egypt can serve as an example for that. Cairo has made great strides with its own electricity production after suffering from power shortages during the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood (a group that is banned by the Russian Federation) from 2012-2013. At that time, there was a struggle occurring across two fronts in the country: the fight against deliberate acts of sabotage against power transmission lines committed by the “Brotherhood”, and empowering the Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy to create new power plants. Now that this suffering has just remains a bad memory in Egypt, accelerating the delivery of Egyptian capabilities to Iraq and Jordan could provide a solid public base of support for the new meeting launched by the Trilateral Summit. The peoples in Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan want the large-scale projects that have been announced to become a reality on the ground in the very near future. When the Trilateral Group is strengthened by common interests, it will not only win over the confidence the peoples involved in it, but also change the image of integrated Arab economic projects in the region, which is one that is still not always that positive.

The third point concerns the points of view that the three countries share on policy, as reflected in their statements that followed the summit. Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan adhere to similar views on many central issues, and the main ones are the Palestinian cause, the crises in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and terrorism, which is both a political issue and a security issue. And there is also the water security issue, which has political and economic implications. Concerning the water security issue, the Baghdad Summit statement referred to the second reservoir for the Ethiopian Great Renaissance Dam (GERD) that is slated for this summer by the Ethiopian government. This comes after the previous summit in Amman, which formulated a comprehensive framework stating that it is essential to respect international law while preserving the rights of downstream countries, Egypt and Sudan, to have access to water.

In addition, the Baghdad Trilateral Group can execute various political projects, with each country enjoying advantages in different regions of the world, and this can be used to serve each member of the group. For example, relations between the United States and Iraq have been strained since the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the Iraqi commander of the Popular Mobilization Forces, last January. But thanks to his excellent relationship with the United States, the Jordanian king can help mitigate those tensions and achieve negotiations on these issues between Washington and Baghdad. Furthermore, easing tension between Iraq and the United States will also deprive Iran, a country with which the Baghdad summit members have fairly cool relations, of one of its “key cards to put pressure” on Iraq. Likewise, Egypt’s well-developed relations with some European countries, in particular France, could have a positive impact on European-Iraqi relations. Iraq can also expand its mediating role in relations with Turkey in the interests of all the participants in the Baghdad summit.

As noted by the Arab media, the peoples that live in the three participating countries hope that the summit in Baghdad will be a turning point on the road to further achievements, and those are within the scope of what is possible, as long as their leaderships have the political will to achieve them.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”. 

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