This is the first meeting of the annual Arab Summit after the long break due to the coronavirus epidemic. It was supposed to be held in March this year but was postponed due to numerous disagreements over the agenda and the desire of the incoming chairman, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to take some political steps that were not immediately supported by the Arabs. However, the Secretary General of the League of Arab States (LAS), Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said that the summit in Algeria was like an Arab reunification in the face of global challenges, pressures, and threats.
One of the main topics of the summit is Syria, and Algeria would like to rejoin Damascus in the Arab League meetings. Syria’s membership was suspended in 2011 at the initiative of some Persian Gulf Arab states, which were heavily influenced by the West at the time. For more than 10 years, Damascus and its people have suffered from unfair treatment by their very own Arab brethren. Moreover, these same countries and the West have unleashed a civil war in Syria and generously funded those who wanted to divide this beautiful country and put it under the complete control of the United States.
Algeria also offered to invite some countries in the region as guests. But none of its proposals received sufficient approval from the member states of this pan-Arab organization. As soon as the Algerians decided to keep the old political scheme of the summit “within the agreed political scope,” all disagreements were settled. Nevertheless, the fate of the summit was the subject of considerable speculation until the end of the summer, and Algeria had to engage in a series of negotiations to salvage the situation. According to Egyptian diplomatic sources, Cairo has always taken a consistent and pragmatic political line in the face of “many international and regional problems that require a pragmatic approach and realistic expectations.”
It is clear that the summit is taking place at a time of high international tensions caused by the war against Russia unleashed by the West, especially the United States, in Ukraine. The Arabs are well aware of the possible disturbing scenarios of this war in the future, especially given its negative impact on global food security to the detriment of many countries, including Arab states. Not all Arab capitals have the same position on this globally disturbing problem. But judging from numerous facts and speeches by Arab leaders, the Arab world condemns these military actions unleashed by the West and the pumping up of the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv with lethal weapons, with the intention to “fight to the last Ukrainian.”
According to official sources, Egypt believes that each member state should make its decisions in international relations according to its own political priorities. Consequently, according to Al-Ahram newspaper, Cairo argues that any wording adopted at the summit should be within the framework of relevant UN General Assembly resolutions that call for sparing civilians and seeking a political solution. It is precisely this approach that Russia actively advocates. Yet the Kyiv neo-Nazi regime, at the behest of its overseas masters, categorically rejects any peace talks. This approach is very typical of the masters from Washington, who are used to solving complex international conflicts only by force and only on their own terms. But in this case, such an approach by the United States and its closest allies does not work, because a new world is emerging before our eyes, one that relies on negotiations and not war. For Egypt, its officials said, the focus should be on streamlining intra-Arab relations on a “strict and very clear basis of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.” The resolution that the summit will adopt at Egypt’s initiative will emphasize “this most important concept of respect for the sovereignty of nation-states” by all member states of the Arab organization and their regional and international allies.
The Algerian Summit is convened under the name “Lam Al-Shaml” (“Closed ranks”). Many experts believe that in order for the Arab countries to rally their ranks, they should first refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs. According to the representative of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, it was an ideal and simple recipe that helped to establish Egyptian-Qatari relations after a significant break, in which Cairo blamed Doha’s unconstructive position regarding intra-Egyptian political events. As soon as this was over, Egyptian diplomatic sources emphasize, events quickly moved forward to such an extent that President El-Sisi himself recently received a large Qatari business delegation in Cairo and then a number of agreements on close cooperation between these two Arab countries were signed.
Libya is also a “very good example” when it comes to the concept of non-interference. Egypt takes a firm socio-political position on the need for the government of Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh “to refrain from facilitating Turkey’s interference in Libyan affairs – either by agreements it signs with Turkey, or by the actual presence of Turkish forces on Libyan soil.” Two years ago, Egypt achieved the complete elimination of all militants considered hostile to it in Libya to make sure that its borders are well protected from any possible infiltration.
Egypt also hopes that the Summit will work to return international attention to the Palestinian issue, which has been almost forgotten due to many regional and international political problems. It is no secret that Arab attention to the Palestinian cause has declined significantly for many reasons, including the apparent inability of Palestinian leaders to put aside differences, despite attempts at reconciliation, in which Egypt actively participated, and recently Algeria tried its diplomatic powers. At this stage, we should not expect any serious resolutions on the Palestinian issue from the Arab Summit. Nevertheless, Cairo believes that it is very important for the Summit to become a reminder of the need to collect fragments of the process of political negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.
By the way, the Arab Summit opened on the same day when the Israelis were trying to elect a new prime minister. Political forecasts favor the return of the “Likud” leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and the first election results show the correctness of this statement. But, according to the statements of many political figures, it is extremely unlikely that peace talks will begin with Netanyahu or with any other Israeli prime minister in the near future. What Egypt hopes to achieve is some kind of middle-level Palestinian-Israeli political negotiations in order to maintain the political momentum that could help achieve de-escalation on the ground, especially in the Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian borders.
At the same time, Egyptian diplomatic sources report that Egypt is closely monitoring the “fragile” and “vulnerable” political situation in Lebanon, especially after the end of the term of office of Lebanese President Emad Aoun in the absence of elections for a new president. “God knows when Lebanon will have a new president; the situation is quite unpredictable, but we want to make sure that while Lebanon is waiting for a new president, it will not plunge into complete chaos, especially given its current economic problems,” the representative of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said. According to Aboul Gheit, it is very important for many Arab capitals, including Egypt and most other Arab countries of the Persian Gulf, that Iran does not try to take advantage of the current moment of political and economic vulnerability in Lebanon to further expand its influence on this country.
Meanwhile, Cairo believes that the problems of water and food security are two key issues on which Egyptians are eager to speak out at the Arab Summit. Egypt, in cooperation with Sudan, has submitted a draft resolution on water security to the Arab meeting, clearly indicating that Ethiopia must take into account the water security concerns of Egypt and Sudan when the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is filled and operated. This dam has already begun operations and is being filled quite rapidly without taking into account the water needs of Egypt and Sudan, even though the Blue Nile provides Egypt with about 80% of its already inadequate share of Nile water. The resolution was adopted by foreign ministers with some language changes suggested by the summit host and supported by some other member states. Ultimately, Cairo does not expect the Arab summit to resolve the conflict over GERD, but only hopes that it will remind Ethiopia that its unilateral positions on dam management, including three consecutive unilateral refills since 2020, cannot be accepted by Arab states.
Obviously, there will be a lot of disagreements at this summit, but at the same time, it is very important that the Arab states have finally reached an agreement and this summit has been opened and is starting to work. It is still better than fighting among themselves, and the summit and the Arab League have shown that in the new multipolar world it is better to agree and resolve their issues together.
Victor Mikhin, Corresponding Member of the Academy of Natural Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”