The summit which brought together leaders of the Arab League, formerly the League of Arab States, and the European Union (EU) in Sharm El-Sheikh this week felt more like a team-building event than a traditional summit.
Although the huge conference room meant that leaders could not see the other end of the table, pictures outside the main conference hall showed one-on-one discussions between the world leaders.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed the importance of understanding the different priorities of Arab and European countries. Speaking at a press conference at the end of the two-day summit, Al-Sisi said: “The priority in Europe is achieving and maintaining well-being for its people.
Our priority is preserving our countries and stopping them from collapse, destruction and ruin, as you see in many surrounding states.”
President of the European Council Donald Tusk said it was time to get real about the partnership between the Arab world and Europe.
“We are confronted by many of the same challenges, in a geo-political context that has become even more dangerous and unstable,” Tusk told the press conference.
He added that EU and Arab leaders were committed to developing a positive cooperation agenda beyond managing crises and conflict.
“We want to develop common projects — from energy security to technology, to tourism and trade — that will encourage the investment and sustainable growth that our peoples need,” he said.
Terrorism, inevitably, was high on the conference agenda, and Al-Sisi underlined the importance of halting terrorist organisations’ access to advanced technologies.
The summit addressed Arab-European cooperation on the political, security and economic fronts under the banner “Investing in Stability”.
In closed sessions 50 Arab and European leaders discussed the crises in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Palestine, alongside efforts at fighting terrorism, illegal immigration, refugees and climate change.
In his address to the summit Al-Sisi underscored the importance of the summit as a platform for direct and constructive dialogue on regional and international issues and threats.
Tusk, meanwhile, identified many of the fields in which the EU was keen to develop cooperation, including education, employment creation, investment and trade.
Illegal migration — a major challenge confronting both Arab and European countries, according to president of the EU, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis — was one issue over which participating leaders saw eye-to-eye.
Tusk called for action to be taken against the smugglers who push people into undertaking dangerous journeys, and to address the root causes of illegal migration, facilitate returns, readmission and reintegration and to protect the rights of refugees.
President of EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said although there were “differences of views we have to cooperate to face different challenges”.
We want to help Arab countries open up new horizons to provide young people with hope, said Juncker.
The summit ended with the Sharm El-Sheikh Summit Declaration. Arab and European leaders agreed to hold Arab League-EU summits regularly, alternating between Arab and European states. The next summit is scheduled to take place in Brussels in 2022.
The declaration underlined the importance of strengthening regional cooperation between EU and Arab countries. The participating leaders expressed their determination to promote peace, stability and prosperity, guarantee security, foster economic, social and technological development and create mutual opportunities.
They agreed to strengthen cooperation over security, conflict resolution and socio-economic development and expand cooperative enterprises in the fields of trade, energy, science, research, technology, tourism, fisheries, agriculture and other mutually beneficial areas.
The participants also affirmed their shared position on the Middle East peace process, including on the status of Jerusalem and the illegal status of Israeli settlements built on occupied Palestinian territory, and reiterated their commitment to reaching a two-state solution.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 February, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Setting priorities straight