This is the first congregation of the annual Arab Summit since the coronavirusbroke. The summit was scheduled to take place in its annual March calendar slot but was delayed due to many squabbles over its agenda and the wish of its upcoming chair Abdelmedjid Tebboune to pursue some political moves which were not subject to immediate Arab consensus.
According to an Arab League source, Algeria wanted to bring back the Syrian regime to the Arab League meetings. Syria was suspended in 2011 in reaction to a brutal oppression of the democracy calls before the whole situation in Syria turned into a near civil war.
Algeria also offered to invite some regional countries to attend as guests. Neither proposal secured sufficient consensus from the member states of the pan-Arab organisation.
The source said that once Algeria decided to keep the political scheme of the summit “within the consensual political range, things moved on the right track.
The fate of the summit was subject to considerable speculations up until the end of the summer, but Algeria acted in a pragmatic way to save the day,” he added.
According to Egyptian diplomatic sources, Cairo has always been in favour of the pursuit of consensual and pragmatic political lines in view of “the many international and regional hiccups that require a pragmatic approach and realistic expectations.
This is a moment where clearly Arab countries are pursuing different agendas; to make things work and to avoid the cancelation of the summit each of the member states needed to limit its expectations of the Arab Summit,” said one.
Clearly, the summit is convening at a moment of high international tension due to the Russian war in Ukraine – with some possible alarming future scenarios of this war, especially with its impact on global food security to the disadvantage of many countries, including Arab states.
Not all Arab capitals have been in agreement on their positions regarding this war. Throughout the past nine months, the positions have not come much closer.
Egypt, the source said, is of the opinion that when it comes to international relations each member state should decide its choices in line with its own political priorities, “just as we do”.
Consequently, he said, Egypt argued that any language to be adopted by the Algeria Summit should be within the framework of the relevant UN General Assembly resolutions that called for sparing civilians and pursuing a political solution.
For Egypt, the source said, the focus of the summit should be on streamlining inter-Arab relations on “the strict and very clear basis of non-intervention in the internal affairs of the member states.” A resolution that the summit will be adopting upon an Egyptian initiative will underline “this crucial concept of respecting the sovereignty of the national states” by all the member states of the Arab organisation and their regional and international allies.
The Algeria Summit is convening under the title of Lam AlShaml (Closing Ranks). In the Egyptian diplomatic book, for Arab countries to close ranks they need to be first and foremost refraining from meddling into the internal affairs of one another. This, the Egyptian source said, was the perfect and easy recipe that helped fix Egyptian-Qatari relations after a considerable lapse that Cairo blamed on the unconstructive positions that Doha took on internal Egyptian political developments.
Once this was out of the way, Egyptian diplomatic sources stress, things moved forward fast to the point of having President El-Sisi himself receiving a large Qatari business delegation in Cairo earlier in the week.
Libya, the same source said, is “very much a case in point” when it comes to the concept of non-intervention.
“We wish to see an end to the meddling in internal Libyan affairs,” he said. Egypt has been taking a firm public political position on the need for the government of Abdel-Hamid Dabibah to “refrain from facilitating the intervention of Turkey into Libyan affairs – either by the agreements it has been signing with Turkey or by the de facto presence of Turkish [figures] on Libyan ground."
“It is true that our interests are observed with regards to the ‘Red Lines’ that President [Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi made,but our interest in Libya is not just about our direct interest to protect the borders. It is also about promoting the security and stability of this direct neighbour whose instability is a direct cause for our worry,” the same source argued.
Two years ago, Egypt secured a full elimination of all considered hostile militants off the eastern borders of Libya to make sure that the Egyptian western borders are secured against any possible infiltration.
In the preparatory foreign ministers’ meeting that took place on Sunday, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stayed in the conference hall next to Nadjla Al-Mankoush, the Libyan foreign minister assigned by Dabibah – contrary to previous meetings that took place both at the Cairo headquarters of the Arab League in the first week of September, for the regular autumn Arab foreign ministers meeting, and later in the month in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA when Shoukry declined to be in the conference hall with the representative of the “Dabibah government”.
However, according to sources from the Arab League and Egypt, Shoukry’s position was decided upon the agreement of Dabibah himself to get Mohamed Al-Manefi, the president of the Libyan Presidential Council, to chair his country’s delegation to the summit. This agreement, both sources said, was secured upon a joint mediation by Tebboune and Arab League Secretary- General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Meanwhile, Egyptian diplomatic sources say that Egypt is hoping for the summit to work on regaining international attention to the Palestinian cause that has been all but forgotten with the many regional and international political issues.
“It is no secret that the very Arab attention to the Palestinian cause has declined significantly due to many reasons, including the very obvious failure of Palestinian leaders to put aside differences despite the reconciliation attempts that Egypt got invested in and that most recently Algeria tried its diplomatic hands with,” the Egyptian source said.
He added that no major resolutions on the Palestinian cause should be expected of the Arab Summit at thispoint. However, he added it is very important for the summit to be a reminder of the need to pick up the pieces of a political negotiations process between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The Arab Summit will be opening on the same day Israelis will be queuing up for the fifth time in less than four years to elect a new prime minister with political forecasts favouring the chances of the Likud hawkish leader Benjamin Netanyahu making a comeback.
However, according to the same Egyptian diplomatic source, with Netanyahu or with any other Israeli prime minister it is highly unlikely that peace negotiations will be picked up soon.
What Egypt is hoping to get is some sort of medium-level Palestinian-Israeli political talks to keep a level of political momentum that could help with the pursuit of de-escalation on the ground, especially in the Gaza Strip right next to the eastern borders with Egypt.
Moreover, Egyptian diplomatic sources say that Egypt is keeping a close watch on the “frail” and “vulnerable” political situation in Lebanon, especially after the end of the term of Lebanese President Emad Aoun in the absence of the election of a new president. “God knows when the Lebanese will be having their new president; things are quite unpredictable but we want to make sure that while Lebanon is waiting to have a new president it does not fall into total chaos, especially with view to its current economic problems,” he said.
According to the Arab League source, it is very important for many Arab capitals, including Egypt and most of the Arab Gulf capitals that Iran does not try to take advantage of the current moment of political and economic vulnerability in Lebanon to further expand its influence over this country.
Actually, he said, keeping the lid on the Iranian expansion in Al-Mashrak as a whole is a key political objective for many Arab capitals.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian diplomatic source said that water and food security are two key issues that Egypt wants the Arab Summit to be vocal on.
He added that Egypt, in cooperation with Sudan, presented the Arab Summit with a draft resolution on the issue of water security with a clear reference to the need of Ethiopia to take into consideration the water security concerns of Egypt and Sudan while executing the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) it has started to operate on the Blue Nile which grants Egypt around 80 per cent of its already insufficient share of Nile water.
The resolution, the source said, was passed by the foreign ministers – with some linguistic amendments that were offered by the host of the summit and supported by some other member states.
Ultimately, Egyptian sources said that Cairo was not expecting the Arab Summit to resolve the conflict over GERD but is only hoping that it will remind Ethiopia that its unilateral positions on the management of the GERD, including three consecutive unilateral fillings of the dam since 2020, cannot be accommodated by the Arab states.