The leaders of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan converged on Baghdad last week for a Tripartite Summit meeting meant to foster economic ties and coordinate political positions. The Summit could not have taken place at a more appropriate time due to the efforts that many Arab countries are exerting to maintain unity and ward off attempts at disintegration.
The three countries that participated in the meeting also kept it open to welcome other Arab countries. For this and other reasons, the name of the meeting, the Baghdad Summit, is significant, since it was chosen over and above other names that were at one stage circulated, such as the “Levant Project”.
The error here is that there is no Levant without Syria, and Egypt is not geographically part of the Levant. Some observers opined that another suggested name, that of the “New Arab Mashreq,” would mean excluding other Arab countries, notably those in the Maghreb, thus creating problems at an early stage of the summit project’s development.
Now that the issue of the name of the meeting has been cleared up, there are some other observations that it is important to make concerning the Tripartite Summit in Iraq.
The first concerns the warm welcome President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was received in Baghdad. This is the first time in 30 years that an Egyptian president has visited Iraq despite the rapid developments in bilateral relations.
There was also the magnificent display of demographic and cultural diversity the Iraqi government organised to welcome participants at the summit. Many Iraqi cultures, manifested in their music and traditional costumes, were present at the reception ceremony of the summit meeting, and the scene was strongly reminiscent of the reception Roman Catholic Pope Francis received when he visited Iraq in March. The Pope’s visit opened many windows onto the grandeur of Iraqi history, something also done at the Baghdad Tripartite Summit.
The second observation is that Iraq’s investment in the summit meeting raises expectations of positive outcomes from the gathering over the longer term. These high expectations will become a challenge if they are not met with achievements on the ground. This is not about non-Arab regional powers who do not feel comfortable about the closeness manifested at the summit meeting, and nor is it related to some Iraqi ideological elites that may have their own political biases. Rather, it concerns the Iraqi public who have pinned high hopes on the Tripartite Summit as a result of their government’s focus on the meeting.
According to statements released by the three countries at the summit meeting, there are large-scale economic projects in the pipeline that target benefits for Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, including the linkage of the three countries’ electrical grids, the oil pipeline extending from Basra to Egypt via Aqaba, and a new industrial city. These projects should be implemented in the shortest possible time, particularly given the fact that many Iraqis now face daily power outages that can last for hours.
Many Iraqis in the south of the country have protested against Iran due to the reduction in gas supplies. Protests against power outages have been held on a regular basis in the south of Iraq, especially in summer.
Confirming the Arab identity of Iraq comes by fulfilling its basic needs. Egypt has taken great strides in the field of its own electricity production after suffering from power shortages during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012-2013. At that time, the country was fighting on two fronts: battling against the intentional sabotage of electricity pylons at the hands of the Brotherhood; and enhancing the capabilities of the Ministry of Electricity while establishing new power stations.
Now that this suffering has become merely a bad memory in Egypt, speeding up the provision of Egyptian capabilities to Iraq and Jordan can provide a solid public base for the new gathering ushered in by the Tripartite Summit. The peoples of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan want to see the announced large-scale projects become the reality on the ground. When the Tripartite group fortifies itself with common interests, it will not only win its peoples over, but will also change the hitherto not always positive image of integrated Arab economic projects in the region.
The third observation concerns the viewpoints the three countries share from a political perspective, visible in their statements following the summit meeting. Egypt, Iraq and Jordan have similar views on a number of central issues, at the top of which are the Palestinian cause, the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen, terrorism, which is a political and security matter and the water issue, which is a political cause despite the fact that it bears an economic face.
Regarding the water issue, the Baghdad Summit statement referred to the second filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) reservoir planned by the Ethiopian government this summer. This was after a comprehensive framework had been laid out at the earlier Amman Summit stating that it was imperative that the rules of international law were followed in preserving the water rights of the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan.
In addition, the Baghdad Tripartite group can make various political investments. Each country enjoys advantages in different circles, and these can be employed to serve each member of the group. For example, US-Iraq relations have been tense since the assassination of Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Al-Quds Force, a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, an Iraqi commander of the Popular Mobilisation Force, in January last year. Thanks to its excellent relations with the US, Jordan can cool these tensions. Easing the tensions between Iraq and the US will also deprive Iran of one of its key pressure cards in Iraq.
Likewise, Egypt’s advanced relations with some European countries, notably France, can reflect positively on European-Iraqi relations. Iraq can also expand its role in mediating relations with Turkey.
The three peoples of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are hoping that the Baghdad Tripartite Summit meeting will be a turning point towards more accomplishments to come. These will fall well within the realm of the possible as long as there is the political will to achieve them.
The writer is professor of political science at Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly