The next Arab Summit

Hussein Haridy
Thursday 13 Oct 2022

Three major international developments will weigh on deliberations at next month’s Arab Summit in Algiers.

 

After three years of the summit’s absence, Algeria will host the 31st regular Arab Summit meeting on 1 November, with the closing session taking place on 2 November.

The Algerian government wanted the summit to take place on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution in 1954 that led to the independence of Algeria from France in July 1962.

The world and the Arab world today are significantly different from what they were in 2019 when the last Arab Summit meeting took place. Not only has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world since then, but a host of other Arab, Middle Eastern, and international developments have also altered the international and regional context in which the Algiers summit will occur.

Three major international events have taken place since the Arab leaders came together in 2019.

The first, by chronological order, is the change of administration in the US. After four years of former US president Donald Trump’s foreign policy, which sought disengagement from old questions that had haunted previous administrations, current US President Joe Biden has returned to an interventionist US foreign policy based on forming new military alliances while reinforcing existing ones like NATO.

The second significant development was the outbreak of the war in Ukraine last February when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military offensive against the country.

The third is the growing US-Chinese tension around Taiwan.

These three developments have had direct impacts on the Arab world and are not necessarily favourable to the Arabs whether in terms of food security or the high energy prices that affect the Arab non-oil-producing countries of Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, for example.

Regionally speaking, Arab relations with Israel, Turkey, and Iran have witnessed changes that will surely impact the conclusions of the next Arab Summit.

Israel, drawing on Trump’s diplomacy, signed so-called “Abraham Accords” with four Arab countries in the second half of 2020. The former Trump administration talked about a process of normalisation of Arab-Israeli relations that was deliberately decoupled from the Palestinian question to the detriment of the Palestinians and peace prospects between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. 

Although the Biden administration from day one committed itself to the two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, unlike the predecessor administration, it has refrained from pushing the Israelis to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians. These came to an end in April 2014.

Whereas Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement between Iran and the group of 5+1 countries, in May 2018 after its signature under the Obama administration in July 2015 and adopted a “maximum pressure” strategy against Iran, the Biden administration has been eagerly working to rejoin the JCPOA in a formula known as “compliance for compliance.”

This means that the US will rejoin the deal and Iran will once again honour its obligations.

But if the “compliance for compliance” formula comes to pass, followed by the lifting of some sanctions against Iran, the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, will be rightly worried about what the Iranian government will do with the billions of dollars that will start pouring into Iran as a result of renewed oil sales.

Will Tehran spend them to develop the Iranian economy, or will it finance pro-Iranian militias in the Arab world? If it does the latter, what will be the US reaction? 

As far as Turkey is concerned, most people have seen positive developments in Turkish-Arab relations without a corresponding reassessment on the part of Turkey of its strategy in the Middle East, Libya, or the Eastern Mediterranean.

The Algiers summit is also taking place after the boycott of Qatar by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain ended in January 2021 and the resumption of diplomatic relations among them. One of the most positive results of such inter-Arab reconciliation was the official visits by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Qatar a month ago and an official visit by the ruler of Qatar to Egypt last July.

Needless to say, this much-needed reconciliation will have positive impacts on the deliberations at the next Arab Summit and its decisions, both politically and economically.

I would argue that the summit should pay particular attention to the situation in Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Tunisia. The Arab world has an interest in assisting these countries in successfully managing their respective democratic transitions, in addition to providing emergency financial support to Lebanon, Sudan, and Tunisia.

As far as the situation in Libya is concerned, I imagine that the Arab leaders will call on the Libyan political factions to solve the persistent crisis of political legitimacy in their country by holding free-and-fair elections at the earliest opportunity to save Libya from falling prey once again to the use of force that almost tore the country apart three years ago.

The regular Arab Summit meeting in Algeria two weeks from today should aim to prove that the Arab world is united in providing Arab solutions to Arab problems and successful to prepare the Arab countries to deal with the challenges of the future.


* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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