From the political and economic standpoints, the alliance between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq announced at the recent Baghdad Tripartite Summit is a solid endeavour that may be the essence of further developments in the Arab world. It is an emerging alliance well worth watching.
The leaders of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan had several successful meetings in 2019 and 2020 before their June 2021 meeting in Baghdad, proving that the will and intention are there and worth developing.
In their August 2020 summit, the leaders focused on political issues such as external interference in Arab affairs and the Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory. However, they mainly concentrated on commercial and economic issues such as expanding investments, securing water and food supplies, establishing common energy policies and supporting each other’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as various country-specific issues.
In October last year, the foreign ministers met to further discuss means of cooperation in several fields such as energy, electricity, reconstruction and the methods by which they could form a political consensus. At the same time, the ministers of trade and industry of the three countries met virtually to discuss cooperation in various sectors, namely chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles and the ceramic industries.
By mid-December, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan had signed an agreement to connect Iraq’s power grid to Egypt and Jordan, while the oil pipeline project from Iraq to Egypt that passes through Jordan was underway. Iraq’s foreign minister said that “we discussed projects in the energy field… and reconstruction, especially in Iraq, where many cities have been destroyed. We focused on ways to benefit from Egyptian and Jordanian companies in this field and help the Iraqi people rebuild their cities.” Prime Minister of Iraq Mustafa Al-Kadhimi proposed a new Levant Project “based on mutual political and economic understandings between the three countries.”
Then came the Baghdad Summit in June this year, when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Al-Kadhimi of Iraq and King Abdullah of Jordan met once more, this time on Iraqi soil, revealing many of the gains and challenges of this endeavour.
Many fundamental issues have enveloped the Arab world over the last couple of decades: the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen following the Arab Spring, to name only a few. As power shifted, Iran, Turkey and Israel were provided with a golden opportunity to extend their influence in the region.
Today, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan are seeking to regain their power and leadership. No Egyptian president has visited Iraq since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the visit to Baghdad by President Al-Sisi for the Tripartite Summit was an indicator of Egypt’s determination to resurrect its presence as a regional leader and its determination to forge ahead with the alliance.
The summit succeeded in establishing a framework for cooperation not only politically, but also economically and commercially. A statement released after the meeting set out a series of measures intended to achieve this goal, including “boosting economic and vital ties,” “achieving resources integration” and “doubling trade exchange.”
“Al-Sisi, Abdullah and Al-Kadhimi laid special emphasis on ambitious plans to build a power grid, a gas network, an oil pipeline and a land route that would connect their three countries and facilitate their integration,” Al-Ahram Weekly said at the time.
Consider the population of the three countries combined – 150 million. This human capital is a source of power, and capitalising on it would serve the three countries concerned and assist them in supporting one another. With a combined GDP of nearly $570 billion, it’s a win-win situation for the three countries.
By allying with Jordan and Iraq, Egypt places itself centre stage. Egypt can also support Iraq’s reconstruction efforts and provide it with the manpower and the know-how required. Egypt has already signed over 15 agreements and deals with Iraq in sectors such as oil, roads, housing, construction and trade. Iraq’s foreign minister said that “Egypt has extensive experience in the infrastructure sector, and Egyptian construction companies are ready to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq. Also, Jordan will be an important link between Baghdad and Cairo in any energy transfer lines.”
Simultaneously, Egypt will seek the backing of Iraq and Jordan on many crucial issues as a result of the summit meeting, such as Turkey’s intervention in Libya and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) issue.
In return, Iraq renewed its contract to supply Egypt with 12 million barrels of light crude oil in 2021. Jordan will transport natural gas between Egypt and Iraq. Up until now, Iraq has relied on Iranian gas and electricity imports to meet its needs.
For years, Iraq has been ravaged by instability. Years of turmoil followed the US-led invasion, which brought about the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group and other offshoots, as well as Iranian and Turkish meddling in Iraqi affairs and ongoing sectarian strife. Today, Iraq hopes to regain its position and stability, and Egypt and Jordan are willing to support Iraq in its battle.
Today, Iraq needs the stimulus and vitality to create what Al-Kadhimi called a “new Levant.” Not only will this alliance bring Iraq back into the Arab fold, but it will also boost its stance against outside intervention and bolster Al-Kadhimi as a major regional player.
At the same time, there are many challenges common to the three countries, including Covid-19, especially in accessing vaccines, and terrorism, which will remain a thorn in the side of the three countries for some time to come. A number of distinct challenges also exist in each country, and these will have to be dealt with separately, but with the cooperation of others. For instance, for Egypt, the GERD is a major hurdle, and for Iraq, it is the reconstruction that the country is desperately in need of. For Jordan, it is economic issues and water shortages.
By strengthening economic ties and connecting the three countries together, the alliance announced at the Baghdad Summit will gain enough strength to spin off and reach other Arab countries in the region.
*The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly