There are two major objective considerations in the consultative meeting between the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iraq, and Bahrain held August 23 in the Egyptian city of El-Alamein. (Note: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi had to leave early due to a domestic political crisis.)
Since announcing it, the meeting has raised many questions related to its timing, objectives, and the nature of the countries attending, especially since what was issued before and after the meeting was not far from the talk about strengthening the Arab solidarity and working to lay the foundations for peace and stability in the region.
Why These States in Particular?
There are objective considerations behind the meeting of these states, specifically in the city of El-Alamein. Most important of which can be noted in the following:
First: Integrative Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development
The Integrative Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development was launched in May between the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan. The Kingdom of Bahrain joined in July. This partnership involves investment in five industrial sectors to promote economic development, industrial integration, and the integration of value chains among these countries.
Its strategic objective is to pursue sustainability in economic growth, build guaranteed and resilient supply chains, develop world-class competitive industries, promote value-added manufacturing sectors, nurture the growth and integration of value chains, and boost trade among the countries.
This partnership is heavily relied upon to achieve domestic development goals in the coming years utilizing and strengthening the great assets these countries possess at the human, economic, and strategic-geographical levels.
Second: The Tripartite Coordination between Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq
Since 2019, the tripartite coordination mechanism between Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq was launched, with the three countries holding several summit-level meetings in Amman, Cairo, and Baghdad. The most prominent result of their coordination is the contribution of Jordanian and Egyptian companies to the reconstruction of Iraq and its electricity needs in exchange for Iraqi oil. In addition, Jordan will use its geographical location as a transit area for most of these projects.
Based on the foregoing, the three countries are joined together in economic cooperation mechanisms and projects that have allowed them to make important strides in the past period. This framework explains the El-Alamein meeting. It is natural for states that are interconnected by interests to strengthen them through cooperation, integration, and consultation, especially in light of developments in the region and the world that poise significant risks to the states’ security and stability.
As a result of many reasons—the most important of which are the decline of the Middle East as a priority in U.S. strategic calculations, the world's preoccupation with the developments of the long-running Ukraine crisis, and the ongoing transformations in the region in general and the Arab region in particular—a trend was formed to rehabilitate self-reliance in promoting security and national interests based on three premises.
First, the challenges posed in the region are high and impossible for a single country to face, regardless its capabilities and abilities. Solutions required collective action and coordination.
Second, what cannot be entirely obtained should not be entirely abandoned. Though there is difficulty in creating an effective collective Arab cooperation within the framework of the League of Arab due to the Arab-Arab disputes, it is possible to move through other bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, quintet, or other Arab frameworks among countries that have the elements of cooperation, understanding, and common visions.
This is true especially since the risks and threats targeting the Arab region do not tolerate a further vacuum in which non-Arab regional powers move to achieve their goals at the expense of Arab interests. Foremost among them is Iran, which is preparing to sign a nuclear deal with the West as well as Turkey.
Third, one of the lessons learned from the Ukrainian crisis is the need to strengthen self-reliance regarding national security. The Slogans of interdependence and freedom of world trade did not prevent countries from stopping the exportation strategic goods such as wheat when they were needed at home nor did they prevent the threat to global supply chains that exposed a real risk to energy and food security in many countries of the world, including in the Arabic region.
Those are but three reason why many countries, including those meeting in El-Alamein, began to move towards expanding self-sufficiency in terms of key commodities, as well as strengthening economic and trade cooperation in vital sectors with one other.
Enhancing the Joint Arab Action
Over many years, the system of joint Arab action lost its influence and effectiveness. What prompted action to reactivate this system and pump new blood into it are the crises that have been worsening in the region for years. They have become a source of real danger to everyone at a time when the experience of the past decades has proven that international or foreign solutions are useless to the Arab nations. In addition, their crises no longer receive much global attention.
Hence, the Arab awareness began to expand on the need to find Arab solutions to their own crises. Some Arab decisions contradict the positions of major countries. For instance, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates, in particular, are opening up to Syria and supporting its return to the Arab League despite U.S. opposition.
In addition, the Ukraine crisis rehabilitated regional organizations after years of lackluster activity. There is now a great interest in strengthening the role of NATO and the European Union. On the other hand, is Russia's quest to transform the Collective Security Treaty that also includes Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan into a new “Warsaw Pact" in the face of NATO expansion.
Saudi Arabia and Algeria Question
According to some experts, holding the consultative meeting in El-Alamein shortly prior to the Arab Summit scheduled in Algeria next November was to strengthen the Arab front. Hence, it may not be the last meeting of its kind. Chances are strong that there will be similar meetings within the region.
Why didn't the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), with its great economic and political influence, attend the meeting? Also, why didn’t Algeria, the host of the upcoming Arab Summit, attend the meeting?
As for Saudi Arabia, it has no different orientations from the ones announced at the meeting in El-Alamein. Indeed, KSA has close relations with the countries that attended, including Iraq, which has sponsored talks between Riyadh and Tehran. Riyadh's main focus and top priority today is the Iranian nuclear issue. Since its position on other issues have not yet fully crystallized—for example, its future relationship with Iran and Israel—KSA may take some time before eventually joining this Arab movement.
Algeria absence may indeed be related to disputes it has with Egypt regarding Libya, as well as tensions between it and Morocco, which have intensified rather remarkably during the recent period. Therefore, inviting Algeria to attend this meeting may have angered Rabat at a time when the attendees sought to strengthen Arab cohesion.
Economy and Development Priority
Perhaps the most important feature of the cooperative framework among the countries that participated in El-Alamein meeting is the high priority it gives over politics to the mutual cooperation in economic and development fields. This approach benefits from the wisdom learned from the pitfalls of previous joint Arab action that focused on politics and ignored the economy, which did not succeed unlike the experience of the European Union countries when they began their economic partnerships and succeeded in achieving their goals.
These countries face many challenges in terms of food, energy, and security issues. They have visions and strategies that depend on their own capacities, as well as cooperation and partnerships with other countries of the region. Therefore, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Iraq can provide a model for the Arab region in the field of economic cooperation and integration, especially regarding financial and human resources, expertise, and trade lines.
As noted earlier, the Ukraine crisis has underscored the paramount importance of strengthening integration and cooperation among neighboring countries to achieve their interests in a world where slogans of interdependence and freedom of trade are in decline.
In conclusion, it can be said that the meeting in El-Alamein, despite the scarcity of information coming forth from it, was of great importance in both timing and content. It is hoped that the meeting will greatly influence and inspire the tracks of joint Arab action in the near future.
The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. Strategiecs shall bear no responsibility for the views and/or opinion of its author on security, economic, social, and other issues, as they do not necessarily represent the views of the Think Tank.