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Untold Intentions of Arab Leaders Meeting in Alamein

Much confusion and controversy have been surrounding the meeting of several Arab leaders, in Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Alamein, last week. Although this is not the first gathering of leaders of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), most observers found difficulty in explaining its motives. The lack of a joint concluding statement, the vagueness of the agenda items, and the generalizing language of the official media statements of each state, about the meeting, amplified the mystery. However, a deeper look with an expert eye can give a clue about the untold intentions of this specific assembly by these particular leaders.

The New Alamein, the city that hosted the meeting of the five Arab leaders on August 23rd, is slowly but surely becoming Egypt’s summer Capital City. Earlier this month, New Alamein hosted the swearing-in of new ministers by the Egyptian president. In parallel to their traditional offices in Cairo, all senior officials in Egypt, starting from the president of the state and the ministerial cabinet, have got parallel offices in New Alamein. That is perhaps why it was selected as the venue for the Arab leaders’ meeting, rather than the traditional meeting spots in Cairo or even the Red Sea city of Sharm Elsheikh.

The United Arab Emirates is the largest foreign investor in real-estate projects in the New Alamein city, which the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, started building in 2018. In the past few years, the city has been marketed to investors as being the new version of Dubai on the shores of the Mediterranean. That prompted some Arab opposition media to claim that it is the choice of the UAE president, Mohammed Bin Zayed, to host the meeting there. This claim is supported by the fact that Bin Zayed arrived at the summit venue, two days earlier, and joined El-Sisi in receiving and welcoming the other three leaders. The protocol-defying scene made the situation appear as an event hosted by the UAE president – rather than the Egyptian president.

In this regard, it is important to notice that this is the first time Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed participates in a regional summit in his capacity as the new UAE president. By leading this consultative meeting, Bin Zayed emphasized his country’s influential role in the region that extends beyond the Gulf toward Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq. After the meeting, the UAE president tweeted that he found the meeting “productive” and pledged that his country will “continue to coordinate with its Arab neighbors to promote stability, development, and prosperity in the region.” Before he takes the presidency, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed has always been an active participant in the economic talks between Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, in the past years. The three countries have been working together on two ambitious projects – the New Levant trading road, and the electric connection project that is meant to supply Egyptian electricity surplus to Iraq via Jordan.

Although the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, had to quit the meeting before it even starts, to deal with an emergency political turmoil in Baghdad, his participation gave an assuring message that his country’s joint projects with Egypt and Jordan are still on course. The same perspective could be applied to the goals of the leaders of Jordan and Egypt from the Alamein meeting. The presence of the wealthy Gulf countries of UAE and Bahrain in this meeting is an assuring message to the Egyptian and Jordanian people that the Gulf countries will continue to support their states’ leaderships throughout the grinding economic crisis. UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have already provided tens of billions of dollars, in the past few months, to enhance the Egyptian economy.

The absence of Saudi Arabia from attending the meeting in Alamein has surprisingly raised question marks in western media. That is, perhaps, because Arab media initially described the gathering as an “Arab Summit,” while the official statements of the participating states described it as a “brotherly consultative meeting, aiming to enhance joint Arab action.” This is not the first time the five Arab leaders of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain hold a meeting without including Saudi Arabia. That was the case when the mentioned leaders met in the spring of 2021 to launch the New Levant trade road, and once again in May of this year to announce the Industrial Partnership Initiative between Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and Bahrain.

Nevertheless, Saudi Arabia is a genuine partner to all the mentioned five countries on a myriad of political initiatives and economic projects that have changed the face of the Middle East in the past decade. A few kilometers away from the Alamein meeting, at Egypt’s Mohamed Naguib military base, the special forces personnel from Saudi Arabia’s army were participating in the joint military exercise, “Hercules 2022,” alongside troops from Egypt, UAE, Greece, Cyprus, and the United States.

Given the many uncertainties that are defining the world we are living in today, regional coordination between Arab leaders, on all levels, is more important than ever.

Also, read on The Levant