Amid shifting geopolitical sands, three Arab countries are reacting by closing ranks and seeking to coordinate their positions. Jordan, Egypt and Iraq have underscored the importance of jointly facing common political and economic challenges at a time when the region is going through major upheavals. King Abdullah hosted a one-day trilateral summit in Amman on Aug. 25, the third of its kind in less than 18 months. It was attended by Egypt’s Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.
In a joint communique, the three leaders stressed the need to translate the strong strategic ties between their countries into cooperation in vital sectors, such as electricity interconnection, energy projects, and a joint economic zone. They also want to capitalize on each country’s potential to achieve an integration of resources, especially to deal with the implications of the coronavirus disease pandemic on health care and food and economic security. Discussions at the summit covered institutionalizing the trilateral mechanism by establishing an executive secretariat with an annually rotating headquarters, the communique said.
In his opening statement, King Abdullah said the meeting was very important “in light of the current extraordinary conditions in the region and the world.” He also stressed the importance of close coordination and joint action to deal with rapid developments in the region and foreign meddling attempts. The king went on to say that the Palestinian cause remains the core issue in the region and that Jordan continues to call for a two-state solution that ends the Israeli occupation and leads to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines.
For his part, Al-Kadhimi stressed Iraq’s support for the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people’s right to statehood, adding that Baghdad’s vision is based on avoiding conflict and seeking economic cooperation and integration with Jordan and Egypt. El-Sisi was quoted as saying that he agreed with the king on the Palestinian cause and the importance of reaching a solution based on two states, noting that this would have a positive impact on the entire region.
The king’s reference to foreign meddling indicated concerns by the three leaders over Turkish and Iranian interventions in the region, which is witnessing a number of conflicts. For Iraq, Turkish incursions in Iraqi Kurdistan — in violation of previous understandings between Ankara and Baghdad — have strained ties and put pressure on Al-Kadhimi to respond. More critically, the prime minister, who had concluded a crucial visit to Washington a week before, is facing challenges in undercutting Tehran’s political and military influence in Iraq. His immediate task is to disarm the pro-Iran militias that threaten to turn the country into an arena for a US-Iran showdown.
Egypt, on the other hand, perceives Turkey’s support of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya as a threat to its national security. Ankara has sent mercenaries, military advisers and hardware to back the GNA in its fight against renegade forces led by Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar, which control eastern Libya, including the strategically important oil fields. In addition, El-Sisi is worried about Turkey’s attempts to encroach on territorial waters in the Eastern Mediterranean. Adding to Cairo’s worries is the failure to reach an agreement with Ethiopia over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.
For Jordan, the need to reaffirm the two-state solution as the only path toward a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more urgent than ever in light of US pressure on Arab states to normalize ties with Israel in defiance of the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002. Jordan has legitimate existential concerns tied to the failure of the two-state solution considering its unique relations with West Bank Palestinians. It also views instability in neighboring Syria as a challenge to its own security.
Jordan, Egypt and Iraq see a need to close ranks and work together in light of yet another setback for common Arab action. There are currently three non-Arab entities that are seeking a foothold in the Arab world: Israel, Iran and Turkey.
But can this new tripartite alliance survive the daunting geopolitical challenges? Economic integration is vital and possible considering the enormous resources that the three countries have. Previous attempts to work together — the last being the Arab Cooperation Council in the late 1980s — floundered.
The three countries are close US allies, but politically their priorities could differ. For the time being, the alliance is seen as a natural response to a new era where the collapse of the Arab order has left a crucial vacuum. None of the three countries are in a position to lead amid mounting domestic political, economic and health challenges. But, as these challenges stack up, unity becomes a necessity rather than a luxury.