The MED This Week newsletter provides expert analysis and informed comments on the MENA region’s most significant issues and trends. Today, we focus on the upcoming 31st Arab League Summit, where representatives of national governments will convene in Algeria, after a hiatus of more than three years, to address the most relevant current issues concerning the Arab world.
On November the 1st, several leaders and officers from various Arab nations will gather in Algiers for the 31st Arab League summit. Expectations are high for this summit of Arab leaders, the first since many troubled years marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the signing of the Abraham Accords, and the start of the war in Ukraine. After a three-year hiatus, participants of the summit will have to cover several dossiers, including the protracted uncertainty over the Palestinian issue and the ongoing crises in Libya, Lebanon and Yemen. These major concerns, amongst others, are compounded by cross-cutting challenges which have been exacerbated by the Ukrainian war, such as increased food insecurity that threatens many Arab states. Nevertheless, the fragmentation that has long plagued the organisation, highlighted by the track record of previous summits, suggests that the real risk for a lack of any conclusive outcomes from the upcoming summit exists. Amongst some of the most divisive issues is that of Syria’s rehabilitation within the League and the Arab world, which has been strongly advocated for since 2018 by member states such as Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but also opposed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. Given the lack of consensus in this regard, the Syrian government declared in September its decision not to send a delegation to Algiers, leading the matter to suspension. The long-standing rift between Algeria and Morocco, whose bilateral relations have soured over the past year due to the Western Sahara contention, also divides the Arab states. In this respect, the possible attendance of the Moroccan King Mohammed VI – if confirmed – might announce a distention of relations between the two countries. In any case, the summit will represent a starkly success for Algeria, which grasps an opportunity to show its renewed geopolitical role within the concert of the Arab powers.
Experts from the ISPI MED network focus on the incoming 31st Arab League Summit in Algeria.
Algiers won’t push Syria’s normalisation further
“The Assad regime asked Algeria not to raise the issue of attending the Arab summit to ensure the summit’s success in the face of regional challenges. The main reason behind the lack of consensus amongst Arab states on Syria’s invitation is due to the refusal of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt, despite Algeria, Oman and the UAE pushing for the regime’s invitation. These countries vetoed the reinstatement of Syria for several reasons, including the Syrian government’s failure to take any genuine steps to resolve the crisis within the country. However, the main reason behind the stalemate is Syria’s close relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, which highlights the Arab rejection of the Iranian role within Syria and the region itself. This has laid bare the current shift in regional political dynamics, in which the position of the Arab countries on Syria is no longer based off the American veto, but rather their relationship with Iran and the regime’s behaviour. Furthermore, this will hamper Russian efforts to rehabilitate the regime, especially since the Arab countries know that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will have reduced Russia’s interest in Syria, allowing for a more significant Iranian role.”
Suhail al-Ghazi, Syrian Researcher; and former Non-Resident Fellow, Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP)
A divided house will see hunger persist
“As the 2022 Arab League Summit convenes, many of its members are facing increasingly high levels of food insecurity. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s food crisis is both acute, and long-term. Stop-gap aid measures are desperately needed in the most at-risk countries, however MENA’s structural food insecurity will indeed worsen without any comprehensive action to increase the region’s food production. Can the Arab League do anything about it? Yes. The required expertise, experience, and capital already exists amongst its members. Morocco’s successful engagement with sub-Saharan African countries to increase their local fertilizer production and raise local crop yields applies to MENA itself. The United Arab Emirates’ effective participation in Egypt’s fertilizer industry shows the potential for intra-Arab, commercial cooperation. The UAE and Saudi Arabia manage agribusiness networks spanning South America, Europe, and Asia. Morocco, Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia are leaders in using renewable energy and green hydrogen in agriculture. The Arab League could provide a platform for coordinating effective multilateral cooperation. In the absence of such multilateral action, the food crisis is likely to further entrench geopolitical fault lines within the Arab world.”
Michaël Tanchum, Professor, Universidad de Navarra; and Non-Resident Fellow, Economics and Energy Programme, MEI
The war in Ukraine won’t further divide an already divided Arab world
“It is doubtful that the Russian war waged upon Ukraine will have much of an impact on intra-Arab relations before, during, or after the upcoming Arab League summit. The states that have already made their position known did not go beyond calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force. Some countries even gave Russia the right to do whatever it wanted because, on their own, they were attempting to preserve relations with Moscow. The problem is that the Arab world is divided into many issues, and the summit probably will not make much difference in this respect. In fact, the Arab League has increasingly become a mere club of nations that meet (possibly) every year to recite old mantras about Palestine, common Arab actions, shared interests, etc., only to pursue what is in the interest of their political, economic, and military elites. This summit, like many others, is unlikely to be that consequential for the people of the Arab world or the world at large.”
Imad Harb, Director of Research and Analysis, Arab Center Washington DC
Lebanon: “down in the list of the League priorities”
“The past three years of unprecedented crisis in Lebanon have shown how far the country has fallen down the list of priorities of Arab League states, not to mention the international community. Bolstered by higher oil prices, the centres of political and financial gravity at the Arab League have little interest in getting involved in the morass of Lebanon’s economic and financial woes. Nuanced by their own interests in Lebanon, this lack of appeal is driven by a perception among powerful Arab League states that Iran, through its proxy Hezbollah, currently wields a dominant share of power over the country and thus should inherit its problems. As a result, Lebanon’s stability, hydrocarbon prospects, financing for an IMF programme, and even progress on Israel-Palestine are long-term issues that may get a mention at the Arab League summit, however, likely not a real commitment to resolution from the Arab League. Instead, the message from the League would likely be to rebalance Arab (specifically Saudi) influence with that of Iran before any substantive support is offered.”
Sami Halabi, Director of Policy; and Co-Founder, Triangle
The Summit: A potential chance for Algeria (and Morocco?)
“Algeria is set to host the Arab League’s summit for the fourth time. The country has used its designation to show its renewed geopolitical centrality in a year that has seen a “torrent of diplomacy” conveying on Algiers, mainly due to the role acquired in the European countries’ strategy for energy diversification after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At least 17 heads of state would be in Algiers. But instead of showing Arab unity, the summit risks placing under a spotlight pre-existing fragmentations among regional leaders. Algeria is directly involved in some of these tensions. For instance, it is one of the prominent supporters of Syria’s reintegration into the League, while other members firmly oppose it; in recent months, frictions emerged with Cairo due to its strengthening ties with Ethiopia, and the opposite posture Algeria and Egypt have over the Libyan dossier. Due to the persistent divisions, few practical accomplishments are expected for this summit. Still, the possible attendance of Moroccan King Mohammed VI could sanction the beginning of a rapprochement between Algeria and Morocco after more than a year of diplomatic crisis, becoming the most significant by-product of the summit.”
Aldo Liga, Research Fellow, ISPI