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Can the Jordan, Egypt, Iraq alliance survive?

Sep 08,2020 - Last updated at Sep 08,2020

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 facing common political and economic challenges at a time when the region is going through major upheavals. His Majesty King Abdullah hosted a one-day trilateral summit in Amman on 25 August, the third of its kind in over a year. It was attended by Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi.

In a joint communiqué, the three leaders stressed the need to translate the strong strategic ties between the three countries into cooperation in vital sectors, such as electricity interconnection, energy projects and a joint economic zone, while capitalising on each country’s potential to achieve an integration in resources, especially to deal with the implications of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on healthcare and food and economic security. Discussions at the summit covered institutionalising the trilateral mechanism by establishing an executive secretariat with an annually rotating headquarters, the communiqué 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.

On his part, 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. Sisi was quoted as saying that he agreed with the King on the Palestinian cause and the importance of reaching a solution, based on the two-state solution, noting that this would have a positive impact on the entire region.

Foreign meddling indicates concerns towards Turkish and Iranian interventions in the region that 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 the Iraqi government to respond. More critically, Kadhimi, 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 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 Tripoli 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 Gen. Khalifa Haftar who is in control of eastern Libya, including the strategically important oil fields.

In addition, President Sisi is worried about Turkey’s attempts to encroach on territorial waters in the East Mediterranean. Adding to Cairo’s qualms is the failure to reach an agreement with Ethiopia over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

For Jordan, the need to re-affirm the two-state solution as the only path towards a just and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is more urgent than ever in light of US pressure to normalise ties between Arab states and 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 to West Bank Palestinians. It also views instability in neighbouring 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 setting a foothold in the Arab world; Israel, Iran and Turkey.

But can this new alliance survive 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 (ACC) in the late 1980s had 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 is in a position to lead amid mounting domestic political, economic and health challenges. But as these challenges stack up unity becomes a necessity and not a luxury.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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