Key Arab heads of state convened this week for an emergency meeting that excluded the Saudis and Kuwaitis. The likely hot topics under discussion were Egypt’s economic collapse and Israel’s aggressive escalations.
By Abdel Bari ATWAN
On 18 January, the United Arab Emirates hastily arranged a consultative summit in Abu Dhabi, which included the leaders of four member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Heads of state of the Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, and the UAE attended the urgent summit, along with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The absence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the de facto ruler of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and either Kuwaiti Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad or his Crown Prince Mishaal al-Ahmad was noted with some surprise. No official statements or press leaks have yet emerged to explain the omission of the two GCC leaders or their high-level representatives from the urgent consultations.
This surprise summit came on the heels of a tripartite meeting in Cairo on 17 January, which included President Sisi, King Abdullah, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Directly afterward, the Jordanian monarch flew to Abu Dhabi carrying a message for Emirati Emir Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) that prompted him to immediately convene a summit the next day.
What was so urgent to necessitate an emergency meeting of Arab leaders? Why did the top Saudi and Kuwait leaders give the summit a miss? There are several possibilities behind this swift convening of key Arab leaders in Abu Dhabi.
First, is the rapid deterioration of Egypt’s economy after the decline of the Egyptian pound to its lowest levels in history (32 pounds to the US dollar). Spiraling inflation rates, harsh conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – most notably the floating of the national currency and a heavy reduction of private contracting and trade companies affiliated with the Egyptian army – have added sharply to the economy’s downward turn.
There are reports that the IMF has asked GCC countries to provide $40 billion in immediate aid to Egypt, otherwise the state’s collapse is imminent and inevitable.
Second, are the dangerous policies currently under consideration by the right-wing government of Israel’s new Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. These include, most notably, threats to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the practical abolition of Jordan’s Hashemite Custodianship over Jerusalem, the illegal annexation of the West Bank, and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of its Palestinian residents to Jordan.
Third, former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, warned his neighbors a few days ago on Twitter of an imminent US-Israeli aggression against Iran that could fundamentally shake the security and stability of the Gulf.
The risk of economic collapse facing Egypt was perhaps the most important and urgent factor on the summit agenda. Financial assistance from the Gulf – once a reliable source of emergency aid – has completely stopped. Even if it continues, funds will no longer arrive in the form of non-refundable grants and unconditional deposits, as in years past.
That approach to funding has changed as Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed bin Jadaan made clear in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 18 January. In previous statements, Egypt’s President Sisi has confirmed his country’s financial woes by revealing that Gulf states have stopped their aid completely.
The absence of the Emir of Kuwait from the consultative summit may be understandable in this context – if, in fact, Egypt’s economy was the top of the summit’s agenda. The Kuwaiti National Assembly (parliament) has adopted a decision to prevent his government from providing a single dollar in aid to Egypt.
Gulf states have provided Egypt with $92 billion since the ‘Arab Uprisings’ began to tear through the region in January 2011.
Currently, Kuwait’s own internal governmental crisis, in addition to the deterioration of its relationship with Cairo over its deportation of Egyptian workers, can explain the emir’s absence. What is not understood so far, is why Saudi’s MbS was a no-show in Abu Dhabi.
While Emirati leader MbZ’s warm and friendly reception of his Qatari counterpart Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani raised hopes of easing bilateral tensions, news leaks suggested that Saudi-Emirati relations are in their own state of crisis – based on growing differences over the Yemeni war and other regional issues. Perhaps this crisis is what led to a thaw in Qatari-Emirati relations.
In addition, Egyptian-Saudi relations have collapsed to an state unprecedented for years. A report last month by US media outlet Axios revealed that Egyptian authorities have halted practical procedures in their transfer of the strategic Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi sovereignty. Egyptian official media has also launched a fierce attack on the Saudi-owned “MBC Egypt” channel and its presenter Amr Adib, accusing him of working for the Saudis amid fears the station will stop broadcasting from Egypt.
Besides the economic aspects, the differences, squabbles, and fluctuating relations between the countries of this axis, there are other issues of significant gravity that may have been addressed at the Abu Dhabi summit.
A key topic may have been the ambitions of Netanyahu’s unprecedentedly right-wing Israeli government – notably its prevention of Jordan’s ambassador from visiting Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, as a first step to abolish the Hashemite Custodianship over the ancient city.
While the failure to invite Palestinian President Abbas to the Abu Dhabi summit (there is an Emirati veto against it) may suggest otherwise, Jordan – currently under US and Israeli pressure to participate in the second Negev summit in Morocco – and its monarch may have pressed this issue in Abu Dhabi.
Gulf states that have normalized relations or opened communications with Israel would have been asked to use their influence to de-escalate these pressures. The ramifications of continued Israeli aggressions in Jerusalem and the West Bank are a direct threat to Jordan’s security and stability.
Interestingly, all the states represented at the Abu Dhabi summit – with the exception of the Sultanate of Oman and Qatar – have signed normalization agreements with Israel. The absent Saudis and Kuwaitis, have notably not yet joined that club.
Details of the Abu Dhabi emergency summit of heads of states have not yet emerged, but the days ahead could provide some answers. Will billions flow to Egypt to extract the country from its financial crisis? Or will the Arab House remain the same? We will have to wait to see.