European Union and Arab League leaders recently met in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for their first-ever EU-Arab League summit. The aim of the meeting was to strengthen mutual relations that are being constantly challenged by regional conflicts and disputes as well as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Gulf crisis and the Brexit. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was chairing the meeting together with European Council President Donald Tusk. The agenda of the meeting revolved – not surprisingly – around migration, security, the Middle East peace process, the conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya – countries that suffer from armed conflict, political deadlock, and economic deterioration. The general perception of the outcome is, however, such that the summit brought nothing tangible and was largely “ceremonial”.
“I personally do not expect much from this summit. It is too big to have the participants agree on any of the issues that are on the table for discussion,” said Marwan Kabalan of the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies before the EU-Arab Summit even started. Mr. Kabalan also noted that perhaps the single most significant consequence – though not necessarily desirable one – of the summit is that it effectively endorsed Mr. el-Sisi as a regional leader despite his controversial practices. In the weeks prior to the EU-Arab summit, Egyptian authorities executed nine suspected Muslim Brotherhood members convicted of involvement in the assassination of Egypt’s top prosecutor Hisham Barakat.
On the part of the European Union, Brussels was mostly concerned about resolving three issues – migration from North Africa, the war in Syria and counterterrorism. European leaders perceive the MENA as a region that is home to armed groups and refugees and European countries were seeking help and understanding of Arab government to curb migration and security challenges. In a way, EU nations “are still dealing with the effects – not the roots or the causes of the problem”, Mr. Kabalan commented. “Despite admitting a link between despotism and terrorism, they do not seem willing to take the bold step and support democratic transition in the region,” he said. “On the contrary, they seem willing to support Arab autocrats so that they can help them secure their borders and seal it in the face of refugees.”