After a two-year break, the Arab League is convening again in Algeria this November at a time when many geo-political contestations are shaping global politics more than ever before. The 1st and 2nd November summit comes at a time when the African continent is embroiled in the Ukraine- Russian war that has not only set countries against the West and Russian alliance but also disrupted global supply chains when the continent is recovering from vagaries of COVID-19.
The Arab League which is a convenor of the Summit was founded in March 1945 as a loose confederation of twenty-two Arab nations whose broad mission is to improve coordination among its members on matters of common interest. In recent years, The Arab Summit has seldom produced headlines, much less consequential results. It has been undermined by rifts within member states. However, this year's summit decisions are likely to have ramifications on the African continent in many profound ways. Observers say this is a moment for the Arab League to re-assert itself as a reliable partner for the Arab World and some African countries by signing cooperation agreements and launching other diplomatic initiatives.
Sabina Henneberg- a fellow at the Washington Institute says the Summit is likely to raise thorny and divisive issues on the relationship between Ethiopia and Egypt. She says Algeria’s recent foreign policy assertiveness has also included efforts to strengthen ties with fellow African Union member Ethiopia. In July, President Sahle-Work Zewde was invited to Algiers for a three-day state visit, followed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in August; the latter visit included an agreement to “intensify commercial and educational cooperation.” These meetings have rattled Egypt, which is embroiled in a dispute with Addis Ababa about the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). Cairo’s Nile water security concerns are existential, so Algeria’s flirtation with the Ethiopians threatens to further erode its bilateral ties with Egypt.
There are other decisions and commitments to be made at the Summit that will have implications in the Great Lakes region. The Pan African multilateral Cairo-based bank Afreximbank has approved $200 million toward the financing of a contested oil pipeline to export Uganda's crude and is willing to finance the construction of a refinery in the east African country. This comes after criticism from environmentalists and the European Union lawmakers have hrown a spanner in the works, forcing major financiers that had committed resources to fund the $3.5 billion pipeline to pull out because of protests over potential harm to the environment and livelihoods of local communities. The Cairo-based lender's Chief Executive Officer Benedict Oramah said Afreximbank would contribute towards the pipeline's financing during a meeting with Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni early this month, according to a statement released by the presidency.
The EU parliament, echoing campaigns by local and international environmentalists, passed a resolution last month urging TotalEnergies to delay the development of the pipeline by a year to explore an alternative route or alternative renewable energy projects. The EU warned that the pipeline and associated infrastructure would displace about 100,000 people, jeopardise water resources and endanger protected marine areas in Tanzania. Stakeholders in the East African Pipeline will be looking at the Summit with great Optimism and are keen to see if such funding can be secured to overcome international pressure that has made an investment in it very uncertain.
This summit will also be the first gathering of Arab League countries since the Abraham Accords were concluded in 2020. Will the current shared crises help overcome what Algerian President Tebboune has called “the emergence of divergences and disagreements”? This is not certain, as the trend of normalization in Arab-Israeli relations has created a sharp divide between the Accord’s signatories and the Arab League members which have so far refused to take this step. A case in point is Sudan which quietly signed US-brokered agreements which have brought public rapprochements between Israel and Several Arab states.
While the main task of the Algiers summit will be to demonstrate that dialogue can prevail over discord, the League is further divided between two sharp political fault lines. Some call for unity and autonomy, including Egyptian President Sisi, who has proposed “blocking the road to all foreign interventions.” Leaders like Sisi are calling for the neutrality of member states to avoid entanglement in the current East-West tensions. Others like Syria and Sudan, however, accept the parallels to the Cold War period by aligning with either the United States-Israel bloc or Russia. Algeria seems to have chosen the latter. In the wake of the summit, joint Russian-Algerian anti-terrorism exercises, dubbed "Desert Shield 2022," are likely to cause more polarization than consensus.
While the Summit is looked at as an opportunity to redefine Arab’s league influence on the continent, the boycott by some of the key member states is already casting doubt on how its resolutions will be implemented. Given the divisions among league members and the abysmal prospects that their differences will be reconciled in the immediate future, this year’s Arab Summit is likely to straitjacket Arab Unity and pass off as a mere fixture with no tangible accomplishments.