Emile Ameen

The Jeddah Summit… A Ray of Hope and Renewal

The thirty-second Arab Summit currently underway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is doubtlessly among the most consequential Summits of the past three decades. Indeed, it is defined by a preconceived forward-looking vision for bringing the ships of the Arab world to safe waters during these turbulent times of upheaval.

Saudi Arabia has put its weight behind efforts steered by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, to bring the Arabs together leading up to the Summit. It has clearly had success in this regard.

In a recent televised interview, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said that he believed the Jeddah Summit “will leave its mark on the Arab world,” especially since it will be distinguished by the presence of Arab leaders.

This Jeddah summit is pivotal because it comes at a remarkable time. It follows a decade of unrest stirred by what was mendaciously dubbed the Arab Spring on the one hand, the subsequent outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and then the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, all of which have clearly had implications for the Arab world and the entire globe. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s fingerprints are all over this Summit. This fact, which was emphasized by Jordan’s King Abdullah bin Al-Hussein, is evident to everyone. In his interview with this newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Ghassan Charbel, King Abdullah said he was confident that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to ensure the success of this Summit would bear fruit.

Over the few months leading up to the Summit, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pursued two crucial tracks:

The first: getting the Arab house in order from within, closing ranks, and crystalizing multiple facets for cooperation on political and economic matters and in responding to global upheaval.

The second: quelling tensions in the region and carving out a path of stability in the region. This pursuit was manifested in the recent Saudi-Iranian agreement, through which the Arab Gulf and the rest of the Middle East could turn the page. Indeed, this agreement opens the door to resolving several intertwined disputes that have been raging for at least a decade.

The Arab Summit comes at a time when the nations of the region await a new phase - one of economic cooperation like that seen in 1951 in Europe after the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which paved the way for the European Union.

Saudi Arabia’s proposal of Arab economic integration, which goes hand in hand with the Kingdom’s efforts to nullify political differences, seems likely to succeed. Moreover, Jordan’s King Abdullah was right to emphasize that economic cooperation is a solid foundation for building intra-Arab solidarity that has a tangible impact on the people of the region and safeguards the future of intra-Arab cooperation from the repercussions of political disputes that could arise from time to time.

Why do we expect the Jeddah Summit to be particularly successful on the economic front? Indeed, as the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte once said, armies are no longer the only ones who march on their stomachs; the people do as well.

Thus, the peoples of the Arab world are particularly focused on this front, especially given the alarming turbulence and shifts in the global economy. An international debt crisis may be on the horizon. Meanwhile, the state of the US economy, given the debt ceiling crisis, is beyond worrying. In light of this global context, pursuing economic cooperation among the countries of the Arab world, and perhaps neighboring countries as well, is absolutely necessary. It is the only way to build a bulwark against the turbulence in the West and safeguard the vast Arab investments around the world. It must be achieved swiftly.

Indeed, before we know it, the peoples of the region could wake up to economic schemes and ploys that strike at the heart of our economy, making their way back in through the window after having been kicked out of the door.

Does this imply that politics does not have a seat at the table of Arab leaders in Jeddah?

It goes without saying that politics and economics are two sides of the same coin. Many Arab, Middle Eastern, and global political issues cannot be avoided. As always, first comes Palestine, which has been the central cause of the Arabs for over eight decades. Given the daily assaults on the dignity of the Palestinian people, the efforts to Judaize Palestinian cities - foremost of which is Al-Quds Al-Sharif - the ongoing expansion of settlements, and the instability and insecurity being seen in Israeli cities, there means a need to reconsider the Arab Peace Initiative, a valuable opportunity that Israel squandered at the time, put forward by Saudi Arabia at the 2002 Arab League Summit in Beirut.

The Jeddah Summit seeks to close ranks in order to tend an open wound causing the Arab body politic great pains. Sadly the brotherly Arab country of Sudan is in dire need of Arab intervention that preempts this Arab nation from taking one of two paths, each of which is worse than the other:

- Rival foreign armies of global powers storming the country and hard colonialism making a comeback

- Sudan turning into a hotbed and hub for international terrorism as havoc wreaks across the country - this is exactly what happened in Iraq two decades ago

Many have pinned their hopes on the Jeddah Summit giving rise to decisions that facilitate a permanent ceasefire in Sudan, open humanitarian corridors, and take the two sides from the battlefield to the negotiating table.

Meanwhile, this Summit will also see Syria return to the seat it has left vacant for the past twelve years. During this time, the Syrian people have suffered immensely, and the national fabric was taken apart before being ripped to shreds.

A detailed discussion of all issues that must be resolved at the Summit is beyond the scope of this article. They include fundamental questions, especially the situation in Yemen and Ethiopia’s intransigence regarding the Renaissance Dam.

Despite all of these obstacles, however, the leaders of the Arab world, first and foremost the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman, and his Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, are determined to succeed. They believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that the clouds of the region must dissipate eventually, ushering in an era of renewal and change.