The Arab Summit was held in Algeria on 1-2 November 2022, the 31st session of the League of Arab States (LAS) Council with the slogan “Reunification”, coinciding with the anniversary of the 1954 Algerian Revolution.
The Summit’s objectives were creating common understanding grounds among Arab leaders, consensus on joint Arab action priorities, an attempt to develop frameworks and determinants for Arab national security in the coming period, especially in light of international polarization and signs of reshaping power balance, all posing risks for Arab national security. Within such framework, this paper discusses the concept of Arab security and its problematics and determinants in light of the Arab Summit outcomes.
The Concept of Arab National Security and its Problematics
At the Arab Summit in Baghdad in 1990, the General Secretariat presented a paper entitled “Arab National Security: Presentation of Threats and Challenges” in an attempt to formulate the concept of Arab national security, in the sense of “the use of the comprehensive society power factors (military, political, economic, social, scientific or technological) to protect the fundamental interests of the state and confront the dangers and threats to which it is or can be exposed. In addition to the creation of a decent life and stable institutions ensuring citizens attachment to the State, and enable the government to mobilize citizens and employ their energies in various situations in the face of existing and potential external and internal dangers.”
However, with the emergence of new variables over the past years, we have witnessed a shift in the Arab perspective of security with the countries’ different interests and priorities. Arab countries faced a problem in adopting a unified concept of security, as each country has different considerations. At times, some countries call for the importance of the Middle East concept when the balance of power is not in their favor within the Arab system, and hence begin to put forward the ties of doctrine and religion, as some resort to with Iran and Turkey.
Others can highlight the ties of trade, security, money, or rapprochement with non-Arab international or regional powers, such as normalization relations with Israel or ties of common neighborliness as with Ethiopia. Arab literature refers to these cases as a conflict between Arab nationalism and Middle Eastern geostrategy.
This disagreement has paved the way for the emergence of serious challenges for these countries, especially since security has many dimensions, in addition to the exacerbation of international crises, whether the Corona pandemic, the Ukrainian crisis or climate change. Security is no longer limited to the traditional and military dimension, but is based on other non-traditional dimensions such as environmental security, water security, energy security, food security, as well climate security.
The contexts of the Ukrainian war and the pandemic posed challenges for Arab countries, leading to the need for Arab reconsideration of securing food needs, as Ukraine exports 95% of its grains through the Black Sea, and estimates of its wheat exports to the Middle East and North Africa region in 2020 amounted to more than 50%. The recent restrictions on Ukrainian Black Sea ports highlighted Arab countries concerns for the need to provide grain and seek an agreement on alternatives, considering that lack of grain supplies to the region and the rise in their prices will put pressure on the Arab economies already affected by the repercussions of the Corona pandemic, in addition to the increase in wheat prices by about 45% in 2021.
This is in addition to the disagreement among Arab countries on the concept of terrorism, putting some countries in an awkward position, especially in political and security interactions in the region. Some countries use mercenaries and terrorist organizations to serve their own goals and interests in a way that threatens security and stability. Other countries interfere in the internal affairs of countries by fueling factions with extremist ideas, and have them demand engagement in power and governance. Nevertheless, within its leading role, Egypt has always adopted a comprehensive approach to security that it has previously put forward during the Riyadh Summit in 2017, through intellectual confrontation, renewal of religious discourse, drying up the sources of terrorist financing, and the enactment of legislation to combat terrorism in all its forms.
Determinants of Arab National Security
According to the outcomes of the Arab Summit in Algiers, some determinants of Arab security can be deduced, including fostering joint Arab action in all fields, rejecting foreign interventions, political settlement of Arab crises, reviving the LAS role, and formulating a unified Arab position in international crises. These can be explained as follows:
The Palestinian Issue is the first determinant of security and a central issue for Arabs. Absolute support is provided for the rights of Palestinians to establish their state on the borders of 4 June 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in addition to the right of return and compensation for Palestinian refugees in accordance with United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948. Another determinant for resolving the issue is the adherence to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative with “land for peace”, and a commitment to a just and comprehensive peace to end Israeli aggression on all territories, including the Syrian Golan, the Shebaa Farms and the Lebanese hills of Kafr Shuba.
This is in addition to supporting the State of Palestine as a member of the United Nations, and international recognition by countries that have not yet done so. Besides stressing for the unification of the Palestinian fractions, welcoming the Algiers Declaration originating from the Reunification Conference held in Algiers on 11-13 October 2022 in order to achieve Palestinian national unity, and proceeding with the steps of political stability through holding legislative and presidential elections within a year to result in a legislative council that acts as a Palestinian parliament in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Eastern Jerusalem.
Fostering Arab Security through joint action to help resolve and end Arab crises in a way that preserves the unity and territorial integrity of member states, meets the aspirations of the Arab peoples, works to develop a new concept of security that rejects external interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries in all its forms, and resolves Arab issues and crises through the advancement of the LAS role in conflict resolution and prevention. This is in addition to enhancing the position of youth and innovation in the joint Arab action through launching an interactive movement among official Arab institutions and civil society by making room for the exchange of ideas, fruitful discussion and constructive dialogue.
In addition to working to embody the project of Arab economic integration in accordance with a comprehensive vision that ensures the optimal utilization of the components of the Arab economies and the valuable opportunities they offer, with the aim of fully activating the Greater Arab Free Trade Area in preparation for the establishment of the Arab Customs Union. In addition to strengthening pan-Arab cooperation through joint coordination, as seen in the mini-Arab meetings held between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq since March 2019 and the aspirations for the electricity interconnection project, as well as other meetings in Aqaba bringing together the three countries with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in March 2022, and the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain in June 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh resulting in the launch of the “Integrative Industrial Partnership for Sustainable Economic Development” initiative in May 2022 with the aim of fostering the role of the industrial sector and deepening the comprehensive industrial partnership between the four countries within a range of vital sectors of common interest, namely: agriculture, food, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals, textiles, minerals and petrochemicals.
Non-traditional security: Seeking to confront the non-military dimensions such as food, environmental, water and energy security. The Summit outlined the Arab countries’ position on the recent policies adopted by the OPEC Plus alliance to guarantee the stability of global energy markets and the sustainability of investments in this sector to ensure the interests of both producing and consuming countries. The energy crisis represents an opportunity for Arab countries seeking a vital role in the global energy market by increasing energy exports in light of European countries’ needs.
In addition, the Arab countries are confronting the crises of climate change as Egypt hosts the 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 27), followed by the UAE the following year (COP 28), as well as the launch of the Green Middle East Initiative by Saudi Arabia.
With regard to food security, an Arab strategy for food security was put forward in response to the repercussions of the Ukrainian war, including the adoption of policies that enhance food security, protect Arab economies, search for alternative sources and increase Arab investments in agricultural scientific research, especially after the grain crisis caused by the war. High global inflation, high shipping cost and possible restrictions on exports, in addition to climate changes that have a significant impact on agricultural production due to the spread of drought, lack of rainfall, and increasing desertification all complicate the situation.
Security in its traditional sense: The Arab States have adopted the need to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East in accordance with the agreed terms of reference, and to call on all concerned parties to accede to and implement the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the cornerstone of the international regime against the proliferation of such weapons. This is in addition to stressing the unification of efforts to combat terrorism and extremism in all forms and dry up the sources of financing, as they remain threats to Arab countries and impose themselves as variables to the Arab peace and security equation, in light of the reproduction of new forms by terrorist organizations. The Egyptian state has hence emphasized, in all international forums, the need to adopt a comprehensive approach to confronting terrorism — a multidimensional approach politically, legally, socially and religiously — and stipulates the need for regional cooperation in this regard through not allowing the territory of some states to be used as a haven to support terrorist acts against other states.
Another determinant is working against Islamophobia, promoting the values of tolerance, respect for the other, and dialogue between religions and cultures. In this regard, the historic visit of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Kingdom of Bahrain is highly welcomed, as well as the participation of Dr. Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Al-Azhar Grand Imam, in the “Bahrain Forum for Dialogue: East and West for Human Coexistence”.
Preserving the unity and sovereignty of Arab countries: The Libyan issue comes within the determinants of Arab security by supporting efforts to end the crisis through a Libyan solution that guarantees the unity and sovereignty of the state, by holding elections to achieve political stability. As for Yemen, the Arab vision is to support the legitimate Yemeni government, bless the formation of the Presidential Leadership Council, and support efforts to reach a political solution and reject external interference in its affairs. The same applies to Syria through the political settlement of the crisis and addressing its consequences in order to achieve the unity and sovereignty of the state and restores stability and peace. Likewise for Iraq the Arab vision supports government stability, stimulating constitutional life and achieving economic development. Concerning Lebanon, the Arab vision supports its stability and security, and commends moves to extend sovereignty over its land and sea territories, electing a new president, and then forming a government to carry out real reforms. With regard to Somalia, the said Arab vision renews its support for the consolidation of security and stability through the contribution of the Arab States in strengthening the Somali national capacities in the field of combating terrorism as well as support in the face of the internal crises due to the acute drought crisis. In addition to settling Arab-Arab disputes by supporting continuous efforts to achieve a political solution between Djibouti and Eritrea regarding the border dispute and the issue of Djiboutian prisoners.
International crises: The position of the Arab states is to adopt the principles of non-alignment. The common Arab position towards the war in Ukraine is based on the rejection of the use of force and the pursuit of the peace choice through the active involvement of the Arab Ministerial Contact Group (which includes Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Iraq, Sudan and the LAS Secretary-General) in international efforts to formulate a political solution to the crisis consistent with the principles of the UN Charter and takes into account the security concerns of the parties concerned, while rejecting the politicization of international organizations. In this context, efforts by other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia is noted.
In conclusion, the Arab Summit remains a mechanism of joint Arab action that provides an opportunity to meet the priorities of these countries in order to achieve security in various dimensions and set its determinants. Perhaps the talk about a strategy for Arab food security in response to the changes imposed by international crises, the project of electrical interconnection between Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, and the Arab Industrial Initiative are all novel indicators reflecting the work to crystallize a modern concept of Arab security. These in addition to the Arab presence as an influential and important actor, showcased in hosting international conventions in Arab counties as platforms for interaction in international relations. Egypt hosts COP27 followed by the UAE to host COP28, Qatar hosting the 2022 Football World Cup, Morocco hosting the ninth Global Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, as well as endorsing Saudi Arabia’s candidacy to host Expo 2030.