How the strategic balance of power in the Middle East is shifting

The Old Quarter in Amman, Jordan (Adobe)

The Egypt, Jordan, Iraq alliance seeks to deal with shifts in the strategic balance of power in the Middle East, writes Ahmad Abdul-Rahman.

The Iraqi capital, Baghdad, witnessed the fourth tripartite summit between the leaders of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan on June 27. This was part of the tripartite cooperation mechanism that was launched in Cairo in March 2019. The Baghdad summit was preceded by two meetings in Cairo and the Dead Sea in Jordan as part of the efforts of the leaders of the three countries to unify its policies in a number of areas, especially in economics and politics.

The crystallization of the Egypt-Jordan-Iraq axis coincides with the transformations witnessed on the regional and global levels. It also indicates structural changes in the Arab world, especially after the arrival of US President Joe Biden to the White House and a return to traditional policy towards the Middle East. This is particularly true with regard to the desire to return to the Iranian nuclear agreement.

There is also the possible settlements of some regional issues in which Tehran interferes directly or through proxies, and the disappearance of talks about the deal of the century on the Palestinian issue. Israel is also more interested in the axis of moderation, particularly after signing the Abraham agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, and Turkey's efforts to improve relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That is why there was a need to build new cooperative frameworks based on consensus, solidarity and unity of political, economic and security interests.

Hence, there was the need to form the Cairo-Amman-Baghdad alliance, which would extend to the middle of the Arab world. This was also an attempt to restore cohesion between Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, which includes Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. Iran and Turkey are located on its margins,geographically.

Dimensions of the emergent axis

A geopolitical dimension: The aforementioned transformation، resulted in Cairo, Amman and Baghdad leading joint Arab action،. They sought to fill the void caused by the breakup the traditional Arab system, to revive inter-Arab diplomacy, to fix the imbalance of power in the region in favor of the Iranian and Turkish projects, and to find a comprehensive strategy for all countries in the Middle East.

Each country found common interests. Egypt's joining the coalition came as an extension of a new pattern of external interactions based on the establishment of Arab and regional strategic partnerships and alliances.

Egypt's joining the new alliance is also based on its geo-strategic position, regional weight, its role at the international level and active diplomacy. It aims to enhance coordination on certain issues and reduce the roles of regional powers to achieve peace and stability in the region.

As for Iraq, it seeks to change the approach of managing its foreign policy from a local to a broader regional one. In this way, it will constitute a scope for economic cooperation with the Gulf region, an Islamic one with Iran and Turkey, an Arab one with the Maghreb countries, and a European and American one.

Even Jordan's historical connection to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and its relations with the Palestinians of the West Bank, didn't prevent Amman's fears and sense of isolation escalating during the era of the former US President Donald Trump. His presidency was supported by many including by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His support meant the end of the two-state solution, and the "Deal of the Century" along with the annexation of the West Bank.

An economic dimension: The Egyptian, Jordanian and Iraqi alliance represents a model for Arab relations based on economic interests. Rather, it is based on the benefits that will be derived from the strategic advantages provided by each country to achieve integration and overcome economic crises.

For instance, Egypt benefits from its geographical location on the Mediterranean, its huge population and its economic and social development. Iraq possesses oil resources estimated at an estimated 150 billion barrels. It also has an important strategic position in the Middle East. In terms of the alliance, it is based on complementary elements, namely oil, energy, trade and transportation.

The Egypt-Jordan-Iraq alliance is a new attempt to deal with shifts in the strategic balance of power in a region that is still without a clear balance of power. Recognising that is an important step on the path to joint Arab action.

However, the chances of this alliance succeeding are contingent on the ability to manoeuver and be free from regional and international pressures. For this alliance to succeed it must also develop flexible mechanisms to coordinate positions when it comes to dealing with critical regional political issues. It must also find ways to overcome differences that may arise regarding some issues, and transform joint agreements into plans and projects that can be implemented on the ground, while benefiting from previous Arab integration experiences that were not successful. In this regard, the experience of the Arab Common Market and the Arab Customs Union are most notable. 

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Friday, 24 September 2021