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Egypt's Sisi, Arab leaders coordinate positions ahead of Biden visit

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been meeting with several Arab leaders in the lead-up to US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East slated for mid-July.
Saudi Crown Prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Egypt and was received by HE President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, June 20, 2022.

CAIRO — Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has held meetings with Arab leaders, including Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in the lead-up to US President Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia slated for mid-July.

On June 19, Sisi held a tripartite meeting with Abdullah and Khalilfa, during which the senior leaders welcomed the upcoming summit to be hosted July 16 by Saudi Arabia and to include the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and the United States.

On the sidelines of the tripartite meeting, Sisi said that his country is looking forward to “strengthening constructive cooperation with Egypt, Bahrain and Jordan, in such a way to achieve the common interests of the people and enhance joint Arab action efforts, especially in light of the major challenges resulting from regional and international development,” in reference to the Russian-Ukrainian war.

According to the Jordan News Agency, the three leaders “stressed the importance of intensifying work in order to face the challenges of food security, rising prices and energy costs resulting from international developments (the Ukrainian war).”

“They also discussed the latest regional developments, foremost of which is the Palestinian issue, emphasizing the need to support the Palestinian brothers in their efforts to obtain their just and legitimate rights in establishing their independent state along the lines of June 4, 1967, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the basis of the two-state solution,” the report read.

On June 21, Prince Mohammed visited Cairo and met with Sisi.

According to a statement by the Egyptian presidency following the meeting, the two leaders agreed on the importance of the upcoming summit in Saudi Arabia to be hosted during Biden’s visit to the country.

Prince Mohammed spoke of the “importance of continued coordination, intensive consultation and exchange of views between Egypt and Saudi Arabia to address the challenges and crises facing the Arab nation, and to stand up to any interference in internal Arab affairs in a way that aims to destabilize the security of the region and its peoples.”

The White House announced June 14 that Biden will tour the Middle East July 13-16, including Israel and the West Bank, as well as Saudi Arabia as the last leg of the tour.

This is his first visit to the region since he took office in early 2021.

Agence France-Presse reported June 14 that the US president had set among his priorities during his visit to the region working to secure global energy and food needs, extending the truce in force in Yemen, and curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions while giving a push to human rights in the region.

Former Egyptian diplomats and political experts who spoke to Al-Monitor consider that the tripartite meeting between Sisi and the kings of Jordan and Bahrain, and then Prince Mohammed's visit to Cairo, came to materialize a common Arab vision prior to Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia.

In a June 19 report, Independent Arabia quoted an Egyptian government source whose name was not indicated as saying that “the current Arab activity is mainly aimed at coordinating positions (between Arab countries) in preparation for the US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, as well as discussing the latest developments in regional and international issues, especially the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the region.”

Hussein Haridi, a former Egyptian assistant foreign minister, told Al-Monitor, "These talks between Arab leaders seek to materialize a common Arab vision to be presented during Biden’s visit, study the agenda prepared by the US for this summit and gauge the Arab countries’ positions to this effect. This is not to mention prioritizing the issues of interest in the Arab nations to be discussed with the American president.” 

Commenting on what exactly will be placed on the table of discussion with Biden, he said, “Undoubtedly, the negative repercussions of the Ukrainian war on Arab peoples will be raised, as well as the food crisis, energy prices. The Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear deal will be at the heart of the talks and will be discussed at length.”

Haridi added, “Saudi Arabia’s invitation to Egypt, Jordan and Iraq to participate in the summit that will be attended by the GCC with Biden adds a strategic dimension to it, as the participating countries have almost identical visions about the Arab and security situations in the Middle East, the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea, Moreover, Egyptian-Arab coordination is in the interest of Arab national security in general.”

Khaled Okasha, director of the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor, “The current US administration may have not yet made a final decision on the Middle East.”

“Consequently, the major countries in the region and historical strategic allies such as Egypt and the Gulf states always meet during times of international challenges and develop strategies to confront these challenges, and perhaps on top of that is the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war and its repercussions on the Arab countries,” he added.

Karen Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said in a statement on June 14 that Biden’s visit to the Middle East constitutes the culmination of several months of diplomacy and is not dictated by internal considerations.

On June 14, AFP quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying that Biden’s short but intense tour of the Middle East will signal the return of American leadership to the region.

Okasha said, “Biden will meet with the most prominent leaders of the (Arab) region in one country (Saudi Arabia), and this is something that has not happened before, and therefore we are waiting to see the vision of the current US administration and its point of view regarding the Middle East and the thorny issues in it.”

Ayman Samir, editor-in-chief of Egyptian Politics and an expert in international relations, concurs with Okasha. 

“Biden’s visit is expected to revalue the Middle East and the status and importance of the Arab region, and to stress that the time of oil and gas has not ended,” Samir told Al-Monitor.

He explained that “the goal of the recent Arab talks lies in coordinating a common Arab vision to be presented to President Biden based on their national interests and Arab interests in their relations with the United States."

“The time of Arabs waiting for the US to dictate its ideas to the region is long gone now,” Samir concluded.