The Egypt-Saudi-Emirati alliance is grounded in reality
A union of Arab countries is not a novel idea; a successful one is. Failure has tainted almost every Arab attempt at unity. That includes the United Arab Republic, the short-lived union of Egypt and Syria, which lasted from 1958-61. It includes the Federation of Arab Republics, Muammar Qaddafi’s attempt to merge Libya, Egypt and Syria from the early 1970s, with Sudan and Iraq opting in and out at different times. By 1977, that experiment ended.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, is one of the more successful attempts at unity, even though Qatar’s rogue activities have weakened it.
So, what are the chances of success for the newest Arab alliance, the emerging economic partnership between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE?
Uncommonly good, surprisingly. This is mainly because the Arab tripartite alliance was born out of necessity after the 2011 uprisings just as the European Economic Community (EEC) came about in the years after the second world war. That said, the Arab League was founded 12 years before the EEC but the league remains a footnote to history. The EEC has grown into the European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc.
The Egypt-Saudi-Emirati alliance is grounded in reality and blessed with clear commercial and industrial planning. There appears to be the political will to go forward with it at all costs. The alliance is not based on leaders’ whims, Arab nationalistic rhetoric or the emotional outbursts of politicians, all of which rendered previous attempts at unity failures.
The alliance came about when fluctuating oil prices were negatively affecting Saudi Arabia’s economy and the Saudi leadership decided to broaden the country’s revenue base.
The October 2017 announcement of the $500 billion NEOM project was a major step. NEOM is planned as a state-of-the-art industrial, commercial and tourist metropolis in north-western Saudi Arabia, parallel to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Significantly, 1,000 sq.km of south Sinai will also be developed by the project. Egypt plans a new megacity on the allocated land.
Development of the Red Sea cities of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada will also be part of the project. The Saudi deal with Egypt will enable Riyadh to benefit from Cairo’s expertise in the tourism sector. Egypt will benefit from the influx of cash to further develop the Sinai Peninsula.
The UAE, which is expected to be part of the project, has regional trade expertise and global commercial centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The UAE has invested $6.2 billion in the Egyptian market and plans to inject another $2 billion in development projects.
That tripartite economic alliance came alongside the UAE-Saudi December 2017 agreement to forge a closer economic and military partnership to fight the threat posed by Iran. Egypt, with its powerful military, large population and strong industrial base, provides more heft to the UAE-Saudi partnership. In any case, Egypt shares Saudi and Emirati goals with respect to curbing Iran, Qatar and Turkey’s expansionist regional ambitions.
With Egypt’s megaprojects in the Suez Canal and Sinai, Saudi Arabia’s ambitious plans for NEOM and the UAE’s evolving global commercial prowess, the new alliance may, for once, actually work. It might even meet its goals and genuinely spur greater Arab unity if others, including Bahrain, Kuwait and Jordan, sought to join.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s combined GDP was $1.465 trillion in 2017, which would make the bloc of three the 13th biggest economy in the world.