Joe Biden is mistaken if he thinks that he is coming to the Middle East this month to meet with the leaders of the Gulf states and the Arab region only to make demands, ask for their help in the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, slow down oil price rises, pump more oil into the market or seek new US-sponsored regional arrangements.
The US president is also mistaken if he or his administration thinks that the region’s political and economic calculations are similar to those from before the pandemic and Ukraine war.
Biden will come to the region from July 13 to 16 and will be the main focus of observers and the media in the Arab world. We will hear all kinds of analyses and points of view, some of which will be logical, while others will go beyond the limits of mind, logic and changing circumstances.
In the following lines, we will try to calmly analyze the awaited visit of the Democratic president to the region, his demands of the Arab leaders and their demands of him.
It is now established that Arab-US relations are no longer like they were before. The Arab side has been able to find a space that allows it to use many cards to obtain previously out-of-reach gains from its strategic ally. Or, in other terms, the said ally was previously reluctant to offer any such gains to the Arabs. This always created a sense of unequal relations, whereby the Arab side would give much more than it would receive.
Biden, who has been president since January 2021, has refrained from visiting the region until now. He now affirms that Arabs are an important element in the international equation, especially after many Arab and Gulf leaders expressed the desire to forge new and diverse partnerships with other major powers.
I believe that the way the Arabs dealt with the recent crisis with Washington is highly regarded. Their search for international allies, to go along with their traditional ally, was based on their desire to preserve the security and stability of their nations. They did not perceive it as a punitive measure against America.
What is established is that the Arab stance on the Russian-Ukrainian war — especially the Gulf states’ refusal to compensate for the absence of Russian oil from international markets — is a clear message for the Americans to reconsider their position toward the Arabs. This is especially vis-a-vis the repercussions of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which unleashed the power of the Iranians and their allies on the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict might also have been an issue that upset the Arabs.
The Ukrainian war may be the opportunity for Arabs to secure balanced relations with America.
Dr. Abdellatif El-Menawy
Arabs, but mainly the Gulf states, need to enjoy a phase of political tranquility and stability and economic prosperity. They need to enjoy this and reap the rewards of their efforts during the decades following the Gulf War. Just as the Gulf War was an opportunity for Washington to establish unbalanced relations with Arabs, the Ukrainian war may be the opportunity for Arabs to secure balanced relations with America.
Biden will face a different position when visiting the region. This position stems from two things. The first is the different Arab tactics, which are based on the necessity of establishing balanced relations with the US, while admitting that they are a fixed strategic ally, as well as the possibility of forging partnerships with other international powers. The second is the recent changes in the international arena, which have put the Arab countries in a strong position.
The friendly Egyptian-American relations, which were clearly manifested during Donald Trump’s presidency, have been marred by worry and concern since Biden’s arrival to the White House. His stances seem similar to Barack Obama’s positions on the post-June 30 revolution state, which began with apprehension and ended with recognition and unconditional support.
I see that Biden should be faced with the negative repercussions of the Obama administration’s support for the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood group during the so-called Arab Spring period. With this position, the US adopted a logic that was devoid of any restrictions or other considerations, whether objective or related to the nature of the Egyptian people, who reject this kind of thinking and direction.
I also believe that the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis should be tackled, as Ethiopia continues to act unilaterally. For instance, Trump had a clear stance regarding this issue. He even stood by Egypt’s right to preserve its water resources in whichever way it deemed convenient.
I believe that it is also important to tackle and discuss with Biden other files, such as understanding the nature of human rights, aid and mutual cooperation, especially if this is supported by a strong Arab stance.
It is no secret that Biden’s visit to the region confirms the depth of the historical relationship between Egypt and the US, as the decades-old list of interests between them is long and cannot be easily canceled or ignored. However, this relationship might undergo some changes, as Egypt — similar to the Arabs generally — holds important cards, meaning that the logic of interests will be fundamental for both sides, with a margin of flexibility for sure.
Undoubtedly, the results of the visit will clarify the future features of Egypt-US relations. If Biden wants to cooperate on different bases, he is more than welcome. However, if he relies only on the previously fixed grounds, he is surely mistaken. In these times, there are no exclusive alliances and no considerations will be made for anyone no matter their power. The world is changing and powers change and vary rapidly. Life goes on, as it should.