German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi at the 55th Munich Security Conference on February 16. Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: A first-of-its-kind summit, bringing together leaders of the Arab League and the European Union, is a major opportunity for both blocs to grapple with global and regional challenges, analysts have said.

The two-day event, starting Sunday in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm Al Shaikh, is drawing large participation from heads of state and governments in the Arab world and Europe.

“Having this summit in Egypt represents brilliant success of Egyptian diplomacy under the leadership of President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi,” said Salah Al Hadi, a political analyst. “The event confirms stability and security in Egypt after years of trouble,” he told Gulf News.

This summit is significant for Arabs and Europeans in terms of its timing and agenda. The leaders are meeting as destructive problems continue in the Arab region ... and Europe.

- Salah Al Hadi | Political analyst

Egypt has experienced a spate of deadly attacks mainly targeting security forces since 2013 when the army then led by Al Sissi deposed Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous street protests against his rule. The violence has taken a toll on Egypt’s main tourist destinations such as Sharm Al Shaikh located in Sinai, once a hotbed of Islamist militancy.

“The summit is a testament to the scale of stability restored to Egypt and [the country is] reasserting its weight in the region and the world,” Al Hadi said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May are among the leading dignitaries expected at the event.

“This summit is significant for the Arabs and the Europeans in terms of its timing and agenda,”Al Hadi said. “The leaders are meeting as destructive problems continue in the Arab region due to forces of terrorism that have struck in Europe too.”

Al Hadi also said Europe’s commitment to a 2015 controversial nuclear deal with Iran will be at the centre of talks between the Arab and EU blocs. Gulf countries accuse Iran of fomenting unrest in the Arab region. Last May, US president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal, accusing Tehran of sponsoring terrorism, and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Europe has reaffirmed commitment to the deal, though.

“There is enough evidence that the Iranian behaviour is aggressive, and harmful to Arab national security,” said Al Hadi. “The Europeans have to take Arab concerns into consideration and at least try to make Tehran change its behaviour,” he added.

Although relations between the Arabs and the Europeans are historical, Europe’s engagement in the region has in recent years shrunk, leaving the arena for other powers, mainly the US and Russia, to expand their influence, according to Al Hadi. “A good sign is that Europe is trying to act independently from America. Therefore, the Sharm Al Shaikh gathering is a timely chance for the Arabs and Europe to hold a frank dialogue and adopt pragmatic steps that would serve their mutual interests,” he said.

High on the agenda of the summit are migration, combatting terrorism, and trade and regional conflicts in the Arab region, including Libya, Yemen and Syria.

In recent months, France and Italy have been seen vying for influence in Libya, which has descended into anarchy since a 2011 armed revolt toppled longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi. Libya has since turned into a transit route for migrants seeking to illegally enter Europe on Mediterranean shipwrecks. The Franco-Italian rivalry is believed to have fuelled Libya’s turmoil.

“Experience of recent years has proved that the security situation in the Arab region and Europe is interlinked,” said Rakha Ahmad, an ex-Egyptian assistant foreign minister. “Europe has been negatively affected by fallout of some Arab crises such as Libya,” Ahmad told semi-official newspaper Al Ahram.

He believes the Sharm Al Shaikh summit will seek to defuse Arab tensions and reinvigorate Arab-European links.

“There is a strong desire on both sides to achieve more cooperation between them and address the root causes of illegal migration to Europe.”