There is nothing new in Sharm El-Sheikh hosting high-profile conferences. In the last three decades, writes Dina Ezzat, the Red Sea resort has seen many meetings between international and regional leaders. According to a retired Egyptian diplomat, “whenever something big was happening in the region it had to be in Sharm El-Sheikh, especially when it involved meetings on the Arab-Israeli struggle”.
Sharm El-Shiekh hosts at least 30,000 representatives from over 190 UN member states, including 80 world leaders. According to Khaled Fouda, governor of South Sinai, the city has undergone a LE15 billion overhaul in preparation. The airport and road network have been upgraded, security systems updated and a new solar power plant will secure electricity supplies to the more than 100 hotels that will be hosting participants.
While the main focus of the event will be the climate change agenda, with intense negotiations on the financing of mitigation and adaptation schemes, Egyptian and foreign diplomats agree that a host of other political issues will also be raised at the gathering of leaders.
The war in Ukraine will be impossible to ignore. “The war is likely to continue well beyond February next year. There are no reasons to think that the parties on either side are ready to put down their arms,” said a European diplomat based in Cairo. Growing awareness in leading capitals that the war is going to be long and painful has lent momentum to devising measures to ensure the tragic humanitarian costs are not exacerbated. The need to establish red lines that are not crossed, said the diplomat, was already broached in September during the UN General Assembly, and COP27 offers an opportunity for world leaders to review the situation.
Some of the issues related to the war directly relate to climate change. Some European countries have suspended plans to opt for cleaner energy and shut down nuclear power plants in order to reduce their dependency on Russian gas.
The US has increased exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe, and the continent is also looking for other suppliers, including from the east Mediterranean, as it scramble secure its winter needs.
World leaders in Sharm will be discussing less a strict energy agenda than a broader political agenda capable of ensuring the European energy crisis does not turn into an added hazard for climate change. They will also, adds the European diplomat, address a range of ideas on military de-escalation.
Food security will also be examined, both in relation to climate change and the Russia-Ukraine war and Moscow’s decision this week to suspend the UN brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over the Russian decision. Scheduled to arrive Sunday in Algeria to take part in the Arab Summit, Guterres delayed his arrival in order to attend to the issue.
The spillover of the Arab Summit, which closed on 2 November, of Israeli elections and the mid-term US Congressional elections, will also reverberate in Sharm El-Sheikh.
Egyptian diplomatic sources say that Egypt has made concerted efforts to guarantee two issues – non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign Arab states and Palestinian-Israeli peace – receive their fair share of attention at this year’s Arab Summit, with the latter likely to garner attention in Sharm given increasing levels of tension in the West Bank and Gaza and expectations of either a return to office of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu or of the formation of a government bringing together Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz. Israeli Prime Minister Lapid this week posited a third disturbing scenario when he said he feared Netanyahu might refuse to accept defeat.
In Sharm El-Sheikh, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas will almost certainly raise concerns over the impact of internal Israeli politics on Palestinian affairs as well as frustrations over the collapse in international support for funding environmental projects in Gaza and the West Bank, including addressing levels of pollution along the coast of Gaza and the tons of material waste from batteries used to generate electricity in the densely populated and impoverished Strip.
According to a paper published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace late last week, as COP27 host “Egypt finds itself on the world stage as a leading voice for the Global South, especially Africa, and Egypt looks to the summit as an opportunity to burnish its international prestige, emphasise its Afro-Arab identity, and position Cairo as a bridge-builder between the Global South and North.”
“Egypt’s hosting of COP27 should be seen as a continuation of a recent evolution wherein Cairo is pivoting back to Africa as a hybrid player, pitching itself as a gateway to Africa and a strategic player with a growing footprint on the continent,” wrote Mohamed Soliman, author of the paper.
Soliman added that “Egypt hopes to use the spotlight to raise awareness of the double whammy of a climate crisis that it itself faces.”
“Egypt is a water-poor nation and is also facing the dark reality of reduced water supplies from the Nile because of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is expected to impact Egypt’s water share as Cairo depends on the river for more than 90 per cent of its water.”
They are points echoed by an Egyptian diplomat. Egypt, he says, “will definitely use the opportunity to bring up the unresolved conflict over the filling and operation of GERD”. For three years Ethiopia has undertaken annual fillings of the GERD reservoir during the rainy season in the absence of an agreement with the two downstream riparian states. And while a resolution will be adopted by the Arab summit in support of the “fair and legitimate demands of Egypt and Sudan”, the management of the flood is, says the diplomat, something that will be brought to the attention of COP27.
A version of this article appears in print in the 3 November, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly