High turnout expected at EU-Arab League summit

Brussels – Strong attendance is expected at the first-ever EU-Arab League summit starting Sunday, with 23 or 24 EU leaders due to participate in the talks, a senior EU official said Friday.

For weeks, concerns had lingered over poor attendance, including by Europe’s biggest economies such as Germany and Britain. This past week, however, both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed they will head to the summit, to be held in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Although the summit will not focus on Brexit, May will meet informally with European Council President Donald Tusk on Sunday afternoon at 4:30 pm (1430 GMT), the official said.

May faces another high-stakes vote in parliament next week, as lawmakers remain deadlocked with the Brexit deadline just over a month away.

French President Emmanuel Macron will not attend the Egypt summit, according to a French government source.

On the Arab League side, conversely, there had been concerns that certain controversial leaders would show up. Those include Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces an international indictment for war crimes but still travels abroad – including to Egypt.

At this summit, however, “Sudan will not be represented at the highest level,” the EU official said.

Another name of concern is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Many Western countries have kept their diplomatic distance from the Saudi heir since dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Riyadh’s consulate in Turkey in October.

The senior EU official declined to comment specifically on Prince Mohammed’s attendance. But he said, from the EU side, the “clear understanding” is that King Salman bin Abdelaziz will lead the delegation.