European countries see the summit is all the more important as the United States "disengages" from the region while Russia and China make inroads.
Leaders from European Union and Arab League countries pledged on Sunday to boost cooperation in the fight against terrorism and to tackle unauthorised migration at a first-ever summit high in symbolism but likely to yield few concrete results.
Under tight security at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi opened two days of talks with a speech celebrating what he described as historic cooperation between the two organizations.
But despite the public display of unity, just drafting a summit statement has proved difficult.
EU and Arab League foreign ministers failed to agree earlier this month on a text after Hungary objected to the section on migration.
Europe's migration challenge is at the heart of the two-day meeting, being held under the slogan "Investing in Stability."
Desperate to bring migrant arrivals under control, the EU offered the summit last October as a symbolic sweetener to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi.
What EU wants from Sisi
The EU wants Sisi to order the Egyptian coast guard to pick up migrants leaving Libya and take them back to the African mainland, ensuring they do not become Europe's responsibility.
Sissi, in turn, receives high-profile European recognition, promotion for Sharm el Sheikh, and is likely to avoid any lessons on human rights.
While the number of people crossing the central Mediterranean has now dropped to a seven-year low, Europe's inability to agree on how to manage the arrivals has sparked a major political crisis, as nations bicker over who should take responsibility and whether other EU partners should help out.
Some, like Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary, claim that extremists are entering among the refugees.
Praises for Egypt
Just days before the summit, the head of the EU's border and coast guard agency praised the authorities in Cairo for preventing any migrant from setting out for Europe from the Egyptian coast since 2016.
"There are no boats coming directly from Egypt to the European Union," Frontex director Fabrice Leggeri said. "The cooperation with Egypt is really encouraging and is developing."
The EU routinely trumpets an agreement it reached with Turkey for slowing migrant arrivals to a trickle in exchange for up to 6 billion euros ($7 billion) in aid for Syrian refugees there and other incentives.
It has pledged to replicate the deal in northern Africa.
Ahead of this inaugural summit, experts and European officials played down any expectation of major results.
"The timing is very important because it comes after eight years of instability in the Mediterranean affecting Europe and the Middle East," Saeed Sadek, professor of political sociology at the Canadian University in Cairo told The Associated Press.
"Both sides want to know how can we stabilise the area further, produce stability, how can we deal with the consequences and prevent any further escalations," said Sadek.
"But the imbalance of power between the two sides may not produce the concrete results that people imagine."
May to seek Saudi influence in Yemen
British Prime Minister Theresa May will call on Saudi Arabia's King Salman to use his influence to encourage Yemeni parties towards peace, telling a summit that governments must redouble efforts to secure a political settlement to the crisis.
"My message in Sharm el Sheikh is clear: let us now redouble our efforts to build on the progress made and get the Stockholm agreements implemented in full," May said on the way to the EU-League of Arab states summit in Egypt.
"I will also use this summit to reiterate to King Salman the importance of Saudi Arabia continuing to use their influence to encourage the Yemeni parties towards peace, as they did so pivotally in Stockholm. And I will underline the UK's ongoing commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and the region."
The war in Yemen has largely been stalemated for years, with a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states and Yemeni allies unable to dislodge the Houthi movement that controls the capital and most major population centres.
A ceasefire was agreed at talks at a castle near Stockholm last month.
The agreement also foresees a political track of talks to end the war. But a lack of progress could test the patience of the United Arab Emirates, which leads military operations on Yemen's Red Sea coast for the Saudi-led coalition