Were the talks between Tunisia and Egypt successful?

Earthernware in Tunisia (Shutterstock)

Ahmed Abdel-Rahman writes exclusively for LDC about the political objectives and strategic outcomes of the Tunisian president's visit to Egypt.

On April 9, Tunisian President Kais Saied began an official visit to Egypt that lasted three days and his first since taking office in October 2019. During the visit, which came within a changing regional and international context, on the Egyptian and Tunisian levels, Saied met his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and a number of Egyptian officials as well as Islamic, and Christian leaders.

What are the contexts in which the visit came, and the desired goals behind it? What about the issues that the two sides dealt with and the outcomes achieved by this visit?

The visit of the Tunisian president to Cairo did not come as a surprise, but rather had been arranged for about a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic In May 2020, President Saied received an invitation from President El-Sisi to visit Cairo. However, the radical transformations that the Middle East region and the countries have witnessed since that time meant the agenda was changed. A number of factors came into play including:

The collapse of the last round of talks, between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on April 6, hosted by the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Kinshasa In a statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described Ethiopia as having "a lack of political will to negotiate in good faith". This statement was issued while El-Sisi was threatening to resort to all options in the event that Egypt's right to the Nile waters was violated, and Egyptian diplomatic activity was aimed at mobilising support for Cairo's position on this issue at the regional and international levels.

Tunisia has been part of a group of non-permanent members of the UN Security Council since the beginning of last year, succeeding the State of Kuwait, and representing Arab and African countries as well as Niger in the Council. It will remain in the seat until the end of this year.

The conflict escalated between Tunisia's Saied, the Ennahda Movement- a self-defined Muslim democratic party in Tunisia, and Tunisian Prime Minister, Hisham Al-Mashishi after Saied refused to sign the Constitutional Court Law. Ennahda wants to change this law to serve its interests. Ennahda demands a political government or a mix between party politicians and technocrats. President Saied was the one who nominated Al-Mashishi to form the government after the majority party (the Ennahda Movement) exhausted its chances, according to the constitution, after the withdrawal of confidence from the government of its candidate, Habib Jemli, in the parliament vote last January.

Prior to that, Saied refused to accept the swearing in of a number of government ministers .

Another cause of change in the region was the start of the political transition in Libya, after the situation stabilised and the transitional government of Abdul Hamid Al Dabaiba assumed its duties. This step is considered a positive one towards building a state of institutions, and addressing the exit of foreign fighters and Turkish mercenary forces, as well as issues of reconstruction and economic recovery.

Common issues discussed

The Egyptian-Tunisian bilateral summit discussed a number of common issues. According to the joint statement emanating from the talks between Presidents Sisi and Saied: "The Egyptian-Tunisian summit reflected the extent of the convergence of views between the two countries on all issues", the most prominent of which was:

"Enhancing cooperation in the field of combating terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, and calling on the international community to adopt a comprehensive approach to address this phenomenon in its various security, economic, social and developmental, intellectual and ideological dimensions, and to confront all terrorist organisations without exception".

Other issues that were discussed include developments in the Libyan crisis and the formation of the new executive authority. This includes how to provide the necessary so that it can play its role in managing the transitional phase of the government. This is in addition to holding elections as scheduled at the end of this year, ending foreign interference, and the exit of all foreign forces, mercenaries and foreign terrorist fighters from Libya.

The issue of Egyptian water security being part of the Arab national security and the emphasis on the need to preserve the water rights of Egypt were also discussed. This was alongside discussions about whether Egypt could reach a fair and comprehensive agreement regarding the rules for filling and operating the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Results of the visit

It is difficult to quickly judge the success of the Tunisian president's visit to Egypt, or the extent to which it has achieved its objectives now. Nevertheless, it can be said that some of the goals of this visit seem to have been achieved, whether for the Egyptian side or for the Tunisian side.

The visit succeeded in bridging the gap that occurred in Tunisian-Egyptian relations in the wake of the June 30, 2013 revolution, and the hostile positions announced by former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. At that time, relations with Egypt deteriorated dramatically from what they were before the Arab revolutions and during the era of the late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Tunisian counterpart Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Egypt achieved diplomatic success in gaining Tunisian support in the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Tunisia has non-permanent membership on the UN Security Council. The Tunisian president declared a strong position on this issue, stressing that his country would not accept that Egypt's water security would be affected. In the coming days, Egypt will need the largest possible number of international and regional voices that support its position, as part of its continuous efforts to mobilize diplomatic support in the dispute with Ethiopia, which could reach the Security Council.

The Tunisian and Egyptian sides succeeded in defining a common position on the Libyan issue, which, despite the new government assuming its duties, is still open on more than one track, due to the presence of foreign fighters and Turkish influence. Cairo and Tunisia, as two neighbours of Libya, want to benefit economically from the post-war period, but Turkish influence, with its military and economic capabilities, remains one of the obstacles to this common will
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Thursday, 13 May 2021