Magazine article The Middle East

Egypt-Tunisia Links Improve but No Imminent Agreement on Libya Expected

Magazine article The Middle East

Egypt-Tunisia Links Improve but No Imminent Agreement on Libya Expected

Article excerpt

The Libyan crisis cast its shadows over Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi's recent visit to Egypt to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The leaders have different approaches to Libya, and Essebsi's October visit ended without any agreement on how to calm the chaos in Libya and stop terrorists' expansion there Even so, the men agreed on the importance of strengthening bilateral relations and reaching a political solution to the crises experienced by countries in the region.

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi (left) and his Egyptian counterpart Adel Fattah al Sisi

Ayman Mousharafa, Egypt's ambassador to Tunisia, described Essebsi's visit as historic. "This is the first official visit of the president of Tunisia to Egypt in 50 years," he told Al-Monitor.Egyptian-Tunisian relations have improved markedly this year, as the leaders smooth over tensions that rose after Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi was removed from office by the military July 3, 2013. When that happened, Tunisia responded the next day with an official statement: "The Egyptian military's direct intervention in political affairs and in civil institutions' activities is unacceptable internationally and as per the charter of the African Union, since [such intervention] may exacerbate the political crisis rather than resolve it."

During a UN General Assembly meeting Sept. 26, 2013, former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki said, "I would like to address the authorities in Egypt and call on them to release Mohammed Morsi and all political prisoners." Marzouki's comments stirred Cairo's wrath, and the Egyptian Foreign Ministry issued a statement the same day denouncing Marzouki's UN speech, describing it as a challenge to the will of the Egyptian people who had taken to the streets June 30 calling for the establishment of real democracy.

Two days later, Egypt called Mousharafa for consultations on bilateral relations between the two countries.

The tension continued until Essebsi was elected Tunisian president in December 2014. Around that time period, Essebsi told journalist Ahmed Abu Zeid, "Egypt is a sister country and we appreciate its geographical and political importance in the region." Speaking in a phone interview on Egyptian satellite channel Online TV Live, Essebsi said, "Relations between Tunisia and Egypt will only be brotherly relations, relations of cooperation and excellent relations. Any disagreement that may occur at some point will be deemed a temporary obstacle."

Sisi rushed to congratulate Essebsi, affirming "Egypt's full support to Tunisia and its aspiration to strengthen the cooperation and brotherly relations between the two countries."

"Relations between the two countries improved greatly after Essebsi took office, since he is committed to the principle of noninterference in Egyptian internal affairs," Mousharafa said. "Marzouki's interventions were unacceptable, and his speech at the United Nations in 2013 caused a diplomatic crisis. At that time, I was summoned for consultation in Cairo. …

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