Egypt and Algeria move closer

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 27 Jan 2022

Coordination over Syria, Libya, and Palestine vied with bilateral relations during this week’s talks between the Egyptian and Algerian presidents, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Tebboune and Al-Sisi
Tebboune and Al-Sisi

Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune paid a two-day visit to Cairo this week.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi received Tebboune at the Cairo airport on Monday afternoon.

Following bilateral talks on Tuesday morning, President Al-Sisi told a press conference that the focus had been on fostering bilateral political, economic, and commercial relations, as well as on regional issues such as the situations in Libya, Syria and Palestine, and terrorism in Africa and the Arab world.

Al-Sisi also revealed that the next round of meetings of the higher joint Egyptian-Algerian Committee would soon be scheduled, and that they would aim to push economic and investment cooperation between the two countries.

Trade between Egypt and Algeria has fluctuated since 2019 when, says economic commentator Karim Al-Omdain it reached $1.5 billion. In 2020, on the back of the coronavirus pandemic, it fell to $650 million, but “in 2021 Egypt’s non-oil exports to Algeria increased by 14 per cent, and the value of commercial exchanges between the two countries bounced back by 15.4 per cent to $1 billion.”

Al-Sisi said he had also addressed the importance of reaching an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in talks with Tebboune and that they had “agreed there is a pressing need to reach an equitable settlement on the filling and operation of the dam”.

There has been much speculation that Algeria is mediating between Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan with the aim of restarting negotiations over GERD. Political analysts cite the recent exchange of positive statements on the issue by Ethiopian and Egyptian senior officials.

On 20 January, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called on Egypt and Sudan to view GERD as a symbol of peace, cooperation, and mutual coexistence. In return, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli announced on Tuesday that Egypt is interested in resuming talks to resolve technical and legal points of contention and reach a balanced deal with Ethiopia. “Egypt hopes to reach an agreement on GERD and establish a new phase of cooperation to achieve territorial stability,” said Madbouli.

President Al-Sisi also indicated that Egypt hopes the Arab summit expected to convene in Algeria will be a success.

“We held intensive and constructive talks on how to push joint Arab action and ensure that the coming Arab summit will be a success,” said Al-Sisi. “The talks in this respect focused on the necessity of creating a Palestinian state, and holding presidential and parliamentary elections in Libya. We agreed that foreign mercenaries should leave Libya in observance of UN Security Council’s resolutions in order to pave the way towards Libyan independence and sovereignty.”

President Tebboune said Egypt and Algeria had identical positions on a host of Arab and African regional issues.

“We agreed to hold regular contacts and consultation ahead of the next Arab summit which will be held in Algeria,” said Tebboune, and discussed ways to forge a consensus over the summit’s agenda.

President Tebboune pointed out that both Egypt and Algeria want the Arab summit to serve as a bridge between Arabs in Africa and those in Asia. “Egypt has strong relations with our Arab brethren in Asia and it could help build bridges in this area. The next Arab summit should help Arabs face the challenges that result from foreign conflicts and secret agendas which do not serve Arab interests and ambitions,” he said.

Bahaa Mahmoud, a political researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, stressed that Tebboune’s visit to Egypt was the first for an Algerian president in 14 years, and noted that “Algeria was the first country President Al-Sisi visited after his election in 2014.”

Mahmoud said Tebboune’s visit was of great importance to Algeria as it prepares to host the Arab summit and that “during his visit to Cairo, President Tebboune was keen to secure Egypt’s support in helping to ensure the success of the planned summit.”

Algeria’s Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra was also in Cairo last week, where he met with President Al-Sisi, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri, and Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit. Lamamra said Algeria suspects “hostile forces are conspiring to undermine the next Arab summit in Algeria.”

Hossam Zaki, the Arab League’s assistant secretary-general, said “the Arab summit could be postponed to June because of the coronavirus pandemic and to allow time to forge a consensus over the complex situations in Palestine, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.”

“Algeria has fears that there will be poor representation at the next Arab summit, particularly from Arab Gulf countries,” says Mahmoud.

Algerian professor of political science Mohamed Al-Sayed Bishr told Sky News Arabia on Monday that “the issue whether Syria should rejoin the Arab League and participate in the next Arab summit could also be a thorny issue.”

“Arab countries are divided over the issue. While Algeria, and possibly Egypt, would welcome Syrian attendance, other Arab countries have reservations.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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