Tunisian President Kais Saied visited Egypt between 9 and 11 April at the invitation of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
It was Saied’s first such visit since coming to power in October 2019. Talks between the two countries’ leaders focused on bolstering bilateral political, security, economic and cultural relations, and building a consensus on regional issues of mutual interest, including the Libyan crisis, combating trans-border terrorism, ending foreign interference in Arab domestic affairs, and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
In a statement on the eve of the visit, the Tunisian presidency said the trip aimed to “build bridges and consolidate consultations and coordination between the leadership of both countries” and the two sides would discuss “new visions and concepts to further boost the excellent cooperation between Tunisia and Egypt”.
Regional issues topped the agenda of both one-on-one talks and group meetings, with ways to reach a settlement in Libya accorded most attention. Both Tunisia and Egypt have borders with Libya, which Saied visited in March in a show of support for the new powers there. Cairo and Tunis are keen to consolidate support for peace and stability in their neighbour and contribute to the reconstruction of Libya’s state institutions.
Security cooperation was also discussed, with a focus on combating trans-border terrorism. Over the past few years, both countries have suffered terrorist attacks and information and intelligence sharing on terrorist groups has consequently grown. President Al-Sisi stressed the importance of cooperating with Tunisia in combating terrorism in all shapes and forms.
A third item on the agenda was ending foreign interference in Arab countries. Egypt and Tunisia share the same vision of centralised Arab nation-states, independent and sovereign. Increased foreign interference in Arab domestic affairs followed the Arab revolutions which in some countries devolved into armed internal conflicts. Cairo and Tunis agreed that all “negative” foreign interference in Libya must end, a reference to Turkey exporting mercenaries from Syria to Libya and fuelling the conflict there.
Talks also touched on a key regional issue that concerns Egypt, the GERD. Cairo is counting on Tunis’s support, not least because Tunisia is the only Arab country that is currently a member of the UN Security Council.
Saied praised Egypt’s endeavours to reach a just and comprehensive agreement on the rules for filling the reservoir and operating the dam.
While talks focused on regional issues, bilateral cooperation between Egypt and Tunisia was also on the agenda, highlighting that both sides aspire to increased cooperation and investment.
Ibrahim Al-Arabi, chairman of the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce, said during a meeting with Samir Majoul, president of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts, that meetings of the Tunisian-Egyptian Commercial Chamber will resume on 9 April in a first step to grow bilateral economic relations with a focus on the specific advantages of the Egyptian and Tunisian markets.
Strengthening cultural cooperation between the two countries was also discussed, with President Al-Sisi using the occasion of the visit to announce that 2021-2022 would be designated the year of Egyptian-Tunisian culture.
Saied was keen to see some of Egypt’s many attractions and visited archaeological and historic sites in Cairo, including the National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, and the Salaheddin Al-Ayoubi Citadel. Egypt expressed interest in stregthening its representation at Tunisian art and cultural festivals, including the Carthage Film Festival and Tunis Book Fair.
*The writer is head of Arab and regional studies at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 15 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly