In our Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which has been boiling for decades under domestic and cross-border conflicts, some recent events are representing a glimpse of optimism. On April 9-11, The Tunisian President Kais Saied paid a rare visit to Cairo to hold talks with his Egyptian counterpart President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on critical regional issues; including Libya, the dispute over the Nile River between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia, and the efforts to control the activities of political Islamist groups in post Arab Spring countries. This is the first time Saied visits Egypt since he assumed presidency, in September 2019.
Directly or indirectly, this important meeting between the Egyptian and the Tunisian political leaderships shall positively echo at regional conflicts in a way that resets the balance of geopolitical powers, not only in North Africa, but also in the Mediterranean. Tunisia is the smallest North African country, in terms with its size of geographic area and population. However, its regional importance is way bigger than its size. Tunisia can play a tremendous role in resolving several crises, not only in the North Africa region, but also, in Africa and the Arab region, including the dispute currently running between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia over the building and refilling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The recent escalations of this particular dispute represent a serious threat to the stability and security of eastern and northern Africa, as well as the critical trail of international trade via the Red Sea.
In the press conference that followed the meeting between the Egyptian and Tunisian presidents, at the Presidential Palace, on April 10th, the Tunisian president said that Egypt's national security is an extension to Tunisia's security, and that the Egyptian position on international affairs is the same as the Tunisian position. He, also, commented on the GERD crisis by asserting that Egypt's water security and reaching a just solution for GERD dispute is a matter of great concern to Tunisia. Some may look at the statements of the Tunisian president in the context of normal show of solidarity between the two sisterly countries. Other Arab countries have already issued similar statements declaring their support for Egypt's position on the GERD dispute.
However, Tunisia's position of solidarity with Egypt on the GERD dispute is especially important. Tunisia, currently, sits on the non-permanent seat of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), as a representative to the Arab and African Groups. Egypt and Sudan are currently seeking to mobilize UNSC to intervene to halt Ethiopia from filling the dam in June. The international community, including the United States, are currently turning a deaf ear to the crisis, which has grown to a critical point that threatens the security and stability of Africa. A very long series of failed negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia, and then between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, has been going on for more than nine years. The last of these negotiations took place in Congo, in early April, and also failed. On a televised interview on April 10th, the Egyptian Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources announced that Egypt will not “waste more time negotiating with Ethiopia.”
On the other hand, it is expected that the unprecedented unification of visions on regional issues between the political leaderships of Egypt and Tunisia may affect the political developments in Libya. Egypt and Tunisia have already played an important role, over the past year, in hosting sessions of dialogue between the conflicting factions in eastern and western Libya. The national security of both Egypt and Tunisia is directly affected by the stability of Libya, due to their geographic neighboring. In their meeting in Cairo, Egyptian and Tunisian presidents emphasized the importance of removing all foreign mercenaries from Libya.
It is worth noting that the visit of the Tunisian president to Egypt came less than a month after his important visit, which is also a first of its kind, to the newly elected Government of National Unity (GNU) in Libya. GNU’s mission is to end the civil war and achieve unity between conflicting factions, in eastern and western territories, in preparation for general elections by the end of 2021. GNU is a pragmatic, non-ideological, government with a clear goal and vision. GNU differs greatly from the previous Government of National Accord (GNA) that was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood group, which managed to get on top of most governments in post Arab Spring countries, including Egypt and Tunisia.
It seems that Kais Saied's distress with the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in his country, in particular, and in the MENA region, in general, has prompted him to open up to neighboring countries and strengthen relations with them. Saied’s recent visits to neighbor Arab countries started only two months ago, after two years, since he took power, during which Saied has been facing a lot of difficulties in managing state affairs, because of non-stop conflicts between his presidency, the parliament, and the executive authority. The Tunisian government is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood's Ennahda Party. The conflict between the three governing authorities in Tunisia reached a climax point in mid-March, in a way that paralyzed political and economic flaw in the country, and led to the arousal of popular protests calling for reform.
Hopefully, this important visit by the Tunisian President to Egypt will be the beginning of reviving relations between countries in the North Africa region, extending from Egypt to Morocco. There has been some fracture, among North Africa neighbors, since the eruption of Arab Spring revolutions, more than ten years ago. The rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood at the aftermath of the Arab Spring, in these countries, played a negative role in maximizing this fracture. The time has come to end this undeclared rift and revive political, economic, and security cooperation between the countries of the region. This may not only benefit the interests of North Africa countries, but is also important for the stability of the Mediterranean basin and the security of the entire MENA region.