In the midst of profound regional transformations, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune visited Egypt for a two-day summit with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The unstable transition in Libya, the political crisis in Tunisia and the dispute over the Grand Renaissance Dam were some of the issues discussed by the two leaders at a meeting organised by Algiers with the aim of recalibrating relations with Cairo.
On his first trip of the year, the Algerian leader landed on Monday at Cairo International Airport, where the former military officer who led the 2013 coup d'état against the government of Islamist Mohamed Morsi was waiting for him. On Tuesday, Tebboune was received again at the Al-Ittihadiya Palace, one of the three presidential residences, which hosted the first formal meeting between the two leaders.
The Algerian president's visit is part of a context of necessity for both parties, which are seeking to recompose their external action in troubled waters. Intense regional rivalry with Morocco and a lack of external support have dragged Algeria into uncertain territory, while Egypt has been losing ground in the Persian Gulf to the detriment of other actors such as Turkey. A situation conducive to rapprochement.
Relations between the two countries have ostensibly improved since Bouteflika's resignation and the subsequent arrival of Tebboune to the presidency in December 2019. With a pro-government profile and a timidly reformist agenda, the Algerian president has proved unable to quell the Hirak mass mobilisations and the internal crisis. However, Tebboune has managed to build bridges with Egypt despite having maintained opposing positions on the Libyan chessboard.
The crisis in Libya, which shares a border with both countries, seems to have united the agendas of Algiers and Cairo after more than five years of disagreements. Al-Sisi backed General Khalifa Haftar, while Algiers remained close to Fayez al-Sarraj's Government of National Accord. However, the talks in Berlin, from which the transitional agreement emerged, defined a roadmap that both countries have decided to endorse.
In a joint appearance at the end of the meeting, al-Sisi stressed the need to "press for an end to the transitional phase and not allow the aspirations of the Libyan people to be frustrated". Elections in Libya, originally scheduled for 24 December, had to be postponed due to the presence of foreign mercenaries, controversial candidacies and the lack of a unified legal framework.
In the Egyptian president's view, the crisis can only be resolved through the immediate holding of the elections. He discussed this issue with his Algerian counterpart, who also considered the electoral process to be a necessary step towards ending the political crisis in Libya. There is a consensus between the two to maintain Libya's unity and sovereignty and to unify its institutions. They also agreed to "put an end to the presence of foreign forces and mercenaries" sent by Russia and Turkey.
In 2014 a civil war broke out that affected the region and had a direct impact on the two countries, leading to the emergence of jihadist-Salafist groups with a presence in the Sahel. In this regard, both al-Sisi and Tebboune have emphasised their strategic partnership to combat 'terrorism and all forms of organised crime at the regional level, especially through military and intelligence cooperation and coordination'.
In a subsequent communiqué, Egypt's presidency has noted a new common approach between Cairo and Algiers on the Tunisian issue. The political crisis in the North African country, which began in July after the constitutional coup of President Kaïs Saied, has received the support of its neighbours, especially Algeria and Egypt. This support responds to issues related to regional stability.
The last two issues discussed at the Egyptian-Algerian summit were the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam and the Palestinian question. Algeria has put itself forward as an intermediary in the decade-long dispute over water resources between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan. The Ethiopian government does not share this offer because of suspicions of impartiality due to its recent proximity to Cairo. In this sense, the Egyptian presidency has welcomed the proposal on an issue that is crucial to the country's aspirations.
Algeria will host the 31st Arab League Summit in March despite rumours of a possible postponement. Although there is still no official date, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtan Lamamra announced that the summit would be held at the same time as Tebboune suggested the date of 19 March for the 60th anniversary of the North African country's independence.
One of the challenges of the summit will be to reconcile the divided Palestinian parties. A challenge where Algiers intends to play a decisive role to the detriment of a historical moderator like Egypt, which lacks ideas and the legitimacy of yesteryear. "No country understands the Palestinian issue as well as Egypt, and of course Cairo will be the strongest supporter in the case of ensuring a serious and earnest reconciliation between the Palestinian parties, and on the issue of conflict no country can point to the process of solution, and many seek to frustrate Palestinian reconciliation," said the Egyptian presidency, which will support Algeria at the summit.