Tunisia and Algeria meet out of concern about Libya

Both countries reiterate the "importance of collaboration in all aspects" for the future of the region
Tunisia and Algeria

AFP / HO / SERVICIO DE PRENSA DE LA PRESIDENCIA  -   Archival photography. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune receives his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied in the capital Algiers on 2 February 2020

North Africa is reinventing itself: the new Algerian constitution, Morocco's diplomatic relations with the United States and Europe, the new Tunisian government, the possible peace in Libya and Egypt's influence in the Middle East provide a rather uneven policy map that needs to be reworked.

The Tunisian president, Kais Saied, therefore received the Algerian foreign minister, Sabri Boukadoum, mainly to discuss the security situation in the region. The threat of Islamic terrorism and the migratory crisis are affecting both countries very much. 

But the goal that worries both countries most is their neighbour Libya, which has been in a civil war between the East (Tobruk parliament) and the West (National Accord Government) since 2014 and, in recent years, has become an international armed conflict.

The Tobruk bloc, defended by the Libyan National Army (LNA), is supported by Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Russia and France. On the other hand, the LNA is supported by the United Nations, Italy, Turkey and Qatar. What began as a civil war has become an international conflict with too many interlocking interests.

Tunisia and Algeria want to establish a joint and strong position for the future that will emerge from the peace talks in Libya. In a press release Saied stressed "the importance of collaborating in all domains and imagining new ways of working that will allow a qualitative leap in bilateral cooperation and respond to the aspirations and wishes of two brotherly peoples, leaving aside the obstacles that stand in the way".

In this connection, the Tunisian president recalled his first international trip as president to Algeria seven months ago and said he was looking forward to the visit of his Algerian counterpart, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who has no date yet set.

Boukadoum also took the opportunity to meet the Tunisian foreign minister, Othman al-Kharadi, and the new prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, who has been in power since 2 September, with whom he exchanged experiences on the fight against the coronavirus. Both countries brought their positions closer and shared important information on how to limit the pandemic in their respective states.

The nearly 1,000 km border between Tunisia and Algeria has been closed since mid-March owing to the health crisis that forced both countries to impose total confinement. Last Friday the Tunisian department of health announced "special" measures to resume the progressive reopening, without offering details of how and where the border will begin to be opened.

Change of objectives in the North African paradigm

Boukadoum, for his part, pointed out his intention to break out of the "classical pattern" of bilateral relations and advocated a "new vision" of diplomacy. In the case of the Libyan conflict, he advocated coordinating a common strategy to seek a political path, far from foreign interference and based on "constructive" inter-Libyan dialogue in order to preserve national security, unity and sovereignty.

The intention to take the foreign powers out of the equation would leave the Libyans more room to breathe and negotiate, but the United Nations is not willing to stop supporting the Government of National Accord led by Fayez Sarraj (who has announced his immediate resignation).

This meeting coincided with the meeting between the representatives of the two rival Libyan governments in the Egyptian town of Hurgada in the framework of the 5+5 Military Commission, one of the three mechanisms that the United Nations has been promoting since the beginning of 2020 to address the different aspects of the conflict: military, political and economic.

The 5+5 Military Commission aims to bring together five representatives of the GNA with another five from the Tobruk government. These people have been chosen to try to resolve the conflict at a military level and, according to the latest publications, the idea of unifying the forces into a single army has been considered. 

These are still only conjectures and open statements to the press that have not reached any port. This new 5+5 meeting will be held after the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has received the President of the Tobruk government, Aguila Saleh, and the LNA Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

On 21 August the opposing Libyan parties declared a ceasefire and since then both sides have been meeting in Morocco and Switzerland to progress in a peace process sponsored by the UN. 

The Tripoli and eastern Libyan authorities should agree on a new presidential council structure to unify the two administrations involved and call for elections to be held in the next few months.