3 - 9 June 1999
Issue No. 432
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Ironing out the crimps in Egypt-Libya tiesDina Ezzat
Sidetracking past disappointments, Egypt and Libya will have to act to forge stronger and more stable relations. Indeed, both Cairo and Tripoli stand to gain from closer coordination on a range of political issues as well as from future economic cooperation.
On and off, officials on both sides talk about fostering closer relations. But there is little evidence to date that such plans will see the light soon.
Foreign Minister Amr Moussa paid a visit to Libya last Thursday for talks with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi which, sources said, were aimed at "asserting the desire of the two countries to dissipate possible misunderstandings immediately."
Moussa's trip came at a time when signs of unease in bilateral relations were surfacing despite assurances by high-level Egyptian and Libyan officials that ties could not be better.
Privately, Libya has blamed Egypt for its failure to cooperate on resuming the Cairo-Tripoli flights that were suspended for nearly a decade as a result of UN-imposed sanctions against Libya for its alleged involvement in the bombing of a PanAm airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.
Tripoli is also "somewhat disappointed" that Egypt did not take the lead in challenging the UN air embargo, which was waived aside by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) at a summit in Ougadougou last year. Some OAU members heeded the waiver.
For its part, Egypt believes it has spared no diplomatic or political effort to help reach a face-saving and politically workable formula that could lead to the suspension of the sanctions. These efforts were led by President Hosni Mubarak himself in talks with Western, particularly American, officials, said an official source. "Egypt worked very hard to help Libya out but at the end of the day, Egypt also has to make sure that while actively assisting a neighbour, it does not jeopardise its international relations," the source added.
Libya's position triggered muted complaints in the Egyptian press about its "ingratitude" -- something that obviously did not go down well in Tripoli.
For its part, Cairo has made it very clear to Tripoli that any such assertions in the Egyptian press "do not at all" reflect the official government position. "When Cairo involved itself in efforts to help Libya out, it did not do it with the intention of being lauded. This is something that Egypt did because, being a leading Arab state, it felt that it was its duty to do so," one official affirmed.
While in Libya, Moussa also briefed Gaddafi on Egyptian efforts to improve relations with Sudan and to forge national reconciliation between the Sudanese government and opposition. "Similarly, Libya is keen on encouraging this reconciliation. Cairo is always ready to keep Libya informed about its efforts on this front," said a diplomatic source.
Upon his return, Moussa told reporters that there was no tension in Egyptian-Libyan relations and that the two countries were keen on cooperating and coordinating policies. "Relations may not be at their highest point," said the same diplomatic source. "There are some disappointments on both sides that need to be addressed. But certainly, Egyptian-Libyan relations are not at their lowest point either. Actually, Egypt, at present, is talking to the Americans and the French about ways of improving Libyan-Western relations in the post-embargo phase."
Last week's visit to Libya by President Mubarak and a week spent by Gaddafi in Cairo earlier this year are often cited as examples of the willingness of the two leaders to boost bilateral relations.