Egypt and Tunisia's leaders meet post-revolt

July 13, 2012 - 1:38 PM
Mideast Egypt Tunisia

In this photo released by the Egyptian Presidency, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, left, listens as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, right, speaks to reporters during a joint news conference at the Presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, July 13, 2012. The presidents of Egypt and Tunisia pledged to open a new chapter in relations following uprisings that overthrew longtime rulers, replacing them with a Muslim Brotherhood figure and an activist who was exiled. (AP Photo/Egyptian Presidency)

CAIRO (AP) — The presidents of Egypt and Tunisia pledged Friday to open a new chapter in relations following uprisings that overthrew longtime rulers, replacing them with a Muslim Brotherhood figure and an activist who was exiled.

After meeting with Egypt's new Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki told reporters in a joint press conference that the two nations will rebuild ties based on "shared experiences" after what he described as decades of tense relations.

"I will not say we are starting from scratch, but one thing for sure is that we are moving ahead with relations that for years and years were stagnant and routine without friendliness or warmth," Marzouki said.

"A new era of relations has begun between the two nations," echoed Morsi.

Marzouki was exiled for his political activism and Morsi was jailed for his activities with the Brotherhood under the two nations' old regimes. When Tunisians overthrew Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last year, it helped inspire Egypt's revolt against longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak. Both countries saw Islamists rise to power in free elections after.

Success of the uprisings in the two North African nations inspired similar pro-democracy revolts in Libya, Yemen, Syria and other countries.

Marzouki said the two leaders specifically discussed the Syrian uprising and their support for the Syrian people, but that both oppose foreign military intervention as a means to ending the bloodshed that activists say has claimed more than 17,000 lives.

Morsi's meeting with the Tunisian president comes a day after he returned to Egypt from Saudi Arabia on his first visit abroad since assuming the presidency last month.

Upon his arrival Wednesday to Saudi Arabia for the two-day visit, Morsi was greeted at the airport by Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, who is also defense minister and prime minister.

He then met King Abdullah, security officials and the governor of Medina while performing a small Islamic pilgrimage with his wife, according to official news reports from both Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Morsi's predecessor Mubarak had forged close ties with the Saudis during his 29-year rule, and media reports have described them as unhappy with the arrest and trial of a friend and ally and that they'd offered him asylum. Saudi officials have consistently denied these reports.

"I spoke with the leader of Saudi Arabia about stability, brotherly relations and lasting communication and love," Morsi said in remarks carried by the official Saudi Press Agency after meeting the king. He said he found in the king "authority, wisdom, knowledge and love for the people of Egypt."

SPA reported that in his meetings with King Abdullah, Morsi stressed the importance of the Gulf region's stability, saying it is tied to Egypt's own. Many observers saw the comment as a veiled reference to the tension between the oil-rich states and Iran.

Both leaders also said they talked about their shared "moderate Sunni" Muslim views. When asked Friday in the Cairo press conference if the comment was directed at Shiite-led Iran, Morsi said: "I did not mean at all for that to be a veiled message to anyone."

Meanwhile, a few thousand Egyptians rallied in Cairo on Friday in support of Morsi's decision to reconvene the Islamist-dominated parliament despite a military-backed court ruling that dissolved the body.

The demonstration, a continuation of smaller open sit-ins in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other cities, was organized by his former Brotherhood party, a number of ultraconservative Islamist groups and the liberal activist April 6 movement. Leading liberal parties and the country's main Salafi Nour Party stayed away from the rally.

Morsi had issued a decree earlier this week calling parliament into session despite a June 14 ruling by the country's Supreme Constitutional Court that the legislature was invalid because a third of its members were elected illegally.

The parliament, which convened for just five minutes Tuesday, met to find a way to examine the court's ruling, Brotherhood parliament speaker Saad el-Katatni said. The Supreme Constitutional Court immediately ruled to halt the decree, saying the assembly remains dissolved.

The demonstrators in Tahrir on Friday denounced the high court and the country's military council, which holds legislative powers in the absence of parliament. They say they reject the "politicization of the judiciary."

The crowd chanted against both, calling them "illegitimate".