Thursday, August 29, 2013

40 years ago: Egypt and Libya announce their intention to unite in a single state

On August 29, 1973, Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi announced the "birth of a new unified Arab state." The declaration, however, made it clear that actual unification would come gradually, although Col. Gaddafi had supported immediate full union. If you're not old enough to remember--or, if like this blogger, you're old enough, but still don't remember union between Egypt and Libya--that's because it never, as Howard Cosell would say, eventuated.

Egypt, Libya, and Syria had comprised the Federation of Arab Republics since 1971. 38 days after the August 29 announcement, Egyptian and Syrian forces invaded Israel to begin the Yom Kippur War. Col. Gaddafi was reportedly infuriated that Egypt and Syria had planned the war without consulting him and was further angered when Egypt agreed to peace talks rather than pushing for total victory (the fact that Israel was getting the better of the war may have had something to do with Egypt's willingness to negotiate). The breach in relations between the Egyptian and Libyan leaders eventually reached the point that Col. Gaddafi called for the overthrow of Mr. Sadat.

On January 11, 1974, Col. Gaddafi and Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba met on the Tunisian island of Djerba and signed the Djerba Declaration, committing the two countries to unite in a single state to be known as the Arab Islamic Republic. Mr. Bourguiba soon reconsidered his decision to unite with Libya, and the union lasted no more than a month, if that; the date of dissolution is uncertain, and some say that Mr. Bourguiba changed his mind after only a day or so.

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