Tunis, Asharq Al-Awsat—The deteriorating security situation in Libya is having a debilitating effect on Tunisia’s own economy, security and stability, Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi said.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Hamdi said: “Unfortunately, the Libyan problem has become a Tunisian problem, because its security, political, economic and social repercussions are affecting Tunisia. I do not believe that there can be any Tunisian stability without Libyan stability.”
The Tunisian Foreign Minister cited a number of negative effects that the Libyan crisis is having on Tunisia, including the decreasing local, regional and international confidence in investment in North Africa. He also said that the arrival of a large number of Libyan refugees in Tunisia is having a negative impact on the country’s economy.
Despite the problems, Hamdi said that Tunis is optimistic about a solution to the Libyan conflict, believing that internationally-backed efforts to hold a national dialogue will bear fruit. “We are optimistic about the prospects of reaching a political solution in Libya soon and ending the crisis,” he said.
Libya presently has two rival parliaments and governments. Tunisia and the majority of foreign powers recognize the parliament based out of Tobruk, in east Libya, which was elected last summer, over an Islamist-led government in the capital Tripoli. Libya’s government, led by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thani, was formed by the Tobruk parliament although a decision by the country’s Supreme Court—based out of Tripoli—called for the dissolution of the parliament, something that the Tobruk-based body rejects.
“Tunisia took the initiative to support reconciliation between the different Libyan parties and I personally spoke with officials from a number of states who are concerned about the situation in Libya. We also sent a message to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon . . .calling for the Libyan brothers to work seriously to hold inter-Libyan national dialogue,” he added.
The Tunisian Foreign Minister stressed that his country is backing the mediation efforts of UN envoy Bernadino Leon, adding that “everybody must know that there is no alternative to a political solution in Libya.”
Commenting on Tunisian-Algerian diplomatic relations during this tense time, Hamdi said: “Relations are normal; we believe that our futures and destiny are one. The security of Tunisia is the security of Algeria and vice versa. There is a strong desire on the part of both countries to strengthen our relations.”
Regarding claims that more than 3,000 Tunisian nationals have joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Hamdi said: “We were very upset when we heard about these figures and we are looking at what prompts Tunisians, who come from a country that is known for its social justice, to take up arms in these conflict zones. While we are upset by these reports, we are prepared for all possibilities.”
As for the possibilities that Tunisia is prepared to confront, he said: “I am talking about security issues, but we will deal with these within a legal framework. Specialist parties affiliated to the Interior Ministry have been tasked with dealing with those returning from the conflict zones . . . because many of them have been deceived.”
“They will be dealt with in all firmness and seriousness. The national interest must be our priority,” he added. Hamdi also confirmed that the authorities are working to clamp down on parties inciting Tunisian youth to travel abroad and take up arms, adding that a number of “networks” that facilitate the transfer of Tunisian fighters abroad have now been dismantled.