Foreign pressures on President Saied to change position on Libya

Tunisian FM held talks with US ambassadors to Tunisia and Libya.
Thursday 02/07/2020
A file picture of President Kais Saied (2nd L) inspecting the guard of honour at the Carthage Palace. (AFP)
ident Kais Saied (2nd L) inspecting the guard of honour at the Carthage Palace. (AFP)

TUNIS – A meeting between Tunisian Foreign Minister Noureddine Erray and the US Ambassadors to Tunisia and Libya reflected moves and efforts to modify Tunisia's position on the Libyan issue.

That position was established by Tunisian President Kais Saied’s statements during his recent visit to Paris. With that position, Tunis seemed to be nudging closer to the French vision on the subject.

Saied had said that it was necessary to reach a ceasefire in Libya and to renew the Libyan authorities’ legitimacy through free elections.

“The existing authority in Libya is based on international legitimacy, and it is a temporary legitimacy that cannot continue and should be replaced by a new legitimacy, a legitimacy stemming from the will of the Libyan people,” Saied said.

The upshot of this view is that the Turkish-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli would be stripped of its so-called international legitimacy.

According to a statement by the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Erray discussed on Tuesday the latest developments in the Libyan crisis with US Ambassador to Tunisia Donald Bloom and US Ambassador to Libya Richard Norland.

The ministry’s statement said “the conversation touched on developments in Libya and efforts to push towards a comprehensive political settlement to the crisis in this sister country.”

“During the meeting, views were exchanged regarding the efforts aimed at reaching a final and comprehensive ceasefire agreement in Libya and the speedy resumption of the political process under the auspices of the United Nations,” continued the statement.

In previous statements by Saied, Tunisia expressed its opposition to all forms of foreign interference in Libya, and flatly rejected any presence of foreign forces on its soil. The Tunisian position was widely interpreted as a stand against Turkish interference and the actions of regional and international parties supporting it.

As Turkey began to impose economic agreements on the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), the United States took it upon itself to rebuild the Interior Minister in Tripoli amid questions over whether Washington was in favour of the integration of the Tripoli-based armed militias into some formal official body, despite the fact that the move could be seen as inconsistent with the US strategy in its war on terrorism.

Observers have wondered about the role that Tunisia is being asked to play in the Libyan conflict, a role that may contradict Saied’s stances on the matter. They wonder if that role would relate to foreign military presence on Tunisian soil, or to hosting events or meetings that would address the situation in Libya in a way that serves the interests of the Libyan Islamists and their Turkish allies with the US blessing.

Feverish moves are said to to be currently focusing on Tunisia right now, even though the situation in western Libya, the region closest to Tunisia, has been militarily settled in favour of the GNA and its Turkish backers. Oddly enough, the foreign parties carrying out these moves did not see their current interventions warranted when the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar was advancing to liberate Tripoli from militias and militants, in other words when the GNA most needed them.

Saied previously pushed back quickly against moves by Tunisian Parliament Speaker and head of the Islamist Ennahda party Rached Ghannouchi, who wanted Tunisia’s stance on Libya to go in the direction of supporting the Turkish alliance with the pro-GNA militias in Tripoli.

During his meeting with Ambassadors Bloom and Norland, Minister Erray “reaffirmed Tunisia's consistent position on the Libyan issue, which is based on upholding international legitimacy and the relevant United Nations resolutions.”

He also stressed “the need to maintain the political track as the only way to resolve the Libyan crisis in accordance with the provisions of the political agreement and in the framework of a Libyan-Libyan dialogue that would lead to a permanent and comprehensive solution to this crisis,” according to the ministry’s statement. The ministry also stated that Erray “praised the United States’ role in this direction.”

Erray highlighted the fact that “Tunisia’s diplomacy, based on the strong bonds of brotherhood and historical relations between the Tunisian people and the Libyan people, is working towards achieving this goal in order to preserve the unity, security and stability of Libya and the region.”