Looking for security, better days south of the border

Exclusive interview with Tunisia’s foreign minister
Friday 04/03/2016
Jhinaoui: EU will reap benefits by investing more in Tunisia

TUNIS - Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui does not miss the irony of Tu­nisia’s newly built barrier with Libya.

Tunisia announced the comple­tion in February of construction of a 200km sand-bank-and-trench barri­er along the Libyan border and plans to install electronic monitoring sys­tems to keep terrorists away.

The power vacuum in Libya since 2011 has made the threat of cross-border infiltration more than just a risk. More than once during the last three years, Libya-based Tunisian jihadists crossed the border to carry out attacks in Tunisia.

“Before the revolution, Libya had been the second trade partner of Tu­nisia, after the European Union. We used to have a $2.5 billion worth of trade. We used to have a free trade area with Libya,” Jhinaoui told The Arab Weekly.

“Now, we have been forced to dig a ditch between the two countries because of the unfortunate security situation,” he noted, not without a tinge of sorrow.

For now, Tunisians have also to live with the losses incurred in trade and employment opportunities with Libya since 2011. Many fret over pos­sible fallout from any foreign mili­tary campaign in Libya.

Jhinaoui emphasises that it is es­sentially up to the Libyans them­selves to establish their Government of National Accord and fight terror­ism. Any foreign intervention would require the United Nations’ impri­matur, he added.

In Tunisia, the former adviser to president Beji Caid Essebsi said he is optimistic the security situation is tangibly improving. “There has been quite a reversal from the time when our security forces used to be in a reactive mode. They have now retaken the initiative,” he said.

In light of that improvement, he said, Western countries, which is­sued advisories against travel to Tu­nisia, should reconsider.

As the country readies to imple­ment an economic reform package, Jhinaoui said that much more is expected from the European Union than the continuation of the same type of relationship. “The EU and the international community will reap benefits by investing more in Tunisia,” he emphasised.

As Tunisia readies to host a minis­terial meeting of Libya’s neighbours on March 21st-22nd, the Tunisian foreign minister sees a new role for his country’s diplomacy.

“Our main concern is that by pro­moting common action in our region we contribute to peace and security in the world,” Jhinaoui said.