Tunisian parties suspect Turkey of attempting to drag country into Libya conflict

Recent Turkish shipment through Tunisia triggers protests by political parties, civil society.
Sunday 10/05/2020
A file picture of Tunisian President Kais Saied (R) receiving Ennahda leader and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi at the presidential palace in Carthage. (AFP)
Divided strategies. A file picture of Tunisian President Kais Saied (R) receiving Ennahda leader and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi at the presidential palace in Carthage. (AFP)

TUNIS - The Tunisian government's authorisation of the landing on the country's soil of a Turkish plane carrying a shipment destined for Libya continues to provoke expressions of anger and concern among a wide spectrum of political parties and civil society organisations.

The outcry was sparked by the announcement by the Tunisian presidency last Thursday that it allowed a Turkish plane carrying medical equipment for Libya to land in Djerba-Zarzis airport in the Tunisian south, provided that the shipment is conveyed to Libyan authorities through Tunisian security officials.

A number of leftist and pan-Arabist parties rejected any "Turkish activity on Tunisian soil" aimed at lending support "to militias and terrorists" in Libya and denounced what they described as "the continuation of the ambiguous approach by Tunisian authorities towards Turkish activities in the region."

The parties, which included Attayar Ach-Chaabi (Popular Current), the Labour Party, the Socialist Party, the Baath Party, the Tounes al-Amam movement and the Pole Party, "denounced any attempt at dragging Tunisia in the game of regional alliances at the expense of the country's national security interests and the security and stability of the Libyan people."

They called on Tunisian President Kais Saied to clarify Tunisia's position about Turkey's growing encroachment in Libya, whether "through the dispatching of mercenaries from Syria or other forms of direct military involvement."

The Free Destourian Party, a parliamentary opposition bloc, said Saturday its MPs will address written and oral questions to the ministers of defence, the interior, public health and foreign affairs in order to shed light on the circumstances of the "dangerous occurrence."

The party, led by anti-Islamist lawyer Abir Moussi, raised questions about the credibility of the explanations given by the government about the Turkish shipment, "especially that the aid in question originated from a country that is not neutral and whose parliament has voted for military intervention in Libya."

The outcry over the Turkish shipment seems to have brought to the surface lingering suspicions about Ankara's designs in Tunisia and Libya and its willingness to utilise its Islamist sympathisers in Tunisia to carry out such designs.

Ankara has been suspected by Tunisian political analysts of pressuring Saied to facilitate the logistics of Turkey's military involvement in Libya. Saied is said to be committed to a position of "neutrality" in the Libyan conflict pitting the Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (headed by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj) against the Libyan National Army (LNA) led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.  Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party maintains close relations with the GNA and with Turkey and Qatar, which are both allies of  Sarraj.

Tunisian political analyst Mondher Bendhiafi said the "latest Turkish move has triggered the resentment of Tunisians on the official as well as popular levels."

He added that the most recent controversy "has revealed the existence of two strategies towards the Libyan crisis within the country's power structure, one opposed to any involvement in the ongoing conflict in Libya and enjoying wide political support. This strategy  is represented by Saied. The second strategy is aligned with one side of the conflict and is represented by Ennahda party, which plays a leading role in the parliament and the cabinet."

Civil society groups in the city of Zarzis, near the airport where the Turkish airplane landed on Thursday, held demonstrations over the weekend against what they described as suspicious Turkish moves aimed at involving Tunisia in the Libyan conflict.