Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, a former United Nations official, may not appear often the  media, but he is considered amongst Tunisians to be one of the pillars of President Mahdi Jumaa’s interim government.

In this exclusive interview with Correspondents, Minister Hamdi details the events threatening Tunisia’s stability, particularly the chaos breaking out in neighboring Libya and Tunisia’s diolomatic role in North Africa.

Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, a former United Nations official, may not appear often the  media, but he is considered amongst Tunisians to be one of the pillars of President Mahdi Jumaa’s interim government.

In this exclusive interview with Correspondents, Minister Hamdi details the events threatening Tunisia’s stability, particularly the chaos breaking out in neighboring Libya and Tunisia’s diolomatic role in North Africa.

Foreign Minister Hamdi, there are those who say the Tunisian diplomacy has two heads: the presidency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

My role is to coordinate between the prime ministry and the Presidency of the Republic and I have succeeded to a large extent in doing so.  I do not interfere in Tunisia’s stances. 

How is Tunisia’s relationship with Egypt?

We should have good relations with Egypt and at the highest level. The two countries are facing similar security and economic challenges, including terrorism, which does not acknowledge borders.  Moreover, the two countries are passing through regional and international conditions characterized by continuous tensions and deep conflicts. This requires that we keep relations with Egypt at the highest possible level regardless of the political choices of each country.

But this has led to cold relations between the two countries, especially when el-Sisi became the president of Egypt?

From which perspective do you think that the relationship with Egypt is cold? 

From the perspective of the conflict between Marzouki and el-Sisi and the declared stances. 

This has been said and there has been some exaggeration. I have seen press reports about how President Moncef Marzouki refused to shake hands with the Egyptian President at the African Summit and this is not true. 

What about the position of the President regarding the political developments in Egypt, which he considers as a coup against legitimacy?

I do not want to address these issues.  I’m talking about the diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its strategy.

Do you intend to resume diplomatic relations with Syria, for example?

Syria is in a state of war and our official position on what is happening in Syria is that we support the ambitions of the Syrian people for freedom and democracy, but we are calling for a peaceful solution in Syria.  We do not believe in a military solution.

With regard to the resumption of ties, the  moral and legal responsibility of the state towards its citizens is to provide them with services. There are 6000 Tunisian citizens in Syria who need the services of their country and they are experiencing crises and difficult conditions in Syria. It is unreasonable and illogical to leave them there without any care.

What have you done for them?

We opened the Damascus office for them and we sent a group of employees from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide the Tunisian community there with services, which are appreciated by the citizens.

What did you ask them (Tunisians abroad) to do in return? 

We want them to improve the image of Tunisia internationally and to bring support to their country by investing in the Tunisian experience and instilling a positive image of Tunisia to the rest of the world. 

Our experience is unique. We have an elected government that abandoned its power; we have national consensus on the Constitution and an  independent government that keeps the same distance from everyone.  All this is because of the specificity of the Tunisian experience, which has made the whole world admire it. For this reason, we need to invest in all this and to have a clear strategy.

What are the problems that you have faced with the Gulf states?

The atmosphere was not good. 

Do you mean that it was tensed?

I am not saying that it was tensed.  I am saying that we have tried to improve our relations with the Gulf States, which we have ignored in the past and as evidence I speak about our weak economic transactions with the Gulf countries and the weak Gulf investments in Tunisia. 

For example, the UAE invests US $18 billion in the Arab countries, but Tunisia has no share of these investments. This is illogical and it is for this reason that we have decided to improve our relations with all Gulf countries with no exceptions. 

But your work did not bear any fruits and did not bring to Tunisia any Gulf investments.

The Gulf investor is waiting for the security conditions in Libya to stabilize to bring his investments to Tunisia.  During our visit, we found out that Gulf investors have the will to invest in Tunisia and have faith that Tunisia has a promising future. 

The Gulf investor also believes that Tunisia has the elements of successful investments: an educated population, a mindful political elite, a skilled workforce, in addition to Tunisia’s location at the intersection between Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

This is not only true for Gulf investors, but also for Chinese investors who are waiting for the conditions to become stable in Libya to bring their investments to Tunisia.

What about the traditional partners?

Since I assumed the ministry six months ago, we received a large number of foreign ministers of brotherly and friendly countries.  For example, we met with the Russian, American, Spanish, Portuguese, German and Indian Foreign Ministers as well as ministers of the Maghreb and the Arab countries and many others.  This is an indication that all these countries are keen to support the Tunisian experience and this support takes the form of political and financial support, especially from the European Union.

As I said, on September 8, 2014, a conference entitled ‘Invest in Tunisia’ will be held here. The conference is based on a proposal I made in France when I met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.  The idea was further developed into a conference entitled ‘Invest in Tunisia,’ when the prime minister visited France.  Now, this international conference has developed into an initiative to support the Tunisian economy with the participation of a number of international investors and politicians and with the aim of supporting the Tunisian economy in the coming years based on a Tunisian strategy.  

You belong to an interim government.  How could you draw a long-term strategy?

The answer is simple. We are dealing with the state. Governments change but the state continues.  Since the revolution, there was more than one government and there is no guarantee that the coming government will continue to rule.  Thus, we deal with things on the premise that governments go but states continue to be present. 

You did not inherit this philosophy from previous governments, which used to avoid making important decisions because they were interim governments?

I do not want to speak about previous governments.  I’m only talking about this government which believes that governments should have a perspective and a clear strategy. 

In 2002, Turkey was about to go bankrupt, and today it is one of the strongest economies because it was able to develop a strategy covering all levels.  The same thing applies to Malaysia and Rwanda. Development is the result of a strategic vision and commitment.  It is not a stroke of luck.

What is this strategy?

We have a vision for Tunisia for the coming five years.  We hope to be able to achieve an important leap at all levels.  It is for this reason that we have set-up the outline of our strategy and we will further develop it in the ‘Invest in Tunisia’ Conference.

What is the outline of this strategy?

It includes the economic aspect, especially in the energy, infrastructure, and education sectors as well as major economic projects.

Previous governments obtained promises of financial support, but after the elections all support plans were abandoned. Do you have fears that the same thing will happen to your plan?

What we want from the next government is to put the country’s interests above any other consideration. We believe that any person who is familiar with the situation in Tunisia will realize that this strategy serves the country’s interests.  The next government can adjust it, but if it decides to abandon it, then it should bear the full responsibility for the consequences. It should be mentioned that members of this government are the best experts in their fields.  They did not put this strategy in an arbitrary manner but rather they have based it on research and studies.

But do you have guarantees that this plan will not be abandoned?

We hope that the next government will have experts capable of understanding the situation and we hope that it puts the right man in the right place.

Are we going to see the start of the plan by the end of this year?

The security, economic and political future of Tunisia is linked to the repercussions of Libya. If Libya becomes stable, we will be able to achieve a historic leap after 10 years and we will be able to achieve development at all levels, especially since we have all the needed resources. 

If the situation deteriorates in Libya, I do not think that the conditions in Tunisia will improve.  For this reason, we are dealing with the Libyan issue as if it is an internal Tunisian affair and we are cooperating with other countries to find solutions for Libya.

Let us return to the relations with Western countries.  Can you explain the reasons for US support for your government? 

In our meeting with US officials, they all expressed their admiration of the Tunisian experience, stressed their keenness to support Tunisia and promised to contribute to the success of this experience.

Among them is Secretary of State John Kerry, who in a joint press conference gathering said that Tunisia is the only lighthouse in the region. He also added that ‘the US has no other choice but to support this lighthouse and we will make Tunisia a success story.’

I am quoting an old Tunisian proverb which says ‘there is no cat that hunts for God’s sake only.’ My question is: what are the interests of the US in all this?

Of course there are interests, but all countries are impressed by the Tunisian experience, which has chosen national dialogue and  consensus and the peaceful path. It is not in the interests of the US to have chaos in Tunisia.

What about European countries? What are their interests?

The European support is more of a moral rather than a financial support. During our visit to France we said that we wanted our European partners to help us more than they did in the past, especially since our country is in the middle of a very critical historic phase and it is witnessing an economic crisis.  We thought that the EU will support us. Although we are diplomatic, we still tell the truth to our European partners. 

In a joint press conference with the French Interior Minister, I said that Tunisia is not less important than Greece for Europe. I said it is not less important than eastern European countries and that Tunisia is geographically closer to Europe than these countries. 

Moreover, our country is fighting a war against terrorism, and this serves the interest of Europe. We are confronting illegal immigration and this too serves the interests of Europe.  In addition, we want to become a model for stability and democracy, and this as well serves the interest of Europe.  The chaos in Tunisia will have repercussions on Europe. I have said all this before to the European countries that have provided us with assistance, but we were expecting them to provide us with more assistance.

Is it possible to say that the success is the share of the Tunisian experience, but the support is the share of Egypt?

The support received by Egypt has mainly come from the Gulf States, especially from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It did not come from Europe and it is Egypt’s right to get support.   

The President of the Republic criticized the Tunisian diplomacy and said it is a cocktail? 

I think that the president was talking about the previous period. He knows very well that the Tunisian diplomacy has regained its credibility and raised the pace of its work.  We are doing important work on the economic level and every month we receive reports from out ambassadors on their activities and the tasks they have implemented.

Did your ministry abide by the decision to neutralize the Tunisian Diplomatic apparatus? 

There are legitimate requests by many parties to neutralize the Tunisian diplomatic apparatus, especially as the country is preparing itself for the elections.  This has been requested by the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission (ISIE).  Moreover, the road map is clear on this issue and the public opinion is against sending ambassadors and consuls to other countries who are members of political parties. It is for this reason that we have introduced changes to the composition of the diplomatic missions in order to achieve neutrality.