In the second part of Correspondents’ interview with Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, the interim minister reiterates the urgent need for stability in Libya, as the neighboring countries’ fates are inexorably linked.

In the second part of Correspondents’ interview with Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi, the interim minister reiterates the urgent need for stability in Libya, as the neighboring countries’ fates are inexorably linked.

Minister Hamdi, your ministry is considered the one most concerned about the success of the transitional path.  Have you encountered difficulties while performing your tasks? Have you been able to overcome the legacies of former governments? 

I do not want to speak about the legacies of previous governments.  I am a person who has experience in international organizations, and I know that success cannot be achieved without concerted and joint efforts. 

For this reason, I was keen, since the day I assumed my responsibilities, to encourage and motivate all the Ministry’s employees.  I also met with the representatives of the union and listened to their reasonable and unreasonable demands and I met some of them.  I worked hard to make all employees realize that this is their ministry and that I am just a passerby who will not stay for more than one year.  In fact, they were all so helpful. 

The presidency has already issued more than one stance, which contradicts the stances of the government, such as its stance regarding the events in Libya and its support of one of the parties in the conflict. Can you comment on this issue?  

I do not interfere in the decisions of the presidency. We have a clear strategy, and Tunisia is known for its moderate and positive neutrality.  Everybody should know that the security, economic, social and political future of Tunisia is linked with Libya. 

The deterioration in the situation in Libya will have its huge repercussions on Tunisia and it could impact elections and the political stability of the country. Thus, Libyan affairs are Tunisia’s internal affairs and it is not permissible to take stances in support of or against any party to the conflict in Libya.

So  how are you dealing with them?

We should deal with all parties and keep the same distance from them without being dragged to support one party against the other.  This will make us lose our credibility. However, this choice does not mean that we stand still regarding what is going on in Libya. 

Today, we are studying the means to overcome this crisis.  Among the efforts being made is the meeting of neighboring countries which was held in Tunisia last month and which produced a number of recommendations, and formed a security and political committee. 

An invitation was sent to all Libyan parties to sit on the dialogue table.  We believe that the solution in Libya is a political solution and we believe that the use of wisdom will lead to results.

What about the call for military intervention in Libya?

There are some voices calling for military intervention in Libya and we do not see that this would be a solution. We believe that military intervention will only complicate things in Libya.

But the Libyan National Congress demanded military intervention in Libya?

This is an internal issue and we do not interfere in it.  What is important for us is our own position. 

What is Tunisia’s position regarding this issue, especially since military intervention in Libya will have its implications on Tunisia?

This is certainly true.  Military intervention will make things more complicated at the security level and will make hundreds of thousands of Libyans leave their country and come to Tunisia.  Under the current economic conditions, it is difficult for Tunisia to host more Libyans. 

Are there fears of battles spreading to Tunisia and targeting of some of Tunisia’s diplomatic missions?  

We are aware of what we are saying and for this reason we said that any military intervention will only complicate the security and political conditions of Libya and Tunisia. 

There is a possibility of dragging us into this conflict and this is why we issued a statement a while ago in which we said that we would deport any Libyan who practiced politics in Tunisia. We have actually deported some Libyans who did so. 

Have you deported many Libyans? 

Some individuals, who called for violence on television channels were deported.  I would like to point out that the relations between the Libyan and Tunisian people are historic relations.  They are in our hearts, but we are keen to maintain the stability of our country and we do not accept anyone tampering with the country’s security.

We know that the complicated situation in Libya will enable some people to take advantage of it in order to complicate the situation in Tunisia.

Do you mean terrorists and smugglers?

Yes.  Therefore we  must protect our borders in order to prevent the conflict from reaching Tunisia as well as to prevent the smuggling of arms.  For this reason, we have formed a crisis cell, under the supervision of the prime ministry, in order to increase the level of security and military preparedness on the borders. 

We also issued orders to tighten supervision and inspection and these recommendations are not limited to border crossing points but also apply to the 500-kilometer-long border.

How will Tunisia prevent military intervention in Tunisia? 

We have the desire to give an opportunity for political and diplomatic efforts in Libya and we do not believe that military intervention will solve the problems. On the contrary, we believe that it will further complicate things

What steps have you taken to encourage diplomatic solutions?

Since the beginning, we initiated consultations with the ambassadors of countries concerned with the Libyan affairs and we met with them at the Tunisian embassies. I contacted foreign ministers of the concerned countries and the Secretary-General of the United Nations and asked him to push for a national dialogue and he positively responded.  The national dialogue was expected to start, but unfortunately this did not happen.

Do you have a vision for the post Libyan crisis? How are you using your current role to achieve economic gains in the future?

Most Libyan brothers know that Tunisia has taken a historic stance in support of Libya, its revolution and after the revolution.

Today, there are more than 1.5 million Libyan citizens in Tunisia and no country other has hosted such a large number of Libyans.

We support them in the same way we support Tunisian citizens. They go to public Tunisian schools and they are treated in Tunisian public hospitals. They consume subsidized basic items like the Tunisians and we have stood by their side without complaining. We have welcomed them. 

What did you do at the economic level?

I’m sure that after the stabilization of the situation in Libya, Tunisian companies will be welcomed there as well as the Tunisian labors.

Does the ministry have a vision about how to enter the Libyan market?

Of course. Since the beginning, we have formed a cell specialized in economic diplomacy.  The task of this cell is to search for markets for Tunisian investors.  It is now working at a fast pace on the African and Asian level and it is waiting for the conditions to stabilize in Libya in order to go, visit and initiate partnerships between Tunisia and Libyan businessmen and women. Until now, the security conditions in Libya have not allowed us to do so. 

Was the security situation in Libya the reason behind the closure of the Tunisian embassy in Libya?

Yes, the closure was motivated by security precautions. Since we are dealing directly with the Libyan Foreign Minister, there is no need today for the opening of the embassy and it is for this reason that we have closed it but we kept the consular offices to provide Tunisian citizens with services.  We also opened a consular office at the borders with Libya to provide services for Tunisians.

Did you increase the level of security preparations to protect diplomats in Libya in anticipation of repeated acts of the kidnapping?

Of course we did. I already visited Libya in February 2014, and I met with the Tunisian diplomatic delegation in Libya. I discovered that some diplomats were accompanied by their families and I asked them to send back their families, but they refused because of many commitments. 

We sent them direct orders from the ministry to return to Tunisia if they refused to send back their families. This happened before the kidnapping incident of diplomats. We also demanded the reinforcement of security presence in the vicinity of the embassy. As a reminder, I want to say that the kidnapping took place outside the embassy not inside it. We can’t provide diplomats with protection outside the embassy.

Today, in anticipation of kidnappings targeting our diplomatic mission, we have intensified security presence to protect diplomats by increasing the numbers of Tunisian and Libyan security members. 

What about relations with Algeria, which have seen tensions  since 2012?

Our relations with Algeria are at the highest level and we can say that we now have the best relations with this country since independence because of the presence of a political will from the leaders of the two countries to develop relations.  

In two meetings with His Excellency, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, accompanying Prime Minister of Tunisia, he assured us that the security of Tunisia and its stability is part of Algeria’s security and stability.  He confirmed that Algeria will not abandon Tunisia economically as well as on the security level.  In fact, Algeria has already provided us with major financial aid of US $250 million and we will soon receive more financial aid. There is a genuine Algerian desire to support Tunisia on many levels.

Did the Tunisian-Algerian rapprochement affect the relations with the Kingdom of Morocco?

Our relations with Morocco are good. During our visit to Morocco we met with the Moroccan king for more than an hour and he expressed the willingness of the Kingdom to support us.