Tunisian Politicians Divided Over Notion of Intervention in Syria

By Samia Fitouri | Jan 18 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Arab League ,Military troops ,Syria

According to the Canadian news station CBC, Rafik Abdsalem, Tunisia’s recently appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs, called upon the Syrian government to work with opposition figures as well as the Arab League to resolve the ongoing crisis in Syria. He expressed hope that the Syrian government will strive to find a solution to the crisis within the framework of the Arab League.

The Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes program that he would be open to military intervention in Syria should the standoff between the Assad regime and the Syrian people escalate.

Everything is possible, bin Khalifa said.

The notion of dispatching a contingent of Tunisian troops as a part of an Arab League sanctioned military intervention has sparked controversy in the Tunisian political arena. While opposition parties have firmly expressed their opposition to an intervention in Syria, Ennahda and Ettakatol do not reject such action, as long it is undertaken with the Arab league’s sanction.

Mouldi Elfahim, a member of the Progressive Democratic Party’s (PDP) executive bureau, stated that the PDP has strictly rejected the concept of military intervention, regardless of its scale. “Violence can never be justified, even if it is used as a tool of peace building. Tunisia is facing tremendous social and economic challenges. We must focus on our own plight before addressing [the plight of] others. Additionally, we are against any kind of contribution to external political agendas – namely an American one, he stated.

Elfahim also highlighted the fact that  Tunisia lacks the necessary military capacities to undertake such an endeavor. “We can barely rely on our military forces to protect our borders. We would never approve of such a disastrous decision,” he added.

The issue of adequate military resources was echoed by Zoubair El Chhoudi, press spokesperson of the Islamist political party Ennahda. “I don't believe that the Tunisian military has the necessary resources to carry out such a mission. We all should remember that Tunisia’s national interest is our first priority – above all other concerns, he asserted.

However, in spite of his recognition of the limitations of the Tunisian military, El Chhoudi did not entirely rule out the notion of military intervention in Syria. “If representatives of Syrian civil society call upon the Arab League for urgent intervention measures, then we should be a participant in such authorized measures,” he added.

The Ettakatol party spokesperson, Mohamed Bennour, affirmed that the deployment of troops to Syria as part of a multilateral peacekeeping effort is a prerogative of the Arab League. “The Arab League represents the only legitimate legal framework within which the Arab countries can act politically or militarily. If the league approves of this proposal, Tunisia – as a member state – would be obliged to take part in this mission along with all other Arab states.”

Bennour also explained that the Ministry of Defense is the only national body with the authority to implement intervention in Syria – should it reach the conclusion that Syria’s internal conflicts have considerable bearing on Tunisia’s national security. “The government should respect any evaluation the ministry formulates [in regards to military action in Syria],” he said.

The Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not released any official statement concerning Minister Rafik Abdessalem’s comments during the CBC interview. “We might be able to comment on the issue once he is back from Lebanon [where the interview was conducted]. For now, we have no official stance,” his press attaché said.

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