24 February 2012 2:11 pm | | 0


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The Friends of Syria conference has created a rift in opinion among Tunisia’s diplomatic cadre in regards to the extent to which Tunisia should engage itself in the affairs of the Arab world.

Ahmed Ounaies, a Tunisian diplomat, politician and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, described the country’s current foreign policy as “revolutionary” and elucidated how much it differs from that of the previous regimes of Habib Bourghiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

“If we were in the Bourguiba era and had conflicts with Syria, we would have never expelled the Syrian ambassador the way Moncef Marzouki did, nor have rushed into such an initiative,” said Ounaies. In his view, Tunisia is currently involving itself  in the Arab world to a great degree, something more or less unprecedented in the history of the country’s foreign policy.

Ounaies continued that the post-revolutionary period has witnessed divisions in terms of Tunisia’s foreign affairs. For instance, the diplomatic strategies followed by the previous transitional government, led by Beji Caid Essebsi, and the current interim government, led by Hamadi Jebali, are noticeably different.

“The main focus of Essebsi’s diplomatic relations used to be our traditional allies, especially Europe and the USA. However, that focus has shifted to mainly Arab Islamic countries under Jebali’s government,” said Ounaies.

A representative of Ennahda in the Constituent Assembly and the prime minister’s advisor on educational and cultural affairs, Abou Yaareb Marzouki stated that Tunisia’s new foreign policy aims at broadening the horizon of its relations and breaking free from diplomatic dependence. According to Marzouki, the previous regime used this dependence strategy in order to guarantee foreign protection, rather than the country’s best interests.  Marzouki described Tunisia’s foreign policy under the old regimes of both Ben Ali and Bourguiba as cautious on the surface, but “coward and loyal to the colonists” in reality.

“The new Tunisian foreign policy’s goal is to achieve independence and to take into consideration the new world situation, especially emerging Asian and Latin superpowers (namely China, India and Brazil),” added Marzouki.  According to him, the Friends of Syria conference represents an example of political solidarity between Arab nations “which have chosen to free themselves from despotism and corruption.”

He explained the divided domestic reactions about the conference by the fact that change always upsets ossified ways of thinking and entrenched interests.

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