Exclusive: Kais Saied Unveils from Paris Tunisia’s Position on Libya
Eight months after Kais Saied entered the Carthage presidential palace, the Tunisian president landed in Paris at the head of an official delegation, respecting a tradition followed by his predecessors, who made France their first international destination, after a symbolic visit to neighboring Algeria.
Reactions diverged over the results of the first summit between Saied and French President Emmanuel Macron, and their statements on Libya and the colonial era.
Minister of Finance Nizar Yaish and Foreign Minister Noureddine al-Rai, who accompanied Saied on his visit, emphasized the economic results of the talks, including a new French loan to Tunisia worth 350 million euros (400 million dollars).
Tunisian expert in international politics Faraj Maatouq valued a bilateral agreement aimed at “boosting the economic, financial and technological partnership between the two countries, which includes the establishment of a rapid railway line to link the northernmost part of Tunisia with its south.”
However, some politicians and economic and financial experts in Tunisia, played down the outcome of the meetings between the two leaders.
In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Academic Jannat bin Abdullah, said: “French President Macron clearly emphasized in his joint press conference with Saied at the Elysee Palace that the new loan represents an installment of the five-year loan agreed by the authorities of the two countries in 2017. Its value is about 1.7 billion euros, or about 2 billion dollars.”
Reda El-Shiknadali, the former director general of the Center for Economic and Social Studies and Research (CERES), said that Paris did not pledge new financial aid to Tunisia, which is experiencing structural and circumstantial difficulties.
He criticized “the promotion of old agreements concluded in 2017 as if they were a new initiative.”
But what’s more important about the first Tunisian-French summit is rather its political and diplomatic aspect, according to the opponents of Ennahda Movement, including the head of the Reform Bloc in the Tunisian parliament, Hassouna Nasfi.
The latter praised Saied’s statements that rejected the Turkish intervention in Libya and considered that the legitimacy of the Tripoli government was “temporary and needed improvement by holding new elections.”
But the spokesman for Ennahda, criticized the remarks made by the Tunisian president in France, which he said “touched on intra-Tunisian differences outside the homeland.”
On the other hand, a “cold war” was launched through the official and public social media platforms between the supporters of rapprochement with France, who oppose the Turkish role, and Ankara’s agreement with Rome in Libya.
Saied’s statements in Paris sparked a wave of controversy. Surprisingly, symbols of the Arab-Islamic movements, who stood by the president during the past months, accused him of “betraying the patriots who fought the French occupation.”
In France, the Tunisian president described the 75 years of colonization as “protection” rather than “occupation.”
MP Abdellatif Al-Alawi denounced Saied’s refusal that France apologize for its crimes during the period of its direct occupation of the country.
On the other hand, a large segment of Annahda opponents supported the president’s declared opposition to what they described as “the new Ottoman Turkish occupation of Libya.”
Finally, many political circles close to the president warned against exploiting the outcome of Saied’s visit to France and his statements to attack “state symbols” and to get involved “directly or indirectly in the international game of axes in Libya.”
Some of the former senior military officials, including ex-Director General of Military Security Major General Mohamed al-Medad, called on all parties in Tunisia to take a neutral stance, warning of a scenario of military and security escalation in Libya that could last for years.
Similarly, senior politicians, including a number of former foreign ministers, stressed the need for the Tunisian diplomacy to adhere to its fundamentals and its “positive neutrality and avoid interference in the internal affairs of countries.”