SHAFAQNA – Last week Tunisia’s foreign minister, Taieb Bakouch, said: “We will not have an ambassador there, but Tunisia will open a consulate or put in place a charge d’affaires, and a Syria ambassador is welcome to Tunisia, if Syria wishes so.”
Government officials say the move will help Tunisia glean information on Tunisians fighting in Syria and eventually prevent them from carrying out attacks on Tunisian soil.
Now that Tunisia has restored institutional and political order, the government has said to be keen to resume all relations with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, since isolation can only lead to further regional instability.
Moving away from Saudi Arabia’s policy in the MENA – Middle East and North Africa – experts have said that the move is really to be understood as further proof the region is reclaiming its independence from Riyadh, at a time when the kingdom is at its most belligerent.
In July 2010, six months before the Arab Spring began, Ben Ali held talks with Assad to discuss “the excellent brotherly relations between Tunisia and Syria”.
However less than 18 months later Ben Ali was gone and his successor Moncef Marzouki – a candidate favoured by the Islamist Enahdha party – had severed diplomatic ties with the Assad regime in response to its suppression and murder of Syrian civilians demanding change.
The move alienated had a knock-on effect for Tunisian fighters held in Syria’s prisons – they now stood no chance of release in the absence of a diplomatic presence there.
The u-turn was argued partly on that basis: “We do not believe that our interests are served by cutting off relations with Syria,” said Bakouch last week, adding that Tunisians in Syria had been “greatly harmed” by the cutting of ties.