Tunisian President Kais Saied made assurances on Friday that he will not adopt dictatorial powers in the wake of his dismissal of Tunisia’s parliament for 30 days and the sacking of the prime minister last Sunday. In the wake of these actions, Tunisia is experiencing a political crisis that threatens to unravel the gains made in the 2010-11 Tunisian Revolution. Saied’s moves on Sunday have brought on international scrutiny as critics and leaders of major political parties in Tunisia have accused the president of staging a coup. Concerns about the future of Tunisian democracy and the rights of its people increased Friday following the arrest of a parliamentarian and the investigation of leading opposition figures who took part in anti-Saied demonstrations earlier this week. A second member of parliament was arrested later in the day. Saied has removed the immunity of parliament members, making all of them vulnerable to arrest and imprisonment.
Saied’s moves to assume total executive control of the government apparently enjoys wide popular support. Tunisia is a nation which has dealt with corruption, economic stagnation and political deadlock for years. This situation has been worsened by a large surge in COVID-19 cases this year, essentially making a bad situation even worse. Although Tunisia is in the midst of a political crisis there have been no indications of unrest aside from Monday’s protest outside of the now-closed parliament building.
Nevertheless, there is growing concern outside of the country that Saied’s actions are unconstitutional and threaten Tunisia’s democracy. In order to temper these concerns and accusations, Saied needs to follow up his assurances with firm actions that demonstrate he is not crafting a dictatorship in Tunis.
The proxy war going on in Libya has deepened in recent weeks and the trend shows every sign of continuing in the early days of the new year. The prospect of overt foreign intervention hangs over the conflict now with Turkey preparing to deploy troops and naval vessels to support the internationally-recognized Libyan government. The Turks intend for its navy to help defend Tripoli and the Government of National Accord (GNA) as the forces of Khalifa Haftar continue to pose a threat. Turkish troops on the ground will help train and coordinate GNA forces similar to the manner in which Turkish troops aided anti-Assad rebels in Syria. On the subject of Syria, Turkey will also send Syrian rebels to fight against Haftar’s Libyan National Army.
Turkish President Erdogan appears to be regarding the GNA as a high-value investment worth protecting. Its certainly in Turkey’s best interest to prop up the Libyan government after the lucrative maritime deal signed between the two nations which creates a Turkish Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) from Turkey’s southern Mediterranean shore to Libya’s northeast coast. This move has shaken the region and helped crystallize opposition to Turkey’s intervention.
Libya’s neighbors Tunisia, and Algeria are concerned about the events taking place to their east. The most direct worry is that the fighting will spillover into their territory. Algeria, which has experienced a somewhat volatile political year, and is enduring economic difficulties as a result, is rumored to be considering throwing its support behind the GNA. Tunisia’s intentions are not clear although it has mobilized its military and placed forces on its border with Libya as a precaution.
Turkey’s move towards intervention is bringing about diplomatic backlash. Many nations are cautioning against the dangers of foreign intervention in Libya, although it should be mentioned that most of the nations cautioning about foreign intervention are in fact supporting Khalifa Haftar and his forces. As 2019 comes to a close, Libya seems poised to become a larger proxy war involving a constellation of ideological, political, and economic interests. Some observers have pointed out similarities between Libya in 2019, and Syria in the early days of its civil war. Personally, I think that Libya is nothing more than a shining example of the consequences brought upon the Middle East by Arab Spring. Even nine years later the region continues to feel the effects.
With forces of the Libyan National Army (LNA) under the command of Khalifa Haftar preparing for a decisive assault on Tripoli the Tunisian government has grown wary of the situation to its east. Fearful of a spillover of fighting onto its soil, the government announced a mobilization of the nation’s military and security forces. These forces will deploy to Tunisia’s southeastern border with Libya in the coming days. As the prospect of fighting looms around Tripoli, the Tunisian move comes as no surprise. Along with preventing violence from spilling over, Tunisia’s military and security forces are also preparing for the anticipated surge of refugee families into their country.
On Thursday Haftar announced the start of a final LNA offensive aimed at capturing Tripoli and deposing the Government of National Accord (GNA). “Zero hour has come for the broad and total assault expected by every free and honest Libyan,” Haftar said in a speech on Thursday. It is yet uncertain if the planned offensive has commenced yet or not. Judging from government reports, and dispatches and tweets from journalists on the ground there the fighting has not yet begun in earnest. That could change at any time though.
Tunisia is not the only nation-state in the Mediterranean eyeing events in Libya closely. The other day we spoke about Turkey and the stake Ankara has in the continued survival of the GNA. Greece has been outspoken in its opposition to the controversial agreement between Turkey and Libya over maritime boundaries. Since its signing on 28 November, the US, Egypt, Russia, Israel, and the European Union have come out against the agreement too. As Athens moves to drum up more diplomatic support from nations in the Persian Gulf area, it is also reinforcing Greek military forces on Crete.
If Haftar’s LNA does seize control of Tripoli and the GNA collapses, the deal will be dead in the water. This reality is understood by the Turkish government, and at least partly responsible for Turkey’s recent offer of military intervention to the GNA.