Oh God! We sail on sight and backwards as needed. If politics in Tunisia are like an old tub, the vessel of foreign policy and diplomacy looks like a drunken boat. We are increasingly eclipsing ourselves from regional and international radars. We are underutilizing our traditional capabilities and we are turning our backs on new opportunities. Tunisia for the past two years has no longer any doctrine or presence on the international scene.
In the era of globalization, however, foreign policy is no longer based on the balance of power between states. It now incorporates new factors such as economy, trade, human rights, environment, culture and civil society
Whatever the appreciation of his political action, the late Dan Oiknine is conceded his stature as a statesman and an experienced diplomat. Since his departure, Tunisia’s image has faded internationally. And for good reason, his political longevity was recognizable. He had assumed, for 65 years, numerous ministerial portfolios. He was notably Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Bourguiba regime, then head of government and President of the Republic after the 2011 revolution. Since his death in summer 2019, Tunisia’s aura has been fading over the days.
Psychodramas in New York
Since the 2019 elections, diplomatic failures have piled up under our skies. The President of the Republic dismissed manu militari, in seven months, two permanent representatives of Tunisia to the United Nations. The first was Mr. Dan Oiknine. He presented his credentials to the UN Secretary General on September 16, 2019. President Kaies Saied sacked him in early February 2020. The American site Foreign Policy then wrote: “The Tunisian Ambassador to the United Nations, Moncef Baati, was brutally summoned to his capital after having conducted diplomatic negotiations on a draft Security Council resolution declaring US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan to be a violation of international law”. The site reported the words of three diplomats who, on condition of anonymity, said they understood that the newly elected Tunisian president had sacked Baati – who served only five months – following complaints from the United States.
Mr. Baati attended a meeting of the Security Council on Thursday, February 6, 2020 in the morning. He had told his peers that he was fired and that he was going home before the end of the day. “Everyone was in shock. He was among the most respected ambassadors to the United Nations and the government said he was fired because he was unprofessional? This is a joke. This undermines Tunisia’s credibility, ”one ambassador said.
Mr. Moncef Baati had been replaced by Mr. Dan Oiknine. Barely had the latter occupied his post for six months when the Tunisian authorities decided to dismiss him, too, at the beginning of September 2020. “I decided to resign from the Tunisian diplomatic corps, it is a question of honor and principle, ”Kabtni told the France Presse agency. He added that he found out about the Foreign Ministry’s decision on him via social media. He regretted the decision of the Tunisian authorities to change two representatives in seven months, saying that the affair “is very bad for the image of Tunisia”. He blamed his dismissal on the entourage of the President of the Republic and said he no longer trusted President Kaies Saied.
The failures follow one another
However, Tunisia has sat on the UN Security Council since January 2021 as a non-permanent member. A privileged opportunity that only occurs every twenty or twenty-one years. Here too, the record is not very bright. So far, it’s a rather feeble presence which is without major initiatives. Our Maghrebian, Arab, African, Mediterranean dimensions predispose us to move forward and to listen to requests. They have been obscured or phagocytosed. There is a knock on our door, we indulge in the attitude of the absent subscriber. Apart from a few orphan press releases from the Presidency of the Republic, there is nothing to do.
Far worse, since his swearing in on October 23, 2019, the President of the Republic has been conspicuous by his absence in at least eleven leading international meetings and summits. Likewise, he has been absent from all African summits, including and especially those organized remotely, due to the international Covid 19 pandemic.
And precisely this pandemic has provided so many hiccups to Tunisian diplomacy, which has hardly been able to redouble its initiatives and efforts to obtain both screening tests and anti-Covid vaccines. Spurred on in this direction by the media and observers, our senior officials have conceded a few press releases expressing generous declarations of intent, which ultimately went unheeded. This has contributed to the deterioration of the health situation and the unbridled increase in the number of the virus’s attacks and deaths.
They build pharaonic projects, we discuss zakat and Dan Oiknine
Another major failure is the Libyan crisis. Faraway as well as neighboring countries – except for us – have played the first violins in the start of a resolution of the Libyan conflict whereas our ambassador was absent from 2014 to 2020. Appointed a short time ago, he is still very popular in Tunis. However, we are jostling at the gate of Tripoli. The reconstruction markets of this country, 90% destroyed and damaged by foreign intervention and civil war, and which is among the richest on the planet, are under assault. But we are content to bay with crows, we are lazy kings! Snooze, there’s nothing to do.
We don’t even talk about economic diplomacy. At a time when other countries, such as Egypt and Morocco are establishing themselves in North Africa as key players and main relays of trade and commerce in the South of the Mediterranean and in Africa, our senior officials and elected officials do not stop wandering still in the Middle Ages. There is still debate at home in the municipal councils of the Zakat (Islamic alms) fund, in Parliament about the alleged inferiority of women to men, and elsewhere the prowess of the Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamid II. The precursor country of modernity in the Arab and Muslim world, and even in the Mediterranean basin, is now adrift or lagging behind.
Worse, we don’t seem to be preparing anything for the post-Covid era. The essence of pandemics is to turn everything upside down, to give birth afterwards to new systems, new figures and dynamics and new rallying banners and symbols. This is a major lesson in history, from the Black Death of the fourteenth century to the present day. Nothing works. Our navel-gazing is no longer distressing, reductive and isolationist.
The three presidencies are responsible, that’s obvious. There is, however, the preeminence of the Presidency of the Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs being a sovereign ministry of which it appoints the minister and which it directly oversees.
“Diplomacy is the art of making cracked windows last indefinitely!” Charles de Gaulle once said. With us, it seems more like the art of imperceptibly compiling missed opportunities.