SP Senator Tiny Kox on working visit to Tunis: Libyan war menacing Tunisian revolution

22 April 2011

SP Senator Tiny Kox on working visit to Tunis: Libyan war menacing Tunisian revolution

‘Tunisia is continuing to build peacefully on its revolution. On 24th July the Tunisian people will go to the polling booths for their very first free elections. But the war in Libya threatens the progress made in Tunisia. Large numbers of refugees, little trade and falling tourism mean that the economy is in a wretched state. And that also carries political risks.’ This was how SP Senator Tiny Kox, president of the United European Left in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) summarised the situation in Tunisia. As part of a Council of Europe delegation which included the heads of each of the PACE political groups, Kox this week visited the country where in January the Arab Spring began with the forcing out of the dictator Ben Ali after twenty-three years of rule.

Burning picture of Ben Ali
On 14th January President Ben Ali fled Tunisia after being in power for twenty-three years.

“Thanks to the revolution, which kicked off the Arab spring in North Africa and the Middle East, the Tunisians will be able on 24th July freely to elect a constitutional convention which will provide the country with a new Constitution,” says Senator Kox. “A big job, and one for which a great deal remains to be done. The Council of Europe is sending a team of observers for the elections. We’re looking to see whether we can help with guidance and support for the domestic observers. We can probably do that alongside the European Parliament. And we’ll be making available all of our experience and expertise regarding elections and transition processes. We’ve agreed this with Tunis this week. Twenty years ago Central and Eastern Europe went through a comparable change from an authoritarian to a democratic system. The Tunisians can learn a lot from these experiences, positive and negative.”

Kox, accompanied by the four other group presidents, held talks with Tunisia’s interim President Fouad Mebazaa, Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi , and Foreign Minister Mouldi Kefi. The party also held talks with the national commission leading the transition process and making preparations for elections, and with the commission looking into the violent behaviour of the police during the revolution. Of prime importance was the information provided by representatives of the revolutionary movement which in January put an end to the harsh dictatorship of Ben Ali. “The positive news is that a great deal is being done to make the revolution a success,” says Kox. “Not so good news is that there remain many supporters of the old regime in all sorts of positions, in the police, in the judicial apparatus, in the media. This could yet throw a spanner in the works.”

The influence of the civil war in neighbouring Libya is extremely worrying, as Kox explains. “The war means that Tunisia has to accept large numbers of refugees. And the economic damage is huge. Trade with Libya has ground to a halt, and far fewer tourists are coming. This could have political consequences. As Premier Essebsi has said, ‘To vote intelligently you have to have had enough to eat’” Interim President Mebazaa shares these concerns, he told the Council of Europe delegation in Tunis. “The President is afraid of an Iraq scenario developing in his neighbours’ country, and sees little good in NATO’s military intervention. In Libya, before you know it, things will have been going awry for years, he warned. An understandable concern, and one more reason to call a cease-fire in Libya as soon as possible. That’s also in the interest of a successful continuation of the Tunisian revolution.”

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