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What is behind the Tunisia-US alliance?

Tunisia has become a non-NATO ally of the United States. This is regarded as one of the most important results of President Beji Caid Essebsi’s 48-hour visit to Washington. Although Essebsi and his government were counting on the visit, they remained cautious. As such, it was described officially as “political” and “symbolic” and based on the personal relationship dating from 2011 between Essebsi and Barack Obama.

It was for this reason that the results of the visit were limited, especially on the economic and financial level, with the exception of the US president’s announcement of a loan guarantee agreement allowing Tunisia to borrow $500 million from the international capital markets in affordable financing. This loan was what Prime Minister Habib Essid had hinted at and which Finance Minister Salim Shaker said the country may need soon. Naturally, once talk of additional loans begins to circulate, the debate between the government and opposition intensifies, regardless of the government’s political affiliations. The condemnation has escalated noticeably, and it constitutes one of the negative consequences of the post-revolution phase.

There is no debate regarding the belief that Tunisia’s new US ally status will, on a military level, pave the way for a higher degree of security coordination between the two countries. The US realised that reducing the security threats against Tunisia is an important and critical step to reduce those posed by terrorist groups. Accordingly, Mohsen Marzouk, the political advisor to the Tunisian president, stressed that the country’s position as a non-NATO ally of America will allow Tunisia to benefit from America’s military experience. There is also no argument amongst the various political trends in Tunisia regarding the priority of security during this critical time in its history, as well as that of the surrounding region. Tunisia believed in the past that it was safe from external threats and so did not strengthen its army. Now it finds itself forced to make a strategic change in one of its major decisions by working on establishing a strong and deterrent military institution.

Although Marzouk tried to reduce the potential consequences of the Tunisia-US alliance on the military level by clarifying that this agreement “relates to reinforcing Tunisia’s military capabilities, but will not have any influence on Tunisia’s policies in the region, which may not necessarily go in line with the US policies”, this is still considered a strong and prominent indicator that Tunisia, both before and after the revolution, has become completely involved in what the Americans call “the war on terror”. Despite the importance of cooperation with America to face the real threat to Tunisia’s national security, it requires great caution because its consequences in the field may be dangerous. This is especially true if the extent of the civil war in Libya expands or if new and radical developments occur in Syria or Iraq. The bigger the role played by the US in a country, the more that tension increases and the more that terrorist groups seek to aim crippling blows at the international governments and forces.

This means that the groups that chose to work on undermining the state in Tunisia in order to turn it into an emirate under the rule of a regional axis left the Tunisians no other choice but to ask for foreign support. They also forced the Tunisians to get involved in a painful and costly war both on a human and financial level, at the expense of development, stability and the establishment of a democratic system. It is at this particular juncture that the hidden implications of this alliance with the United States rise to the surface.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 26 May, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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