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Diplomatic crisis: Algeria holds 200 Tunisia cars at border

February 11, 2023 at 12:00 pm

A Tunisian border policeman controls a driver’s documents at the north-western Tabarka border post with Algeria, on the first day of its reopening on July 15, 2022 [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

Media sources reported that the Algerian authorities held 200 Tunisian cars at the border between the two countries as the first reaction to the Tunisian authorities’ agreement to deport Algerian political activist Amira Bouraoui. Some consider this the beginning of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Tunisian media reported testimonies of citizens stranded at the border crossings, specifically the Babouch-Ain Darahim crossing, where one of the witnesses confirmed that the Algerian authorities prevented 200 Tunisian cars carrying goods and foodstuffs from crossing. Drivers were asked to completely unload their vehicles to be allowed to cross.

Algerian customs officials justified this measure due to a “diplomatic crisis” with Tunisia after it agreed to smuggle Algerian activist Bouraoui to France while she was expected to be deported to Algeria.

Maher Al-Abbasi, a former leader of the Tahya Tounes party, shared: “After 25 July, an Algerian citizen (Suleiman Bouhafs) was kidnapped after he sought asylum in Tunisia and then he was handed over to the Algerian authorities in an incident considered as a stigma to the Tunisian state forever. It seems that the Tunisian authorities refused to hand over an Algerian-French citizen to the Algerian authorities and allowed her to head to France. Regardless of the background of this behaviour and the pressure exerted by Paris, we can only commend it and stand with President Kais Saied against all the repercussions that could be generated from this behaviour in our relations with Algeria. We must not forget that she allowed the escape of Nabil Karoui (head of the Heart of Tunisia Party), who is a wanted man. At least, it is reciprocity without talking about the principled aspect, which is the refusal to hand over refugees to their countries.”

“This matter must be accepted by the Algerians with an open mind, and if they do not accept it, then it is their problem. We oppose Kais Saied to the last breath, but when he takes an honourable position, we stand with him to the last breath, we die standing with our dignity,” Al-Abbasi expressed.

READ: Tunisia opposition attacks Saied for allowing detained Algeria activist to travel

“The customs in Algeria received instructions to ask Tunisians returning to Tunisia to unload all food or non-food purchases (clothes, gifts, shoes, etc.) to become able to return to Tunisia. The reason behind that is the diplomatic crisis between the two countries after the escape of the opposition, Amira Bouraoui, to France through Tunisia,” added activist Helmy Rayes.

“First, Bouraoui presented her French passport at the Tunisian border, and the French authorities helped her return to Paris. Second, what is the harm done by citizens who went to buy goods to subject them to revenge and humiliate them due to a diplomatic crisis between the three countries? Third, the Algerian authorities arrested Nabil Karoui and Ghazi Karoui, imprisoned them, then released them and left them to travel to Spain without paying any attention to the Tunisian side. So why does Algeria blame Tunisia today for doing the same thing?” Rayes questioned.

Journalist Zied El-Heni stated that Bouraoui: “Was heading to France and did not obtain a border entry stamp, so she was detained at the airport after accusing her of crossing the border illegally with the help of French intelligence officers (according to Le Monde newspaper). Instead of sending her to the judiciary for trial, she was transported to the French Embassy in Tunisia, where she stayed for four hours, and at that time, negotiations were underway between the Tunisian and French authorities before she returned to the airport and headed France after that.”

“I think that what Le Monde said about President Kais Saied’s approval of Bouraoui’s travel is correct since she cannot leave Tunisia without obtaining the personal approval of Saied. She had two options, and he chose the lesser evil. When you compare economic cooperation between Tunisia with France and Algeria, you will certainly prefer France,” El-Heni explained.

Hisham Badra, Bouraoui’s lawyer, presented another narrative about the way his client left Tunisia: “She appeared on Monday before the judge in a District Court in Tunis, and the judge decided to release her provided that she appears a session on 23 February (until that moment there was no threat to deport her to Algeria.) The session was held in an office in the presence of the judge, her clerk and two lawyers. After the session ended, two security agents in civilian clothes intervened and took Amira Bouraoui in a car to the airport without providing any explanation.”

“We followed her to the airport, but we did not find any trace of her, and no explanations were provided to us about the reason behind arresting her. This incident reminded me of the abduction of opponent Hamma Hammami from the courtroom under the reign of former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali,” Badra added.

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