War in Libya / The trip to Tunisia shakes Conte’s line


By Souad Sbai

The Italian executive traveled collectively to Tunisia to attend the expected intergovernmental summit. Different issues were placed at the center of the conversations, starting with the economy. Tunisia is Italy’s second largest trading partner in the Mediterranean and the business Forum that took place in parallel with the institutional meetings aimed to further strengthen trade relations. In a phase of great suffering due to the stagnation of the Tunisian economy, with an increase in unemployment of 15%, which mainly affects the wide range of young people, Italy is interested in supporting the country from an economic point of view to avoid effects on internal stability, that is still fragile eight years after the fall of the Bouteflika’s regime with which the so-called Arab Spring began.

Tunisia has so far managed to avoid falling into the trap of the Muslim Brotherhood and their political face, the Ennhada party, thanks to the retaining wall placed on the ambitions of power of President Essebsi’s Nidaa Tounes party. However, recently, Tunisia has experienced many protests against the increase in VAT and prices of essential goods and services. It has been the youth component, frustrated by a situation of growing deterioration, responsible for leading the protests, in some cases resulting in clashes with the police. The discomfort of the new generation is no different from the one that triggered the popular uprisings in 2011. Nowadays those who benefit are illegal immigration and the spread of extremism. It is no coincidence that the largest number of immigrants arriving in Italy this year is coming from Tunisia, which has another record: that of being the country from which travelled the largest number of foreign fighters to join ISIS and other jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq (about 3 thousand). The southern border with Libya is also a refuge for traffickers and terrorists.

At the press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said he was concerned about the military escalation in the Libyan conflict because it could have repercussions beyond 500 km of the border. On the other hand, Chahed did not report the pressure that Qatar and Turkey – the great sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide – continue to exercise against the Tunisian presidency and government through Ennhada and its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, as reported by the Arab press. In fact, the Doha-Istanbul jihad line wants to use Tunisia again as an outpost towards Libya to supply the militias of the Muslim Brotherhood that support Sarraj’s government in Tripoli with weapons and men.

Essebsi formally condemned Haftar’s offensive on the capital, calling for an immediate ceasefire and reiterating the need to return to the negotiating table within the United Nations and at the same time showed his rejection of the plans of Qatar and Turkey; unlike the total support given to the Islamist alliance in Libya by its predecessor, the Muslim Brother Moncef Marzouki. Essebsi, who in the past received General Haftar in Tunisia, has strengthened relations with countries of the so-called Antiterrorism Arab Quartet (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain), firmly placing Tunisia within the moderate Arab world that is opposed to the Islamist alliance made up of Qatar, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood, the main cause of the destabilization in Libya. A position different from that assumed by Italy, that in Libya, has placed the safeguard of its national interests in the Islamist field.

The “neither with Sarraj, nor with Haftar”, pronounced a few days ago in Beijing by Prime Minister Conte, was the first sign of a possible turn towards the adoption of a new line by the executive, based on a greater balance. This line was confirmed by Conte at the press conference following the meeting held with Essebsi and notes the most recent developments in Libya. Haftar will probably not be able to complete the military takeover of Tripoli and it is certainly desirable a ceasefire that puts an end to the clashes given the increase in the number of victims, injured and displaced. But he is the political winner of the conflict, the general at the head of the National Army of Libya, and Italy has begun to be aware of it, although the government has not yet managed to find a convergence on the initiatives to be undertaken.

The divisions that are destroying the government on the domestic front, where the Siri case takes place, have in fact been extended to foreign and security policy. Proof of this is the reinforcement offered by Interior Minister Salvini who, supporting Sarraj, reported a fierce tweet published by the number two of the Libyan presidential council, Ahmed Maitig, coinciding with the press conference celebrated by Essebsi and Conte. Maitig is the strong man of Misurata, close to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist militias armed by Qatar and Erdogan’s Turkey, with whom the leader of the Lega has recently strengthened his personal axis during a summit held in Rome.

The fact that Conte and Salvini have expressed different positions on such a delicate issue, after having traveled together by plane to Tunisia, is disconcerting. Italians are used to fragmented governments with little cohesion within them, and the staging of the current one is part of their daily life, like Di Maio’s one-way trip to the Tunisian capital, carried out to avoid confrontation-discussion with Salvini on the permanence in the government of the Undersecretary of Transportation investigated for corruption. However, the executive in charge is blatantly and indifferently disintegrating; even the slightest appearance of unity of action and intention required in matters of national security and foreign policy.

While Moavero’s total incoherence – owner of Farnesina – shines but certainly without light, it is necessary to point out how Salvini, instead of looking for a common denominator with Conte following his institutional duty, has continued playing on the Libyan board a personal match ; But on whose behalf? What agenda? It certainly does not seem to be in the name of the Italian agenda nor Italian interests. Now more than ever, they are heading towards a reparation and relaunch of relations with Haftar, in a mediation role with Sarraj that could be of fundamental importance to reach a ceasefire and a peace agreement. So, why is there so much determination on the part of the leader of the Lega to reconfirm the pro-Qatar line in Libya, even though it has already proved to be a failure for Italy and opposed by Tunisia? Do not the interests of security and Italian foreign policy coincide with the interests of the leader of the Lega?


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