Tunisian President Kais Saied followed his friend, the Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s visit to Moscow, and the manner in which Russian President Vladimir Putin received him, which indicated much respect and appreciation. Saied has had a strong relationship with Tebboune from the beginning, and the number of visits he made to Algeria is the greatest proof of this. One of Saied’s wishes is to visit Moscow, to establish close relations with the master of the Kremlin, and to continue onto Beijing so that he can be freed from Western pressures, which he believes interfere in Tunisia’s affairs and prevent him from having sole authority.
Tebboune’s visit to Moscow may open the way for the Tunisian president to achieve his aims. While Algeria has not condemned the Russian war on Ukraine and maintains a level of neutrality that is interpreted as siding with Moscow, the Tunisian presidency is forced to denounce the Russian aggression under the umbrella of the UN. It did so forcibly due to the intertwining of Tunisia’s interests with the Western camp, which Moscow took into account, without continuing its efforts to win Tunisia over and build relations with it.
This was highlighted by the Italian government, as it emphasised, in an attempt to convince the rest of the Western parties, including the US, of Tunisia’s geopolitical importance and warned against pushing it into the embrace of Russia and China, which would negatively affect European national security.
Given that the Tunisian issue has become an intense topic on the international and regional levels, Algeria is closely following the Tunisian situation, and makes sure to emphasise, at least politically, its solidarity with Tunisia. Therefore, the Algerian Foreign Minister, Ahmed Attaf, took advantage of the moves by the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, as well as President Saied’s participation in the global summit for a new global financing pact in Paris to confirm that Tunisia “is going through a very difficult stage, and the best way to help it is not to impose additional burdens that might exacerbate their situation.”
He called for “understanding the profound impact of the events of 1984 and 1986 on the Tunisian people.” These violent events are a result of the rise in the prices of several basic materials, which led to anger among Tunisians, but Minister Attaf stressed, on the other hand, that “Tunisians are not against economic reforms, but it is necessary to implement them within conditions that are not too painful.”
President Saied believes that Algeria can be a reliable strategic ally, despite it allowing the flow of some sub-Saharan immigrants into Tunisia. He also sacrificed the Tunisian-Moroccan relations, as Tunisia lost its neutrality and was no longer able to play the role of the country that unites the Maghreb. Saied is counting on Algeria’s military and political strength with Russia, which might open the door for it to join the BRICS bloc. He believes that Tunisia will benefit from this, and the pressure on it from Europe and the US will decrease. Congress is expected to consider a draft law on Tunisia, which, if approved, will reduce the amount of financial aid to the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs by 25 per cent. This means that the strengthening of the Tunisian-Algerian rapprochement, followed by the Tunisian-Russian rapprochement, may leave President Saied relatively free from the Western threats that he and they are fed up with.
The Tunisian president keeps repeating that he protects sovereignty. For him, sovereignty means not interfering in national affairs. He means that Tunisia rejects, in this delicate circumstance, the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the denunciation by human rights organisations and the statements made by Western governments related to human rights. Tunisia seeks complete silence in the face of absolute rule in the country.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on 24 June 2023