The dilapidating state in which Libya has found itself is a major destabilizing factor for its neighbor, Tunisia. Tunisia’s ongoing democratic transition is at risk of falling apart due to the chaos emanating from its southeastern neighbor. Tunisia is well aware of its vulnerability when it comes to the situation Libya, which is why it is actively pursuing a diplomatic dialogue with Libya’s neighboring countries, trying to resolve the ongoing polarization and fragmentation within the Libyan society. Yet, its efforts are being negatively affected by the economic hardship and the burgeoning conflict economy proliferating across the Tunisia–Libya border.
Moreover, the backlash of tightening security of the border regions, meant to contain the terrorist threat and the risk of violent spillover from Libya, are poised to worsen the already existing fault lines in the border regions and weaken Tunisia’s resilience – the ability of the government to manage external crises and implement much needed reforms to address socio-economic grievances and disappointment with the political establishment. The chaos in Libya is having a bearing on Tunisia’s weak economy and its precarious political arrangements especially amidst increasing polarization within the country that is being triggered off by the actions of regional and international players who threaten to spread their proxy war across North Africa.
Strengthening the resilience of the Tunisian state and society means that more attention needs to be paid to the economic, political and social developments that are tearing southern Tunisia apart. Tunisia needs to come up with a development program that would tackle the specific challenges facing the periphery regions including the prevention of the spread of instability from its neighbors. This means to build access roads to open up the border region to the private sector and to create jobs. More broadly, this would also mean the setting up of a positive discrimination system that would alleviate regional disparities and boost national cohesion.
When it comes to the military, the Tunisian army should also reconsider the terms of its presence in the south of the country. It should instead focus on its primary mission of defending the territory as well as its role as a social actor through programs of vocational training for young people that promote employability and prevent radicalization in the peripheries. A good move would also be to open military hospitals and provide health care to local populations.
‘Precarious Resilience: Tunisia’s Libyan Predicament’ – Analysis by Hamza Meddeb – Barcelona Center for International Affairs (CIDOB).
(The Analysis can be downloaded here)