The ongoing dispute between Greece and Turkey in the East Mediterranean over maritime borders and gas exploration has already drawn in Libya and Egypt from the African continent. Now Tunisia, which had thus far remained a distinctively independent actor, is showing signs that political partisanship at home is influencing wider regional tussles.
Geopolitically speaking, the main players on either side of the Mediterranean dispute more-or-less align with the wider rift between Turkey and its allies on the one hand, and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – amongst others – on the other. This rift, which is primarily centred around the role of political Islamist parties in the region, threatens to play out in every country where such parties have a footing. Tunisia fits this description, with the Ennahdha Movement perceived as closely aligned with Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
It is because of these circumstances that external forces are taking an interest in the country, amidst the backdrop of President Kais Saied’s refusal to recognise the designated government of the Ennahdha-led parliamentary majority. As the stand-off drives Tunisian politics deeper into crisis, the familiar faces from outside are stepping in to bolster the party’s adversaries. As a reflection of this, one need only observe how much airtime the Saudi-owned television station Al Arabiya dedicates to the speeches of anti-Islamist firebrand Abir Moussi.
In between Turkish support for Ennahdha and a range of backing for its adversaries, it seems the battle to enlist allies from Tunisia has already begun. Perhaps most tellingly, the Greek and Tunisian navies this month began joint military exercises, ostensibly to tackle irregular migration. However, to more sceptical eyes, such maritime coordination appears to indicate that a Tunisia under the presidency of Saied will be a supporter of the Greek position in the East Mediterranean dispute that continues to rumble on.
This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s April 2021 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.