Tunisia, the other North Africa in which Italy will be involved

(To Gino Lanzara)

Trying to outline an analysis of the latest Tunisian events can not be separated from an assessment of the regional geopolitical context from the beginning of the Arab spring, both from the consideration that the recent events reported by the media, with the same enthusiastic emphasis adopted for the Iranian events, in reality are neither of unpublished genesis nor permeated with ideological connotations.

Despite Tunisia being diplomatically placed as a second-rate country or, better, as a fragile earthenware jar between the two Libyan and Algerian iron vessels, it was the first political entity to make its own and to interpret in a socially extensive sense what the President Obama during his lecture in 2009 at the University of Cairo: "... I am here today to try to kick off a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; the beginning of a relationship based on mutual interest and mutual respect; a relationship based on a precise truth, namely that America and Islam are not mutually exclusive ... "

The intervention of the US head of state, colored and the son of an African student, fueled expectations and engendered dreams of democracy in the young and educated mass of North Africa. The protests led, in a sort of African 1848, to the fall of Mubarak in Egypt, of Saleh in Yemen, of Gaddafi in Libya and of Ben Ali in Tunisia. The ironic unexpected historical-political background has consisted in the fact that the elections held shortly, bringing to power Islamist and non-democratic forces as in the auspices neocons Americans, leading to a further period of instability, led, in the end, to the reconstitution of military regimes (as in Egypt), thus sanctioning the failure of US foreign policy, in its voluntary and guilty inertia, the denial of itself.

It is in small Tunisia that the first spark of the "Arab spring" is born. But what has remained, to date, of the gesture of Mohammad Bouazizi, the revolutionary zero, the Jan Palach of Tunisia? Shortly. The Maghreb country has experienced a complex and extremely delicate transition that has failed to deliver to the community of States a politically, economically and socially stable nation. President Ben Ali, after 23 years of government, has left a Tunisia in which its many social, cultural and political dynamics have attracted the attention of al Qaida and, above all, they highlighted the risk factors that the fallen regime had managed over time to avert and cover with the interested western blessing. In recent years, the new leaderships have tried to propose a new cultural and political hegemony that could both shape the new institutional aspects and attract European interests according to a model that, however, proved inadequate and incompatible with that a peculiar and inestimable form of Tunisian laïcité, of French heritage, which has always led to an approach of the State-Religion relationship, constantly channeled into official mechanisms of representation and filtering of the instances relating to the cult; in short, an Islam controlled in a sort of free state, even if of a Muslim religion.

Ennhada (al Nahda), the Islamic party, however moderate, has attempted to detach itself from this secular approach by assuming positions of an identity character, an aspect that has provoked the reaction of civil society in the north of the country, soaked in European acconfessionality; although Ennhada seemed to be immune to the extremisms that occur periodically in the area, while living in the country with the most radical instances of the Salafist, it seemed evident that the attempt to erase that secular primacy that has characterized Tunisia in the Umma . Although Ennhada did not want to resolve the Salafist issue in a decisive way by means of a policy half way between political liberalism and religious conservatism, it still preserved some typical Tunisian differences both from the point of view of political and organizational relations, and for the fact that any movement of Salafi orientation is naturally subject to the extremist jihadist or qaidist appeal. Faced with the presence of both radicalized subjects who returned home to the fall of Ben Ali, and of new extremists recruited from the ranks of the urban underclass, Ennhada initially adopted repressive forms that had little to do with those imposed by the previous regime. And the young? The other Bouazizi? They sought their cohesion in an economic and social field characterized by unemployment with particularly significant numbers that continued to demonstrate the failure of Ennhada's electoral promises.

The country has remained socially split in two, with coastal areas that have continued to evolve and produce wealth in the face of poverty and instability in the south; in the north there is a cultured, modern, tolerant Tunisia, direct heir of the conquests of Bourguiba, in the south it is enough to look at the example of Bin Qardān, a citizen involved in the 2016 in a jihadist attack. Far from Tunis, and culturally more akin to a Libyan urban center, it has been and is an example of the socio-economic inequalities of a country whose political class has chosen to leave the hinterland and south in conditions of extreme backwardness, with few - and illicit - sources of income based on smuggling and trafficking in human beings. After all, since a short time after jasmine revolution there was a clear perception of an acute instability destined to persist; the distances between Tunis and centers like Bin Qardān are not only physical, but also concern the way in which a sort of parallel system has flourished, governed by an informal economy and by illegal trade. While in the north over a thousand years of trade and cultural exchanges have made a bridge between the European continent and the African one, in the south Arab unhappiness of the writer Kassir took shape by radicalizing himself according to the jihadist dictates, and making understand why the Tunisian Isis fighters come largely from that area.

So can the disorders that broke out between December 2017 and January 2018 amaze us? Probably only from a journalistic and sensationalist point of view, but not from a geopolitical and rational perspective. In light of the discrepancies, even if briefly reported, it was legitimate to expect popular reactions to a political and social economic situation which, in spite of the collapse and the simultaneous replacement of a regime, has not led to particular and extensive forms of wellbeing in the last seven years. Despite the efforts of the government, now chaired by the moderate Youssef Chaed, the Tunisians are once again at the mercy of galloping inflation, inflation and unemployment, the best and most indicated possible ingredients to reach yet another social blast, while the central authority it has to cope with IMF requests that, following a loan of almost 3 billion dollars disbursed in the 2016, asks to proceed with state restructuring from the economic and above all unsustainable social price.

That secularism so strongly opposed by Ennhada has allowed Tunisia to avoid falling into the abyss of fundamentalism and has determined the preservation of political rationality and common sense, but at the same time, by its very nature, could not prevent the new protests never risky if they wanted to "grant" martyrs to fundamentalist organizations.

Should Italy cooperate with the Tunisian government? For our country, historically and geographically so close to Tunisia, it would be unpardonable not to cooperate for a number of reasons, net of statements of circumstance. The fundamentalist movement remains always present on the territory, and the new levers that leave to reach both the neighboring Libya and the Sahel, where we are close to intervene in the Nigerina area, in perennial preinsurgency situation, are numerous; the landings of Tunisian citizens on the Italian coasts are reaching rhythms and entities of considerable thickness going to aggravate a situation in itself already extremely critical; Tunisia, poor in natural resources, is however a fundamental transit country for us as it hosts about two hundred kilometers of pipeline, the Transmed, otherwise said Enrico Mattei, which connects the Sicilian shores to the Algerian ones, and which allows the continuous collection of important items royalties; finally, the geographical location of Tunisia is a relevant political subject because, in any case, it is at the center of the Mediterranean routes. To summarize everything we could conclude that Tunisia, in any case, was and remains a strategic country for Italian well-being. All this allows to better frame the national political dynamism both in function of a rereading of the use of its military instrument, in relation to a vision more in keeping with national interests and including the fight against terrorism and illegal immigration, and according to a vision linked investment, with the cooperation aimed at the development of the internal areas of the North African country, and the control of their safety.

It would perhaps be advisable to examine the aspect linked to numbers and costs, bearing in mind that decisions regarding Italian participations in off-site missions were deliberated in dissolved Chambers, as it could be important to establish the impact of the various activities to be undertaken, moving the forces from one theater to another, both on the operational and logistic parameters supporting the weapon systems used and, Last but not least, both on highly specialized personnel to be employed.

Italy, as Minister Pinotti recalled, is developing its commitment on the southern Mediterranean front in NATO and EU contexts and, more particularly, as regards the 5 + 5 collaboration forum among the Western Mediterranean countries, five of the northern shore (Italy, France, Malta, Portugal and Spain), and five of the southern shore (Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia), of which our country assumed the presidency from the 1 January of this year.

The mission in the Tunisian area, under the aegis of NATO, in providing training and advice aimed at establishing an interforces command, highlights the tendency to channel Italian efforts to the thresholds of the national territory, circumscribing the area between the Mediterranean, North Africa and Sahel. Given the contrast to the jihadist threat, the reduction of the quotas in other theaters will not affect the Kosovar area, considered the basis of Balkan jihadism, and Lebanon, due to the need to make the border area with Israel more stable and secure, nor the naval operations active in front of the Libyan coasts.

So can Rome help Tunis? Certainly yes, perhaps more than one faculty we could talk about the motivated pursuit of its exclusive political, economic and security interest, not forgetting that the stabilization of Tunisia will require years with an indispensable and simultaneous overall improvement of the geopolitical area concerned.

Today's Tunisia is recalling how it is possible to interrupt a fundamentalist drift without resorting to traumatic interventions, but also how easy it is to affect the fragility of a social political turning point, never as now to be protected, precisely because it is clearly against the background in the Sunni area. Italian cooperation, rather than weakening, or helping to perceive as betrayed the spirit of the jasmine revolution, could help not to make it fall into the oblivion of a people never so tried by history and, at the same time, could give a new dimension to a long-standing political assertion that has not been present anyway, and in any case must be reviewed in the light of the forthcoming elections.

(photo: Tunisian Navy / web / US Navy)