Diplomacy Thwarted
Tunisia’s Libyan Problem

Armed militants are reported to have stormed the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli on Friday, abducting ten staff members.

Despite the chaotic environment in Libya, Tunisia reopened its consulate in Tripoli this past February. Though Tunisia officially maintains relations with the internationally recognized government in eastern Libya, it has sought to keep communication open with the Islamist leaning government in Tripoli. The opening of a consulate in Tripoli was meant to signal the government’s pragmatism. Today’s events have made it clear that taking no position is no longer an option. Al Jazeera reports :

A ministry statement said Friday’s incident was a “blatant attack on Tunisian national sovereignty and a flagrant violation of international laws and diplomatic norms.”

The statement said Tunisia’s government was monitoring the situation and working to secure the release of the employees.

“All government services are following developments with interest in coordination with Libyan, regional and international parties, to liberate without delay the Tunisian mission team and guarantee its safety,” the ministry statement read.

Reports are emerging, however, indicating that the ‘Libya Dawn’ militia, which is in control of Tripoli, is behind the attacks. It appears that Tunisian domestic politics have permeated into Libya and have put its diplomatic staff at risk. Yahoo! News explains:

Tunisian authorities last month arrested Walid Kalib, a member of that rival group, Libya Dawn. On Thursday, a Tunisian court refused to release Kalib who faces kidnapping charges in Tunisia.

This is not the first time that Libya’s neighbors have been victims of the country’s lawlessness. In February, Egypt launched a series of extensive airstrikes killing as many as fifty militants in response to a video posted by ISIS depicting the beheading of twenty one Egyptian Christians. As the hostage drama unfolds, Tunisia will have to consider its own response.

The problem is, Tunisia is hardly in a position to take unilateral action. Despite holding elections and being hailed as a shining example of a successful democratic transition amid all the ruins of the Arab Spring, Tunisia is still in a precarious position. Beset by large numbers of jihadist fighters, both being trained overseas and operating in domestic sleeper cells, Tunis has its hands full just within its own borders. With these problems exacerbated by the tremendous refugee burden that Tunisia is carrying as a result of the prolonged Libyan crisis, Tunisia simply does not have the capability to respond in the way that a much more powerful state such as Egypt can.

As far as regional alliances, an attack on its diplomatic apparatus by an Islamist militia in Tripoli could well push Tunisia closer to the Egyptians and their anti-Islamist efforts in Libya. Doing so would mean a Tunisian government that has heretofore been hesitant to take a side in the Libyan conflict would find itself directly opposed to an Islamist militia ruling on its border—a militia capable of inciting violence within Tunisia itself. It’s not a great position to be in.

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