In the aftermath of aggravation of an already deteriorating situation in Libya, Tunis has apparently judged it wiser to adapt its policy towards the rival governments in Libya (GNC’s Hassi government and HoR’s Thenni cabinet) and adopt “positive neutrality” as Taieb Baccouche, Tunisian minister of foreign affairs, put it on Monday February 23. In practice, Tunis would appoint a consul in Tripol, and another in Tobruk. As has continued to happen since the 2011 uprising in Libya, Tunisia has found itself enmeshed in the complexities of the Libyan conflict. Already home to around 1.5 million Libyan refugees, the recent ISIL attacks has prompted an influx of Egyptian immigrants from Libya into the country. Over 1,000 Egyptians have been evacuated via Tunisia’s Djerba airport over the last week. Tunisia also has its own battle with extremist armed groups. Last week, 4 soldiers were killed in clashes in Boulaaba, 20 km from Kasserine, near Mount Chaambi on the Tunisian-Algerian border. Tunis has a delicate balancing act to consider: given the presence of thousands (estimated at 3,000) of its nationals in Jihadi groups in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, it cannot afford to join Egypt’s calls for military intervention in Libya, but it cannot also ignore the growing threat to its security from the south and to its east. Then there is Algeria that is key to Tunisia’s fight against extremist armed groups positioned on Mount Chaambi. The two countries have been involved in lengthy negotiations to agree a form of common defense pact that would include the right of hot pursuit, exchange of intelligence and a common operations command on the border. Tunis would be considering all these factors when Sameh Shoukry, Egyptian foreign minister, arrives in Tunis, on Wednesday February 24.
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