Sweden reopens embassy in Tunisia: Challenges and expectations

Sweden reopened its embassy in Tunisia last Tuesday, 25 after 13 years of cut official relations. The two countries have revived their bilateral relations since the last state visit by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essibsi with Foreign Minister Khmais Jhinaoui to Stockholm on November, 4, 2015. The visit came after nearly a decade and a half of frozen official relationships.

Tunisian-Swedish relations date back to the eighteenth century. In 1736, the Swedens signed a treaty of trade and peace with the Beylik of Tunis. After Tunisia’s independence from France in 1956, both countries started formal relations. They exchanged ambassadors as well as official visits. The first state visit to Stockholm was paid by the first Tunisian President Habib Bourghiba on June, 7, 1963. The relations witnessed mutual cooperations at the social, economic and political level.

With the coming of the Ben Ali administration, the relationships witnessed an era of coldness. The former Tunisian regime was harshly criticized for its lack of respect for human rights. Although many other countries that were enlisted in the campaign against Ben Ali’s mistreatment of his opposites as well as the lack of free atmosphere for freedom of expression, they kept their bilateral relations with the infamous regime. Swedens, however chose to stop official relations with Tunisia and closed, therefore their embassy. The reasons were also financial as the new ambassador claimed in his interview with a private radio station in Tunis saying that the embassy faced financial difficulties due to the high expenditure.

Now, the embassy is open again. How can this fact strengthen the bilateral relations?

Swedens are among the largest nationalities of European tourists who visited Tunisia during the last year. The number was estimated by 6,000 tourists. Swedish tourists benefited from leaving the ban on visits to Tunis. In fact, the Swedish ambassador, Fredrik Florén posted on October, 6th, 2015 that Swedish authorities eliminate the ban on the visit to Tunisia after the diminishment of the terrorist dangers as well as the security measures taken by the Tunisian government taken to protect tourists.

Not only do Tunisia and Sweden have relations at the level of tourism but they also cooperate in a variety of fields. At the level of trade, it was estimated that the rate of exchange between Tunisia and Sweden reached 30 million dinars on the export standard and 217 million dinars on the supply level. The exporting materials consist basically on cables and electrical wiring, auto components, textiles, vegetable oils, while the imported materials are wood, paper and electronic devices (especially in the field of telecommunications) and automotive (car bodies). In fact, there are 8 Swedish companies established in Tunisia with estimated 54 million dinars as the size of investment and 1368 job opportunities. These companies are operating in the information and communication technology sectors, chemistry, plastics, cosmetics, textiles and garments, electrical and electronic components. At the level of bilateral cooperation, Sweden has contributed in the completion of several development projects in Tunisia in various sectors. It is also considered as the main financier of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Tunisia. It also contributed in financing the displaced women Centre for Society “my home”, and in raising awareness of children and young people about the importance of mass media.

Although Sweden has played a major role in Tunisia mainly after the fall of the ex regime in Tunisia, Tunisians still expect more from this politically and economically stable country. Sweden can play a political role in improving the newly born democracy in Tunisia as it has traditions in democracy and social and political stability. Sweden can contribute in establishing peace in the neighbor country, Libya as it is a neutral country and has no political ambitions in the region. Spreading peace in Libya can provide security in Tunisia since terrorists in Tunisia has a great relation with their counterparts in Libya. Also providing a peaceful atmosphere in Libya can help boosting the sick Tunisian economy by opening new sources for trade and new job opportunities for Tunisia. Moreover Sweden can help Tunisia by receiving the Tunisian labour force as this country often suffers from lack of employees and it is able to welcome them.

Rhimi Ramzi

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