Tunisia spruces up, hopes for boost from Arab League summit
TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia is cleaning up its boulevards and securing its borders for an Arab League summit that this country hopes raises its regional profile and economic prospects.
New murals, exotic flowers and flags from the 22 Arab League states now decorate the capital Tunis as it prepares to host thousands of visitors, including the Saudi king and U.N. secretary-general.
Police and soldiers were deployed around the country and security was tightened on land and sea borders, as Arab government ministers hold preparatory meetings all week for Sunday’s summit.
Tunisian diplomats want their country to play a mediating role in a summit marked by thorny issues: President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the deepening rift between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and whether to let Syrian President Bashar Assad back into the Arab fold.
For Tunisia, the most burning issue is bringing stability to neighboring Libya.
Tunisia and Libya used to have $2 billion in bilateral trade, but that has plunged in the lawless chaos that has reigned in Libya since a 2011 NATO-led bombing campaign led to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.
Tunisia, which has taken Libyans fleeing years of unrest, has hosted repeated diplomatic meetings on Libya and will hold another one Friday with officials from the U.N., African Union, European Union and Arab League.
The summit comes at a welcome time for Tunisia, which is in need of an economic and morale boost.
Tunisian protesters unleashed the 2011 Arab Spring and it’s the only country that emerged from the uprisings with a new democracy, but political infighting and a string of extremist attacks in 2015 have hurt the small Mediterranean country’s economy.
While many members of the Arab League are in disputes with each other, Tunisia has managed to maintain good relations with countries around the region, and could play the role of inter-Arab mediator, said former Tunisian foreign minister Ahmed Ounais.
Tunisia “can be the winner, especially if it manages to advance the political process in Libya,” he told The Associated Press.
Tunisia is also hoping the summit brings new investment, notably from Saudi Arabia. Saudi King Salman appears to be the star visitor, and a huge banner near the Tunis-Carthage airport wishes him a welcome, calling him “Salman the Benefactor.”