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France Strengthens Support for Tunisia in the Face of Islamist Threats

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France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault flies to Tunisia on Thursday to reinforce security and economic ties as the North African country faces the threat of Islamic militancy spilling over the border from Libya.

Paris provides Tunis with a security package that includes intelligence and $22 million for equipping special forces, according to Reuters. It has also pledged a $1.1 billion aid package over five years to enrich Tunisia’s poorest areas and promote job creation.

“Five years after the revolution, Tunisia has succeeded in its democratic transition but remains confronted by major economic, social and security challenges,” French President François Hollande’s office said following the January aid announcement, according to Agence France-Presse.

Tunisia, a former French colony, is considered a relative success story of the Arab Spring. It adopted a new constitution and held elections after autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011. But, Reuters reports, the young democracy’s progress is threatened by Libya’s turmoil, where the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has expanded since Colonel Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed.

Militants have launched a series of attacks in Tunisia, from the massacre at the National Bardo Museum last year, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, to the March 7 assault on the border town of Ben Guerdane that killed at least 53 people.

“The attacks in Ben Guerdane show more than ever why we need to support the Tunisians,” a senior French diplomat said, according to Reuters. “There are few countries in the region to be reasonably optimistic about.”

To help maintain security, Tunisia’s ambassador to the U.S., Fayçal Gouia, said he hoped Washington would reconsider cutting its military funding for Tunisia, according to a recent interview with al-Monitor. A proposed $140 million aid package for 2017 favors economic support over security assistance.

“Terrorism and challenges of all sorts that threaten Tunisia’s stability and security must be taken into account,” Gouia said.


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Write to Mark Rivett-Carnac at mark.rivett-carnac@timeasia.com