Kerry in surprise Tunisia visit as US-Egypt ties fray

 19 Feb 2014 - 5:09


US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Tunisian Caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa at the President’s residence in Tunis yesterday. 

TUNIS: US Secretary of State John Kerry made a brief, unannounced trip to Tunisia yesterday to back the transition to democracy in the North African country that spawned the Arab Spring.
His visit came amid troubled relations between the United States and longtime ally Egypt over the military overthrow of the Islamist government elected there in the aftermath of the 2011 uprisings that shook the Arab world.
Tunisia’s agreement earlier this year on a consensus government and a new constitution three years after the ouster of veteran dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been hailed as a model by Western governments uncomfortable about events in Egypt.
Kerry met President Moncef Marzouki and caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, who formed a cabinet of independents in January after a months-long political crisis ignited by the assassination of two secular politicians.
“We are very impressed by the steps that you have been taking, by the rational, thoughtful approach to the transition,” Kerry told Marzouki.
He congratulated Tunisia on its adoption last month of a new constitution that has been widely hailed as the most progressive in the region, calling it a “big step,” and said he looked forward to elections planned for later this year.
Before boarding the plane for France, his next stop, Kerry said the visit was intended to show Tunisians “that there are many, many countries and many people in the world who admire what people have been engaged in here.”
The top US diplomat often refers in his speeches to the Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself alight in protest at his country’s lack of democracy.
The shocking self-immolation sparked the January 2011 revolution that toppled Ben Ali and ignited the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.
“What is unique, or at least striking in particular about Tunisia, is the willingness of opposing sides to reach out and show some inclusiveness and cooperation,” a senior US official said, asking not to be named.
Tunisia’s new leaders have grappled with a surge in Islamist unrest, which saw the murder of two opposition politicians, Chokri Belaid and leftist MP Mohamed Brahmi.