The deep-rooted and distinguished brotherly relations between Tunisia and Kuwait began immediately after Kuwait’s independence in 1961, said His Excellency Noureddine Erray, Ambassador of the Republic of Tunisia to the State of Kuwait.
The ambassador who was speaking during an exclusive interview with The Times, revealed that the two countries, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations in 2012, have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship throughout their independent history. “Except for a brief disquiet in early 1990s, Tunisia and Kuwait have held similar viewpoints on many issues and voiced their mutual interests at regional and international forums,” added the ambassador.
In answer to our comment on him looking remarkably young for an ambassador, His Excellency said this was one of the benefits of the recent revolution in his country. It was only after the uprising that many young, talented people in civil services began to receive recognition based on their merit; up until then, most diplomatic postings were political appointees, noted the envoy. Giving us a brief glimpse into his young professional career, the diplomat narrated that in 2001, following a stint at the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, he joined the prestigious French National School of Administration (ENA) in Paris, and graduated two years later with a higher diploma in Public Administration.
“My first posting abroad came in 2003, when I was appointed as Counselor at our embassy in Serbia. After four years in Belgrade, I returned to Tunis and in 2010, was assigned to Morocco as Deputy Head of Mission at our embassy there. In 2013, I was appointed as Ambassador to Kuwait and presented my credentials to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah in November last year, ” said the envoy.
Within the brief three months he has been in the country, the ambassador is already a popular figure at social and diplomatic gatherings, and a well-known face at many of the local ‘diwaniyas’. “Everywhere I go in Kuwait, I am amazed at the enormous support and admiration that the new Tunisia receives, both from the government and ordinary Kuwaitis.
There is a lot of eagerness to know about our unique transition from autocracy to democracy, the hallmark of which has been finding mutually acceptable solutions through dialogue and compromises. There is also a lot of interest on our new constitution, which was overwhelmingly voted into adoption by the Constituent Assembly on 26 January of this year.”
The ambassador elaborated by adding, “Since 2011, when the Tunisian revolution began to sweep across the nation, we have been going through a difficult and often painful period of transition, which was marked by security concerns and social and economic upheavals.
Today, Tunisia has nursed its fledgling democracy to strength, and consolidated it further with the signing into law of the country’s new constitution. The constitution, which is a significant charter in the entire Arab world, was drafted with the active participation and contribution from people representing different sectors of society.”
“The constitution is a framework for a modern, democratic Tunisia that specifies the organization of government and its relations with citizens; it enshrines the freedom and liberty of its people, and calls for separation of powers among the state’s different authorities.
The charter safeguards the rights of women, gives more priority to young people in state organizations and devolves more powers to the different regions of the state. It unifies the country as a cohesive entity, marrying Tunisia’s traditional Arabic and Islamic identity with a free and open society, which respects freedom of expression and refutes all forms of extremism.”
Saying that he was proud to represent Tunisia in Kuwait, the ambassador added that the existing strong ties are further boosted through regular visits by high-ranking dignitaries from both countries.
“His Highness the Amir’s visit to Tunisia in 2010 depicted the depth of cordial relations between the people and leadership of the two countries, and helped to strengthen political, economic, social and cultural relations between the two countries. Similarly, in April 2012, the newly elected Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki visited Kuwait and held wide ranging discussions with His Highness the Amir, which underscored their shared commitment to consultation and coordination on issues of mutual interest.”
In January 2013, Kuwait’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah was in Tunis to represent His Highness the Amir at celebrations marking the 2nd anniversary of the Tunisian uprising.
During the visit, the minister met and held discussions with his counterpart Rafeeq Abdussalam, as well as with the President and with Prime Minister Hamadi Jabali, on improving bilateral relations and boosting cooperation in various domains.
The envoy added, “We are honored to welcome His Highness Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, on his current visit to participate in celebrations marking the signing into law of the new constitution. We also look forward to the visit by the Speaker of Kuwaiti Parliament to Tunisia in a few days time.”
Pointing out that Kuwait’s public-sector investments have assisted Tunisian economy since the early 1960s, the envoy added, “Kuwait was one of the first Arab countries to invest in Tunisia and is currently the second-largest Arab investor after Saudi Arabia.” From the first loan of US$ 2 million made in 1963 to the recent $25 million loan signed in 2013, for development of gas distribution to various municipalities, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development has been providing several hundred million dollars in soft loans and assistance to development projects across Tunisia. Likewise, other joint government institutions such as Tunisia-Kuwait Development Bank and the Kuwaiti-Tunisian Investment Group, which owns several tourism facilities in Tunisia, have been active in Tunisia for many decades.
While praising bilateral cooperation on the government level, the ambassador noted that this did not parallel investment and bilateral trade from the private-sector. “I would like to encourage Kuwaiti business people and investors to explore the immense potential of Tunisian economy and to examine the possibilities of establishing partnerships with their Tunisian counterparts. As an export-oriented country with a diverse economy ranging from agriculture and mining to petroleum products, manufacturing and tourism, we offer lucrative investment opportunities.”
The diplomat continued, “Tunisia has always had a thriving agricultural sector and was once referred to as the ‘Granary of the Roman Empire’. Our agricultural products, including oranges, olives, dates and vegetables are noted for their quality and variety. Moreover, our close proximity to mainland Europe means that over 80 percent of our exports, especially agriculture products, textiles and leather goods, are usually bound for European markets.”
Detailing the new investment and business climate in Tunisia and the enactment of investor-friendly laws that conform to global standards, the envoy said, “There are more than 2,000 foreign companies operating in Tunisia, and many that left during the years of turmoil are now starting to come back, mainly because of changed business environment and the availability of a large pool of educated, technically-qualified and experienced Tunisian personnel.”
Tourism is another sector that could be attractive, both as an investment option and a tourist destination, for Kuwaitis, noted Ambassador Erray. “From its vast barren deserts landscapes, which attracted George Lucas to shoot several episodes of his Star Wars series there, to its 1,300 km of pristine beaches on the Mediterranean; from its distinctively rich cultural life and historical attractions that date back to centuries of interaction with different civilizations, Tunisia is a one-of-kind tourism destination. Last year more than 7 million travelers visited Tunisia and we plan on increasing this number to match our national population of 11.5 million in a few years time.”
In conclusion, Ambassador Erray reiterated his pleasure to be in the country, “Kuwait is distinctive in its emphasis on humaneness in interactions with other nations. This has been highlighted on numerous occasions such as natural disasters around the world, in granting aid to developing countries in Africa and Asia, and most recently in its generous contributions to alleviating suffering among Syrian people caught up in the ongoing conflict.”
He added, “I would like to extend my heartiest congratulations to the leadership, government and people of Kuwait on upcoming celebrations to mark the 53rd anniversary of Independence, the 23rd anniversary of Liberation and the 8th anniversary of ascension of His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah as Amir of the State of Kuwait.