Turkey establishes cooperation council with Tunisia

Ankara aims to increase regional influence with Tunis agreement, in light of turmoil and emergence of Islamist governments.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Turkey and Tunisia signed an agreement on Tuesday to establish a high-level strategic cooperation council based in Ankara.
The agreement was signed during a press conference between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Tunisian counterpart Hamadi Jebali, as reported by the Journal of Turkish Weekly website.
Erdogan stated that the council would hold its first meeting this coming March in Tunisia.
This move contributes to the strategy of the AKP Islamist government in Turkey, which is seeking regional leadership, particularly by allying itself with like-minded Islamist Sunni governments and movements in the area.
Erdogan mentioned his support for the Tunisian revolution and its new foreign affairs policy in the Arab world. The Tunisian prime minister mentioned the growing ties between the two countries and that they had never been at such a high level in the past.
“We should establish a power of balance, a new civilization,” Jebali stated, thanking Turkey for its support during the revolution.
The Turkish Weekly reported that he also thanked Turkey for its financial support by raising a $500 million fund, including $100m. in direct aid.
Jebali also hailed the increase in Turkish foreign investment in Tunisia and even announced that his country would begin teaching Turkish in its schools next year.
“Both sides wish to establish strategic relations and there is great will in this matter,” he noted.
In Jebali’s meeting with Turkish parliament speaker Cemil Çiçek, the speaker stated, “We do hope that all other Muslim brotherly countries reach similar success. There have been times in Turkey when democracy was suspended for [a while].”
He added that Turkey did not view the region simply according to the location of its oil wells, as “what is important for us is your brotherhood.”
The agreement follows previous cooperation between the two countries.
The Magharebia website reported that the two governments held a youth exchange program in Istanbul in November with 50 politically active youth from Tunisia meeting their Turkish counterparts. The Tunisian youth were there “to learn how to help their country’s democratic transition... Turkey is actively engaging its neighbors on a variety of levels to deepen the relationships between countries,” the site noted.
The exchange program was part of the AKP government’s Middle East Youth Project, which according to Nurettin Alhan, one of the hosts of the Tunisian event, is meant to “bring together young people from many countries to develop democracy.”
Similar programs were already held with youths from Egypt and Libya, and an event is planned with youth from Yemen in 2013.