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Westerwelle promotes democracy in Tunisia

As the situation in Egypt remains unstable, fears of a domino-effect are growing. The Islamist government in Tunis is under pressure. Germany says it wants to support democracy in Tunisia with a development partnership.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki (r), and Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (FDP) at the Presidential Palace in Tunis, 14.08.2013. (Photo: Michael Gottschalk/dpa)

Westerwelle Besuch Tunesien Moncef Marzouki

Among friends, visits occur not only when things are going well, but particularly when they are not so great, Guido Westerwelle said at the end of his two-day trip to Tunisia. The German foreign minister's visit came during an ongoing political crisis in Tunisia.

Westerwelle left talks with members of the Tunisian government, opposition politicians and the trade union carefully optimistic. Even though he wasn't on an official arbitration mission, he still tried to have a "constructive influence on all parties and also make proper suggestions," Westerwelle said.

Ennahda head Rached al-Ghannouchi at a press conference (Photo: Sarah Mersch)

Ennahda head al-Ghannouchi: afraid of an Egypt situation

After all, the talks in Tunis about a way out of the crisis have been going around in circles for days. The government parties continue to reject calls to dissolve of the constitutional assembly and the government won't resign. At the same time, the opposition will not budge their demand that an independent technocrat-government lead the country to new elections as soon as possible. Even arbitration attempts by the influential trade union association UGTT, which has more than half a million members, didn't produce any tangible results.

Supporting the process of democratization

"It's important that the work of the constitutional assembly, the work of democratization, is continued," Westerwelle said. He added that Germany wanted to support the democratization process, but without taking sides. All parties should move closer together and work for a consensus, Westerwelle said without revealing details about the talks.

While the German foreign minister met with two opposition parties of the liberal center during his visit, the Popular Front was not among them - just like during Westerwelle's visit in March. According to local polls, the Popular Front is the third strongest political party in Tunisia. Chokri Belaid, who was killed in February, and Mohamed Brahmi, who was killed July 25, were both members of the Popular Front. The party coalition is an especially strong advocator for a political new beginning in Tunisia.

Anti-government protesters wave flags and shout slogans during a demonstration in Tunis August 13, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi)

Thousands of people regularly take to the streets to protest against the Tunisian government

"No second Egypt"

Tunisia mustn't turn into a second Egypt, Westerwelle said. The situation there is observed warily in Tunisia. All political groups adamantly condemn the violence in Cairo, but the Islamist Ennahda party is especially worried. Members of the country's biggest party fear that the attacks against the Muslim Brotherhood could also endanger the Tunisian government.

Party leader Rached al-Ghannouchi asked Tunisians to learn from the events in Egypt and opt for consensus. "That's the only way we can prevent a Tunisian Sisi from gaining power," he said at a press conference in Tunis, referring to the commander-in-chief of the Egyptian military, who is currently pulling the strings in Cairo.

German interest in stability

Tunisia's Prime Minister Ali Larayedh (R) shakes hands with German Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Westerwelle in Tunis, August 15, 2013. (Photo: REUTERS/ Zoubeir Souissi)

Westerwelle and Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh want to continue their close cooperation

Al-Ghannouchi said the government was open for talks and the inclusion of more parties, but he rejected the idea of establishing an independent expert-led government. He added that Tunisia needed to continue down the path that was chosen with the election of the constitution commission. Al-Ghannouchi explained that elections could be held in his country before the end of the year. However, national and international observers have said that timeline is unrealistic because there is currently neither a valid election law, nor an independent authority who could organize the vote.

Germany has been one of Tunisia's most important trading partners for years, and thus has a vested interest in economical and political stability in the small Mediterranean country. Ever since the revolution in January 2011, Berlin has financed more than 100 development projects in Tunisia under the umbrella of the so-called "Transformation Partnership."

Germany wants to support the security realm in Tunisia as well. Help would be sent to aid Tunisian forces with mine removal, Westerwelle said. Over the last months, anti-person-mines planted by terrorists had repeatedly killed Tunisian soldiers.

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