Syria’s chief diplomat is on a three-day official visit to Tunisia meant to restore diplomatic relations that have been cut off since 2012 during the civil war that followed President Bashar Assad’s brutal crackdown on mass protests against his rule.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad had a meeting with Tunisian counterpart Nabil Ammar shortly after his arrival on Monday evening. No details were disclosed about the talks and Mikdad’s schedule for Tuesday or Wednesday.
The move is a glaring example of how things have changed in the region over the past decade: Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements that spread as far as Syria in 2011, and was long among Assad’s strongest critics. But today, Tunisia’s leadership is swinging back toward authoritarianism, and is allying anew with Assad’s Syria.
Earlier this month, Tunisian President Kais Saied ordered the appointment of an ambassador to the Syrian capital, Damascus. It followed the decision of the Syrian government to reopen its embassy in Tunis and appoint an ambassador.
In February, Saied had announced his decision to raise the level of Tunisian diplomatic representation in Damascus, while stressing that the crisis facing Assad's government was “an internal matter that concerns only the Syrian people." The move was made at the same time Tunisia was sending urgent humanitarian aid to Syria following the earthquake that killed tens of thousands in the country and neighboring Turkey.
Mikdad's visit to Tunisia is the second leg of a trip that began in Algeria, one of the few Arab countries that maintained diplomatic relations during Syria's civil war.
It comes as influential Tunisian Islamist leader Rached Ghannouchi was detained after a police search, according to his lawyer, in a move denounced by his supporters as a stepped-up effort by the president to quash Tunisia’s opposition. Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahdha party, is the most prominent critic of Saied.
Syria was widely shunned by Arab governments over Assad’s brutal crackdown on protesters in 2011. The breakdown in relations culminated in Syria being ousted from the Arab League.
However, in recent years, as Assad consolidated control over most of the country, Syria’s neighbors have begun to take steps toward rapprochement.