The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has arrived in Tunisia for talks with the new interim government after last months’ overthrow of long-standing president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
His arrival kicks off a three-day tour to five countries in North Africa and the Middle East, in which he will call for “greater political openness and economic development,” according to the UK Foreign Office.
Hague broke with security protocol and made his visit public via Twitter. “Heading to Tunisia to meet the new interim government & show UK support for the people of Tunisia & their democratic hopes,” read his tweet. The four other countries on the itinerary have not been revealed but Egypt is not among them; a spokesman said it was “the wrong time to go to Egypt given the talks between the government and opposition parties and the importance of not interfering.”
The ousting of President Ben Ali has triggered demonstrations across the region, most notably in Egypt but also in Algeria, Yemen and Jordan and western countries’ strategy regarding the Middle East and North Africa is in need of review.
Hague will announce new UK funding for Arab countries, including in Tunisia which is designed to promote reforms in the areas of justice, freedom of expression, democratic institutions and civil society.
Separately, the European Commission says Tunisia has asked the EU for a short-term assistance programme to help it through its transition to democracy. Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule made the announcement on Tuesday, adding that a similar project may be undertaken for Egypt.
Calm has largely been restored to Tunisia since Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia last month but the security situation remains delicate. At least five people have been killed in the last four days and gunshots were fired in the capital Tunis on Tuesday.