Central European Time Zone UTC+01:00
Capital City Tunis
Currency Tunisian dinar
National Day 20 Mar
Tunisia’s new Ambassador His Excellency Nabil Ben Khedher is genuinely thrilled by the experience of presenting his credentials. “To be received by Her Majesty The Queen and have a genuine discussion was wonderful. I’m proud to be in London to serve the friendship and cooperation between Tunisia and the UK,” he remarks.
Mr Ben Khedher returns to the UK 14 years after he was posted at the Embassy as Economic Counsellor (1999-2004). Arriving last September, his wife and two daughters have since joined him, and they are “enjoying life as a family here.” He’s observed that although the political landscape has changed, “the diplomatic community is still as vibrant and active as ever. I’m lucky that I know from past experience how things function here. It’s so dynamic, it’s a certainty that we’ll never get bored!” Indeed, in his leisure time Mr Ben Khedher likes to play competitive tennis, and is passionate about blues and jazz.
Growing up, Mr Ben Khedher travelled with his father who worked for an international organisation, an experience he believes influenced his decision to pursue a diplomatic career. After joining the Foreign Service in 1994, Mr Ben Khedher had the opportunity to study at Oxford University for a year, his first introduction to the UK. Shortly after came his five years at the Embassy in London, and then positions in the MFA as Deputy Director for Latin America and Deputy Director for Japan and East Asia. He was then posted to Brussels as Counsellor and then Minister Plenipotentiary. “The EU is the most important partner for Tunisia,” he comments.
Back in Tunis, Mr Ben Khedher was appointed at the Diplomatic Department of the Presidency of the Republic as Attaché and then Advisor to the President of the Republic in charge of diplomatic affairs (2015-2017). Responsibilities included preparing for the President’s international visits and vice-versa when Heads of State visited Tunisia.
Of his time at the Presidency of the Republic, he says “It has been a privilege and hugely rewarding to work with the President, who according to the new Constitution of Tunisia is the person responsible for foreign policy and liaising with the Foreign Minister, the person responsible for implementing it.” He happened to know the Foreign Minister well, as he was the Ambassador here when he worked in London. It proved to be “an excellent working relationship during a period marked by an intense diplomatic activity. The President is a former Ambassador and Foreign Minister, with an astonishing and acute knowledge of international affairs.” He continues: “It was an exciting experience for me, and the overview of so many foreign policy issues also helps me now I am Ambassador,” he remarks.
Since Mr Ben Khedher’s arrival in the UK, he’s observed a great deal more interest in Tunisia from Britain than his last posting. “We put this down to the fact that Tunisia is going through a unique democratic transition in a difficult regional context. We are grateful that the British are willing to accompany us on this challenging journey to consolidate democracy.”
He says there’s still much work to be done between the UK and Tunisia. “We have a good dynamic, and in the coming months we will try to expand cooperation into new areas like transport, health and defence. We also need to cooperate more in the face of our common challenge of terrorism and security.” Following on from “the tragic events that took place in Tunisia in 2015,” he says he is hopeful that 2018 will be the year in which British visitors return to his country. “The FCO has lifted restrictions on travel to Tunisia and two large tour operators resume flights from the UK to Tunisia this year.”
Of course, Mr Ben Khedher will be following the Brexit negotiations quite carefully, “as these may impact our bilateral relations. But we are ultimately hopeful that there might be opportunities to have an even better trading relationship with Britain.”
What does he think is Tunisia’s greatest diplomatic challenge? “Following the 2011 revolution, we’re in the process of implementing a series of major reforms and completing the set-up of various constitutional institutions. Young people are impatient for jobs and better living conditions. Our challenge is to get our closest friends and partners like Britain to understand that the process is complicated and will take time. The success of Tunisia’s democratic experience will have tremendous impact on our region, so that’s quite a responsibility. I know with the understanding and support of our partners, we will get there.”