New Ambassador of Tunisia His Excellency Mr Yassine El Oued recalls a love for reading newspapers in different languages from a young age. “We had a family tradition of reading and talking about international issues, and so as soon as I was old enough, I used to buy many newspapers. This piqued my interest in foreign affairs early on and must have later influenced my choice of career.”
The Ambassador arrived in the capital in late August last summer, along with his wife, Soumaya. He returns to London for his second posting here; the first was dealing with press and politics between 2005 and 2010, graduating to become Deputy Chief of Mission.
He observes: “London is a big, vibrant capital and so many countries have embassies and high commissions here. As a diplomat, it is a great place to live. I am delighted to be back. However,” he continues, “now I return as an Ambassador, I have further responsibilities and new challenges to overcome. My role not only deals with diplomatic matters, but I must manage the Embassy team and take care of them. Also, the number of Tunisians in the UK has doubled since my last posting, from 10,000 or so to over 20,000, it is important to take care of the Tunisian community and to be in close touch with them.”
The Ambassador began his career as an Administrator in the Ministry of Public Health, but soon he had an opportunity to take the various examinations to enter the diplomatic corps. “Entering the Foreign Ministry for the first time in 1991 was certainly one of the most memorable moments of my career,” he recalls.
After gradually climbing the career ladder with various postings in capital and around the world, his first Head of Mission appointment came in 2013 as Tunisia’s Ambassador to the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire, also covering Togo and Benin.“Côte d’Ivoire is a brotherly country with whom we have good relations, so this was a positive experience. When I arrived, Côte d’Ivoire was starting to accelerate its growth and economic expansion, so it was a good opportunity. There was lots of economic activity, and we exchanged many high-level political and economic delegations. Many Tunisian companies were keen to come and work in Côte d’Ivoire, so we doubled that number and some more. We increased the presence of Tunisian companies in infrastructure, IT, health and education.”
Ambassador El Oued then became Director of Multilateral Cooperation in the General Directorate of Africa in the Foreign Ministry (2016-20). Here, he oversaw Tunisia’s relations with the African Union, “which was a big job as Tunisia is one of its founding members. Tunisia is also part of Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and various other regional organisations, so we participated in their activities too.” The Ambassador also contributed to the preparation of Tunisia’s participation in the Ministerial Conferences of the Francophonie that took place in Paris in 2017 and Yerevan in 2018.
“Tunisia had the honour of organising the summit in 2020, but this was postponed due to COVID.” He was delighted, however, when the 18th Summit of the International Organisation of Francophonie took place in Djerba in November 2022. “This was the first time the event had taken place in Tunisia, and it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the organisation.”
Prior to coming to London last year, Ambassador El Oued was his country’s Head of Mission in Malta. “As our neighbour, Malta has close geographical proximity to Tunisia and historical links, and the language is very similar, so we have good relations and many exchanges on different levels. Malta and Tunisia naturally feel very close, and there is a special affection between them.” He admits, “we tried our best to boost economic ties. But the pandemic had started a few months ahead of my posting, which meant most of the meetings had to be held via video conference calls. Nevertheless, the Maltese were friendly and happy to cooperate. Once lockdown was over, we had many meetings with officials at the highest level, plus exchanges of visits and we organised the Tunisia-Malta Business Forum in May 2022, with over 50 businesses from Tunisia participating. I left feeling there were good prospects for the future.”
Now Ambassador in London, he notes, “For us, the UK is an important partner, and we have many levels of cooperation between us.” He considers the huge shift that has taken place since his last posting here: “the UK has left the European Union, but there lies an opportunity. There are excellent relations between Tunisia and the UK in general, but we would like to further increase and consolidate them, including expanding economic contacts and joint ventures between the two countries.
“To implement this, we signed the 2019 Association Agreement, and the first meeting of the association council at the level of ministers took place in 2021. We recently had the second association council meeting in London, headed up by Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Migration and Tunisians Abroad, Nabil Ammar, who met with his counterpart at the time, James Cleverly. The aim was to further enhance relations in fields of economy, education, tourism and energy, as well as many others. We’d also like to have more British tourists in Tunisia – this will help keep up the good spirit between the two countries.” He considers that while the size of the Tunisian community in the UK is increasing, “I would like to improve our services and be more in touch with them. We have a lot of talent in this community, which can help contribute to Tunisia’s economic development and its relations with the UK.”
Climate change is also an issue close to Tunisia’s heart. The Ambassador explained how in ministerial consultations held in September in New York, the Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Migration and Tunisians abroad “highlighted that compensation is a pivotal issue for developing countries to achieve climate resistance. We call for the loss and damage fund to be activated.”
Ambassador El Oued considers his country’s future. “Tunisia likes to have excellent relations and have consultations on international issues with all countries with which we have diplomatic relations. In that regard, he highlights that “the Palestinian cause is currently one of the most important issues that we support. Tunisia calls on the international community to stop the aggression against the Palestinians and enable Palestinian people to restore their rights and establish their independent state. We condemn what is happening.”