From a Special Correspondent
The Prime Minister is going to Rome in January. It is safe to prophesy that he will not confine himself to Anglo-Italian problems but will also discuss the differences between Italy and France.
One of the chief differences is over the question of Tunis. Are the sudden Italian shouts for Tunis a mere political manoeuvre to strengthen the Duce's demand for something else, or is there in fact an Italian case?
Below, a Special Correspondent in Tunis presents the facts.
The recent demands voiced by the Italian deputies for the cession by France of " Tunis, Corsica, Nice," may or may not have been a ""spontaneous" demonstration; but there can be no doubt that they echoed the sentiments not only of the Duce himself but of the majority of the Italian people.
For Italy has never forgiven France for dispatching a secret expedition from Algeria in 1881, under the pretext of chastising recalcitrant Krouse:is tribes on the North-West frontier of the Regency, as the result of which the Bey of Tunis was compelled to accept a French Protectorate, and all Tunisia was brought fully under French control.
This was done at a time when the Italian population in the country was far in excess of the French settlers.
" Free Hand " Allowed by Us
And the fact that Lord Salisbury at the Congress of Berlin in 1878 agreed to allow France a " free hand " in Tunisia in return for French acquiescence in the lease of Cyprus, is likely to weigh very little in the mind of the Duce if he decides to make a formal claim to the ancient Roman province of " Africa" (which ultimately gave its name to the whole continent) and the former granary of the Roman Empire.
The fact, however, that is sure to weigh with such a shrewd realist as Sr. Mussolini is that France has now considerably reinforced the defences of Tunisia facing the western frontier from the sea to Ghadames, to such effect indeed that it is now known as the Tunisian " Maginot Line."
A point that makes Tunisia of unique interest from a Catholic point of view is that it was here that Christian Latin literature took its rise, for to this part of North Africa belong the names of Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Arnobises and Lactantius, and above all of the great St. Augustine, of Hippo.
" Hippo," the small station which I remember passing through on a railway journey from Algiers, is now little more than a hamlet of whitewashed Arab houses and scattered villas occupied by French officials.
The Strategic Reason There is, it is clear, an important strategic reason behind the Italian claim for Tunisia, which occupies 49,000 square miles, £1,500 of which are desert, for it is half-way between the Straits of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, and forms with Sicily the nature/ barrier between the Eastern and the Western Mediterranean.
Its situation, to which the ancient kingdom of Carthage owed its greatness, together with the possession of nearly 900 miles of coastline, gives Tunisia special economic and political importance to-day, and provides, it is safe to say, as strong an incentive to the acquisitive dreams of the new Italy as the prospect of taking back into the FaSeist fold the 89,000 Italian residents.