Archive for October 5, 2013


September 29, 2013

The Al Nahda-led government is to hand over power to an independent caretaker government.

Tunis: Tunisia’s governing Islamist party, Al Nahda, thrust into power by the Arab Spring, has agreed to step down after months of political wrangling with a hard-bargaining opposition.

In three weeks, the Al Nahda-led government is to hand over power to an independent caretaker government that will lead the country through elections in the spring. The deal comes as part of negotiations to restart Tunisia’s democratic transition after secular opposition groups, protesting the assassinations of two of their politicians, stalled work on a new constitution and an election law this summer.

The two sides will enter discussions this week mediated by the Tunisian General Labor Union, the nation’s largest. Its deputy secretary-general, Bu Ali Mbarki, announced Al Nahda’s acceptance of the plan on Saturday.

The move comes less than three months after the Islamist government of President Mohammad Mursi of Egypt, also elected during the Arab Spring uprisings, was ousted by the military. Al Nahda officials have repeatedly made statements in recent weeks signaling the party’s readiness to resign as a way to break the political impasse.

The opposition, and the union, have until now pressed for more concrete action. The union has scheduled three weeks for talks on a new government. During that time, the National Constituent Assembly, the body in charge of writing Tunisia’s new constitution, is expected to ratify it and confirm appointments to the election commission, resuming work after a two-month hiatus. After that, Al Nahda’s coalition government will resign.

Political consensus

The assembly, where Al Nahda holds the largest bloc of seats, will remain in place to serve as a check on the new government. Al Nahda decided to step down despite resistance from some of its members, saying Tunisia’s transition to democracy, which began after the president was toppled nearly two years ago, could succeed only with full political consensus.

Party members have criticized their leaders as having given away too much, Rafik Abdul Salam, the former foreign minister, said at a news conference on Monday. “It is being described as the party of concessions,” he said. “We are not ashamed of these concessions, because they are needed by Tunisia and to secure our democratic experience so that Tunisia can reach a safe shore.”

In fact, the country is so polarized, and opposition from leftist and secular parties, including the labor union, has been so dogged, that Al Nahda leaders acknowledge that they are better off having a neutral government that is accepted by all sides to run the elections.

Al Nahda was the largest winner in elections in October 2011, promising a model government that would blend Islamist principles with pluralism. But it has since lost popularity amid economic decline and a growing threat from terrorism. Tunisia has avoided the open violence of Egypt and Libya in its democratic transition since it began the Arab Spring with a popular uprising against President Zine Al Abidine Bin Ali in 2011.

Opposition parties have run a campaign of walkouts, sit-ins and evening rallies since the two assassinations to force the government to resign. Al Nahda countered with its own rallies, using supporters for speeches, music and fireworks. With neither side strong enough to defeat the other, the Islamists and their opponents have ended up coming to the negotiating table. Yet Al Nahda’s nearly two-year journey in government has been one of steady concessions and backing down. It has also been a sharp lesson for the Islamists: Their party has been most weakened by extremist Islamists linked to Al Qaida.

On the retreat

Since the assassination of a prominent leftist politician, Chokri Belaid, in February, which brought accusations that it was soft or even in cahoots with Islamist terrorists, Al Nahda has steadily been on the retreat. After the assassination, Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned, saying the government had “disappointed” Tunisians with squabbling instead of leadership.

Jebali was the first to suggest handing power to a government of technocrats. Al Nahda opted for a reshuffle but appointed independent non-party figures to critical posts, including the ministries of interior and justice.

Then, in July, another opposition politician, Mohammad Brahmi, was assassinated in broad daylight in front of his family, bringing another wave of protests against the Al Nahda government, even though the government this time quickly identified the culprits as an extremist Islamic cell linked to Al Qaida, and blamed it for the Belaid assassination as well.

Finally, the ouster of Mursi — allied with the Muslim Brotherhood — encouraged the Tunisian opposition to try to oust the government. Al Nahda responded with further concessions, dropping all of its outstanding constitutional demands, including an article stating that Islam was the religion of the state and another that would have prevented a key rival, former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, from running for president.

Working out the details of the agreement remains difficult. Distrust runs high, and as the end of the transition period nears, the political parties have entered a hard-nosed power struggle.

“From 2011, we moved to another agenda, from the demands for a transitional democracy to a real struggle for power,” Abdul Basset Bin Hassen, head of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, said. “Because of the change, we have this tension and a lot of frustration.”

Source: Gulf News.

Link: http://gulfnews.com/news/region/tunisia/tunisia-government-agrees-to-step-down-1.1236734.

Advertisements

2013-07-29

TUNIS – A party in Tunisia’s ruling Islamist-led coalition demanded a unity government on Monday to defuse a deepening political crisis, hours after the army sealed a square in the capital where protesters had clashed.

Tensions have been mounting over opposition efforts to oust the government following last week’s assassination of a leftist politician, the second such killing in six months.

Soldiers blocked off the central Bardo square in Tunis, declaring it a “closed military zone” after pro- and anti-government protesters threw rocks at each other.

The Ettakatol party called for the coalition led by the Islamist Ennahda party to step down.

“We have called for the dissolution of the government in favor of a unity government that would represent the broadest form of consensus,” Lobni Jribi, a party leader, said.

“If Ennahda refuses this proposal, we will withdraw from the government.”

The threat by one of its own allies will ratchet up pressure on Ennahda, which has resisted opposition demands for the government’s fall, and could encourage further defections.

Education Minister Salem Labyedh, an independent, has offered his resignation to the prime minister, local media said.

Tunisians fear they may be plunging into one of the worst crises in their political transition since autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was forced to flee by a 2011 uprising that sparked protests across the Arab world.

Security forces sealed Bardo square, located outside the transitional Constituent Assembly, with barbed wire and fencing.

The opposition, emboldened by the Egyptian army’s ousting of an Islamist president this month, is now rejecting all concessions and reconciliation efforts by the government.

It has called for the 217-member Constituent Assembly to be dissolved. In the last few days, 70 lawmakers have left the body and to set up a sit-in protest outside its headquarters.

In the southern city of Sidi Bouzid, angry protesters tried to storm municipal offices to stop employees from going to work, residents said, sparking clashes with Ennahda supporters.

The army intervened to protect the offices and police fired tear gas, but residents said thousands of demonstrators were gathering in the southern city.

Opposition leaders say they might set up a rival “salvation government”, an idea they will discuss later on Monday.

Spokesman for Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, Noureddine Bhiri, said opposition protests were tantamount to calling for “destruction of the state” at a moment when the government was trying to deal with the aftermath of the assassinations.

Bhiri challenged the opposition call for a new government, saying it had offered no vision for running the country.

“What are the alternatives that they want after dissolving the government? There is nothing but violence and destruction. We need to stay united to pass this phase and end terrorism.”

Larayedh, who met the president and commanders of national security forces, was to address the nation later in the day.

France called for restraint and said it was worried by recent events. It urged the Tunisian authorities “to see this transition through to the end, in a spirit of dialogue and respect for the roadmap”.

In Bardo square, opposition sources said security forces had beaten one of the lawmakers who had quit the Constituent Assembly. He was taken to hospital.

“The prime minister will be held accountable for any drop of blood spilled in the Bardo sit-in,” opposition figure Manji Rahawi said.

Both rival protest groups have vowed to return to Bardo despite the army takeover of the square, local media said.

Tunisia’s powerful labor unions also met opposition parties on Monday and were to discuss the option of more strike action. On Friday, a strike to mourn leftist politician, Mohamed Brahmi, who was assassinated last week, paralyzed much of the country.

The government says Brahmi’s assailants used the same weapon that killed another secular leader, Chokri Belaid, on February 6.

Its critics say it has not done enough to investigate or stop the attacks it has blamed on hardline Salafist militants.

Many joining the swelling street protests cite anger with the instability in Tunisia as well as economic stagnation.

Others are frustrated that a constitution, promised one year after the 2011 uprising, has yet to be completed and are suspicious of the Islamist-led transitional government.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60426.

2013-07-29

TUNIS – The Tunisian army blocked off a square where rival protesters had confronted each other in Tunis on Monday, declaring it a “closed military zone” to try to stave off rising unrest.

Tensions have been growing over opposition efforts to oust the Islamist-led government following last week’s assassination of a leftist politician, the second such killing in six months.

After protesters clashed early on Monday in the capital’s central Bardo square, where Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly is located, the army sealed it off with barbed wire and fencing.

In the southern city of Sidi Bouzid, angry protesters tried to storm municipal offices to stop employees from going to work, residents said, sparking clashes with supporters of the Islamist Ennahda party, which leads the transitional government.

The army intervened to protect the offices and police fired tear gas, but residents said thousands of demonstrators were still gathering in the southern city, the cradle of the revolt that overthrew President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.

“Now many of the protesters are coming in carrying batons and it looks like the situation is going to escalate because both sides are standing firm,” one resident, Mahdi al-Hurshani, said by telephone.

Tunisians fear they may be plunging into one of the worst crises in their political transition since Ben Ali was forced to flee by an uprising that inspired unrest across the Arab world.

Opposition leaders say they might set up a rival “salvation government”, an idea they will discuss later on Monday.

The secular opposition, emboldened by the Egyptian army’s ousting of an Islamist president this month, is now rejecting all concessions and reconciliation efforts by the government.

The unrest has erupted just weeks before the transitional Constituent Assembly was set to complete a draft of a new constitution. The opposition now demands that the 217-member body be dissolved. Seventy lawmakers have left it and set up a sit-in outside the Assembly offices in Bardo square.

Islamist-led government gathered for emergency talks on Monday. The government talks had been due to start at 0800 GMT but ministers were late arriving and the meeting had yet to get under way at 1100 GMT, a correspondent reported.

A meeting of the 500,000-member strong General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) that was due to convene in the afternoon “to decide the fate” of the country, was also delayed, its secretary general Sami Tahri said.

“The UGTT will carry out its historic role to defend the right of Tunisians to protest peacefully… and assume its responsibilities vis-a-vis the crisis,” Tahri said, adding that the meeting would start in the evening.

On Friday, the unions shut down much of the country for a strike to mourn the leftist politician, Mohamed Brahmi, who was assassinated last week.

France called for restraint and said it was worried by events in Tunisia, where it was once the colonial power, urging the authorities to ensure an open transition to democracy.

“(France) supports the transition process under way in solidarity with all of the Tunisian people,” said a foreign ministry statement. “It urges the Tunisian authorities to see this transition through to the end, in a spirit of dialogue and respect for the roadmap.”

The army fenced off Bardo square after rival protesters threw rocks at each other and police dispersed them. Opposition sources said security forces beat one of the lawmakers who had quit the Constituent Assembly. He was taken to hospital.

“The prime minister will be held accountable for any drop of blood spilled in the Bardo sit-in,” opposition figure Manji Rahawi said.

Both protest groups vowed to return to Bardo, local media said. Opposition supporters were already gathering nearby, and Ennahda partisans vowed to return following afternoon prayers.

The government says Brahmi’s assailants used the same weapon that killed another secular leader, Chokri Belaid, on February 6.

Its critics say it has not done enough to investigate or stop the attacks it has blamed on hardline Salafist militants.

Many joining the swelling street protests cite anger with the instability in Tunisia as well as economic stagnation.

Others are frustrated that a constitution, promised one year after the 2011 uprising, has yet to be completed and are suspicious of the Islamist-led transitional government.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60418.

2013-07-26

By Hamida Ben Salah – TUNIS

Tunisia faced a general strike Friday after gunmen shot dead a leading opposition figure in a killing that brought thousands of protesters onto the streets and sparked international condemnation.

Tunisia’s national airline Tunisair canceled all flights Friday.

MP Mohamed Brahmi, a father of five, was shot by unknown gunmen outside his home on Thursday in the second such political assassination this year.

The ruling Ennahda party, a moderate Islamist group, denied accusations from his family that it was involved.

Protesters took to the streets Thursday in central Tunis and in Sidi Bouzid, the birthplace of the Arab Spring and Brahmi’s home town.

Police in Tunis fired tear gas to disperse scores of demonstrators who tried to set up a tent for a sit-in calling for the fall of the regime.

The General Union of Tunisian Labor (UGTT) called Friday’s general strike across the country in protest at “terrorism, violence and murders”.

It last called a two-hour general strike on January 14, 2011, the day former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fell.

Brahmi, 58, of the leftist Popular Movement, was killed outside his home in Ariana, near Tunis, Watanya state television and the official TAP news agency reported.

“He was riddled with bullets in front of his wife and children,” Mohsen Nabti, a fellow member of the small movement, said in a tearful account aired on Tunisian radio.

Human Rights Watch said that Brahmi’s son, Adnen, had told its researchers he heard a first and a second gunshot, then several other shots as if from a machine gun.

He had his sister ran out of the house and as they reached their father’s car they saw two men riding off on a motorbike, HRW said in a statement.

The February 6 assassination of Chokri Belaid, another opposition figure, also outside his home, sparked a political crisis in Tunisia and charges of government connivance.

“I accuse Ennahda,” the MP’s sister Chhiba Brahmi said at the family home in Sidi Bouzid. “It was them who killed him,” she said, although she offered no evidence.

“Our family had the feeling that Mohamed would suffer the same fate as Chokri Belaid,” whose family also blamed Ennahda, she added.

Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi rejected the charge in a statement to AFP. Brahmi’s killing was “a catastrophe for Tunisia”, he said.

“Those behind this crime want to lead the country towards civil war and to disrupt the democratic transition.”

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton condemned the killing, adding her voice to calls by UN human rights chief Navi Pillay, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for an investigation into the killing.

The United States condemned the “cowardly” assassination.

‘Down with the Brothers’

Brahmi was elected MP in October 2011 for Sidi Bouzid, birthplace of the revolution earlier that year that toppled Ben Ali.

On July 7, he resigned as general secretary of the Popular Movement, which he founded, saying it had been infiltrated by Islamists.

Following his killing, angry demonstrators took to the streets of Tunis to denounce the ruling Islamists.

Mohamed Maaroufi, a member of a youth committee that organized the protest, told AFP that they would stay in the streets until Ennahda had been forced from government.

In Sidi Bouzid, crowds, referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, chanted “Down with the Brothers, down with the people’s torturers!”

Thousands also protested in nearby Menzel Bouzaine, where Ennahda party offices were set ablaze.

Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, himself an Islamist, told reporters: “I condemn in the strongest terms this odious crime which targets the whole of Tunisia and its security.”

He also called for calm.

“This drama must not be exploited to sow trouble,” he said. “Only minutes after news of the murder was announced, calls were made inciting Tunisians to kill each other.”

President Moncef Marzouki said the killing was aimed at derailing the Arab Spring, and called it a “second national catastrophe” after Belaid’s murder.

President Francois Hollande of France, the former colonial power, called on the country to unite.

But he also called for “light to be shed as quickly as possible” on the murders of Brahmi and Belaid, who were both members of the same opposition bloc.

Ashton, in her statement, also noted that the killers of Belaid had still not been brought to justice.

On Wednesday, a minister and senior adviser to Larayedh said six people believed to have orchestrated Belaid’s killing had been identified.

Noureddin B’Hiri said the details would be revealed “soon”.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60359.

2013-07-23

TUNIS – Tunisia’s Tamarod movement, which has called for the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly, is endangering the country’s democratic process, Islamist Prime Minister Ali Larayedh said on Monday.

“This copycat group which calls itself Tamarod is clear, and I think it represents a danger to the democratic process, an attempt to make it fail in Tunisia,” Larayedh said in a radio interview.

“I don’t think this movement will succeed. It’s a copy of something foreign in Tunisia,” he added, referring to Egypt’s grass-roots movement behind the mass protests that led to Islamist president Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow on July 3.

Shortly before Morsi was ousted, Tunisia’s version of Tamarod (rebellion in Arabic) launched a petition demanding the dissolution of the national assembly, where the ruling Islamist party holds the most seats.

Ennahda, which is close to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and heads Tunisia’s coalition government, triumphed in October 2011 parliamentary polls — the first freely-held elections after the mass protests that toppled former Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

According to the latest figures, dated July 14, the group has collected 870,000 signatures, Tamarod spokesman Mehdi Said said.

The claim could not be verified.

The movement, which was created by 14 youth activists, has struggled to mobilize mass support and internal differences have seen three of its founding members evicted.

The National Constituent Assembly has failed to adopt a new constitution nearly two years after it was elected, due to a lack of consensus among MPs, and has also been repeatedly criticized for its inefficiency and the non-attendance of members.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=60282.

By Siham Ali in Rabat for Magharebia

03/10/2013

Morocco is looking to develop new industries to tackle youth unemployment.

As part of an effort to create 220,000 direct jobs by 2015, special attention is being paid to training Moroccans in the new global professions, according to Larbi Bencheikh, the director-general of the Office for Vocational Training and the Promotion of Employment (OFPPT).

He specifically pointed to public works and civil engineering, tourism, ICT, transport and logistics as areas for growth.

The government has geared its strategies accordingly. King Mohammed VI on Monday (September 30th) officially opened an industrial aeronautical complex that should create 12,000 direct jobs. To cater to the needs of the labor market, the Institute of Aeronautical Professions, which opened its doors in 2011, will soon be expanded.

Another training facility, the Institute Specializing in Aeronautical and Airport Logistics Professions (ISMALA), opened last month.

Direct aid for training will be given for three years in the amount of up to €5,500 per person, Industry Minister Abdelkader Amara said. The successful development of industrial activities requires the availability of skilled and sometimes highly specialized human resources, as is the case in the aeronautical sector, the minister said.

When choosing what to study, young people must now take account of the current and future needs of the labor market, sociologist Hanane Bidaoui said. In her view, universities must look outwards to their environment so that they will not continue to be regarded as factories that generate unemployed people.

Two trends may be observed among young people. There are the thousands of unemployed graduates who assumed they would be recruited into the public sector, who refuse to attend any new training courses that cater to the needs of the market. They have even stepped up their protests outside parliament.

On the other hand, there are those young people who decided to stop sitting around and enroll in training courses.

Hamza Cherif is among those who expected public sector employment. With a degree in Arabic literature, he said it was the state’s duty to give him a job that relates to the subject of his degree.

He has been jobless for over 15 years and lives with his parents.

Fatima Ezzahra T, sees things differently. As a private law graduate, she has been seeking a job in vain for three years. This year, she decided to boost her language skills and attend another training course in IT development so that she could find a job with an offshoring company.

“I can’t wait for a job that may never come along. Although I got a good degree classification, my degree hasn’t helped me get a job. That’s why I’ve decided to follow a new path. And I feel confident about the future,” she said with optimism.

That view was shared by Farid Serrat, a graduate in French literature. Last year he decided to attend a technical vocational course in mechanics.

“There’s no harm in reconsidering your training so that you can land a job,” he said.

His brother Charaf, who is studying towards his baccalaureate, is hoping to get into the Casablanca Institute of Aeronautics.

“If I study there, work is guaranteed,” he told Magharebia.

Source: Magharebia.

Link: http://magharebia.com/en_GB/articles/awi/features/2013/10/03/feature-03.

September 27, 2013

Protesters seek release of Moroccan journalist jailed after report on al-Qaida video

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Hundreds of people protested Thursday in support of a Moroccan journalist who was jailed after publishing a story about an al-Qaida video.

The prosecutor general announced this week that the journalist, Ali Anouzla, has been charged under Morocco’s anti-terrorism law with assisting and advocating terrorism.

The protesters in the capital, Rabat, alleged he has been jailed for his independent views and criticism of authorities.

Anouzla, editor of the Lakome website, published a story about and posted the video by al-Qaida’s north African affiliate.

The video, released earlier this month, was a rare attack on Morocco and accused the king of corruption.

Amnesty International said Anouzla’s jailing “sends the message that any discussion of terrorism … will be treated by the government of Morocco as a criminal offense.”

If found guilty, Anouzla faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison.