Tag Archive: Revival in Tunisia


Tuesday 25/09/2018

TUNIS – Efforts to rescue Tunisia’s ailing economy face the prospect of fresh turmoil after the president declared his alliance with moderate Islamists at an end, deepening divisions in a fragile coalition managing the country’s transition from autocracy.

Political analysts say Monday evening’s announcement by President Beji Caid Essebsi could make it difficult for the government to enact tough economic reforms sought by international lenders.

“There will be no real risk of toppling the government in parliament, but the problem is that division will deepen, social tension will rise and reforms are threatened under a fragile government coalition,” Nizar Makni, a journalist and analyst said.

“Reforms need broad consensus and the lack of compromise may lead to mass protests in the streets, especially that powerful unions rejected all proposed reforms”, he added.

Although struggling with high unemployment and inflation, the coalition of moderate Islamists and secular forces has been running what has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success, avoiding the upheaval seen in Egypt, Libya or Syria.

The Ennahda Islamist party and secular Nidaa Tounes agreed in 2014 on a constitution granting far-reaching political rights, limiting the role of religion and holding free elections, which stands out in a region often run by autocrats.

But Tunisia fell into a political crisis again this year after Essebsi’s son, who is the leader of Nidaa Tounes, called for the dismissal of prime minister Youssef Chahed because of his government’s failure to revive the economy.

His demand was supported by the powerful UGTT union, which rejected economic reforms proposed by Chahed.

Austerity

But Ennahda came to Chahed’s defense, saying the departure of the prime minister would hit stability at a time when the country needed economic reforms.

In his more than two years in office, Chahed has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms, such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

The president raised the stakes on Monday evening.

“The consensus and relationship between me and Ennahha has ended, after they chose to form another relationship with Youssef Chahed,” Essebsi, the founder of Nidaa Tounes, said in a televised interview.

Analysts said the president’s announcement would probably not lead to the overthrow of the government, which still has the support of at least 110 of a total 217 lawmakers in parliament.

But Chahed could find it difficult to enact tough reforms in the face of a strong opposition front including the unions, the president and Nidaa Tounes party.

Last week the UGTT labor union called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest at Chahed’s privatization plans.

“The president’s comments will deepen the crisis,” senior Ennahda official Lotfi Zitoun told Reuters.

“Ennahda seeks stability and a dialogue that includes all partners to get out of the crisis.”

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since its Arab Spring democratic revolution in 2011.

Chahed has gathered enough support in parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with Ennahda and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels.

Since 2011 uprising, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic problems, which include high inflation and unemployment, and impatience is rising among lenders such as the IMF, which have kept the country afloat.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: https://middle-east-online.com/en/tunisia-president-ends-alliance-ennahda.

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August 11, 2018

BARDO, Tunisia (AP) — Thousands of Muslim fundamentalists protested Saturday in front of the nation’s parliament to decry proposals in a government report on gender equality that they claim are contrary to Islam.

Men and veiled women marched under a blazing sun from Tunis to Bardo, outside the capital where the parliament is located, to protest the report by the Commission of Individual Liberties and Equality. The report, among other things, calls for legalizing homosexuality and giving the sexes equal inheritance rights.

Security was heavy during the protest, which remained calm despite the anger the report has triggered. The crowd, who came from towns around Tunisia, cried out “Allahu akbar (God is great)” as they marched.

The protest was organized by the National Coordination for the Defense of the Quran, the Constitution and Equitable Development. The commission was put in place a year ago by President Beji Caid Essebsi, who is expected to speak about it on Monday, Women’s Day in Tunisia. It was not immediately clear whether the proposals would eventually be put before parliament.

The North African nation has, since its independence from France in 1956, been a standard-bearer in the Muslim world for women’s rights. But the proposals in the 300-page report, known as the Colibe report, would take human rights, including women’s rights, to another level. It proposes to end the death penalty and legalize homosexuality, which the current penal code outlaws and punishes with three years in prison.

The equal inheritance proposal is an abrupt change from current practices, which see males in a family receiving double the inheritance of females. The topics touching on sensitive areas have riled Muslims who embrace a literal reading of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

“I’m here to defend the word of God and oppose any projects that harm the Islamic identity of our people,” said Kamel Raissi, a 65-year-old retiree. “We totally reject the Colibe report which contains an underhanded hate for Islam,” said Abdellatif Oueslati, a nurse from Jendouba, 155 kilometers (95 miles) west of Tunis.

The authors of the report say the proposals conform with the nation’s 2014 Constitution and international human rights obligations. “They in no way contravene Islamic precepts, but embody an enlightened reading of these precepts, which put them in step with the evolution of society,” said Abdelmajid Charfi, a university professor who is one of the report’s authors.

Protesters at Saturday’s rally were not convinced. Tarek Azouz worried that the proposals amounted to a “wish to destroy moral values” by legalizing homosexuality. If acted upon, he said, “we’ll end up with gay marriage.”

Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed.

February 13, 2018

On Monday, the Tunisian defense ministry said it had rejected a NATO proposal that would grant Tunisia a 3 million euro grant in exchange for closer ties with the organization. The plan would have engaged a permanent role for NATO experts at an operations center in the country.

Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi said his ministry, “rejected a proposal by NATO to give his country a grant of 3 million euros to receive permanent experts who would provide technical advice to the Tunisian military at an operations center in which the armies cooperate to secure borders and fight terrorism which Tunisia plans to develop.”

During a hearing at the Tunisian parliament’s security and defense committee, on Monday, Zbidi explained that “The ministry is working on a project to complete a joint center for planning, leading operations, for information analysis and to lead joint operations between the military forces.”

He added that his ministry “requested the provision of a grant to Tunisia, provided that no party from outside the Tunisian military establishment would intervene in this center, and that the location where the center is to be established be inside Tunisian territories and chosen by the Ministry of Defense.”

Zbidi also pointed out that the terrorist threat still persists in his country especially on the western borders with Algeria and eastern borders with Libya.

He added: “Some terrorist combatants are still active in the western highlands of the governorates of Kasserine, El Kef and Jendouba.”

According Zbidi, the Tunisian military units carried out about one thousand military operations in suspicious areas in different governorates of the country, which led to the elimination of 5 terrorist combatants, uncovering 28 hideouts, the destruction and neutralization of more than 100 mines, the seizure of equipment and various possessions, the killing of two military agents together with 45 others injured at different degrees.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180213-tunisia-rejects-natos-proposal-to-support-establishment-of-anti-terrorism-centre/.

February 2, 2018

Tunisian journalists on Friday staged a demonstration in Tunis to protest alleged government restrictions on their activities.

Held outside the headquarters of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate, protesters decried restrictions on their journalistic activities imposed by Tunisia’s Interior Ministry.

Organized by syndicate members, Friday’s protest was endorsed by the Tunisian Human Rights League, an NGO; the Tunisian General Labor Union, the country’s largest labor union; and a number of prominent political and judicial figures.

“The current government, especially Interior Minister Lotfi Brahem, remain silent while journalists are being subject to persecution,” syndicate head Naji Baghouri said on the demonstration’s sidelines.

He went on to call for a nationwide general strike if government ministers remained “complicit” in the persecution of journalists.

Baghouri pointed in particular to the interior minister’s recent admission — made during a Monday session of parliament — that the ministry was tapping certain journalists’ phones.

Amna Guellali, director of Human Rights Watch’s Tunis office, told Anadolu Agency: “Today’s protest comes against the backdrop of the ongoing erosion of press freedoms in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180202-tunisia-journalists-protest-erosion-of-press-freedoms/.

2018-01-13

TUNIS – Seven years since the Tunisian revolution that ignited the Arab Spring uprisings, 38-year-old Walid has no job and says people are even more hungry than they were under dictatorship.

Anger over poverty and unemployment erupted into protests and clashes this week that have led to hundreds of arrests ahead of Sunday’s anniversary of the overthrow of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“It’s been seven years and we’ve seen nothing happen. We’ve had freedom, it’s true, but we’re more hungry than before,” Walid said in Tebourba near the capital Tunis.

Desperation over police harassment and unemployment drove a Tunisian street vendor to set himself on fire on December 17, 2010 in a town in the country’s neglected interior.

Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old university graduate who eked out a living selling fruit, died weeks later, fueling social unrest that spread across much of the Arab world.

Following a wave of protests, Ben Ali resigned on January 14, 2011 after 23 years in power.

He fled to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first leader to stand down in the Arab Spring.

Compared to other countries rocked by uprisings such as Libya and Yemen which are still deep in turmoil, Tunisia has been praised for its steps towards democracy.

A new constitution was adopted and legislative and presidential polls held in 2014.

But disillusion remains rife.

The country has “the same economic model, with the same problems” as before, the president of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Messaoud Romdhani, told AFP.

“So the situation keeps getting worse.”

In a report released last month, the group warned that despite democratic advances, “unemployment, misery and social and regional inequalities have worsened”.

Tunisia has been convulsed by sometimes-violent demonstrations since Monday in which youths throwing stones and Molotov cocktails have clashed with security forces who responded with tear gas.

Dozens of people have been injured and more than 800 arrested on charges including theft, looting and arson.

One protester died on Monday night in Tebourba though police have insisted they did not kill him.

– ‘Potential for resistance’ –

In the latest protest, hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets of Tunis and the coastal city of Sfax on Friday, waving yellow cards and demanding that the government reverse austerity measures.

The demonstrations “reveal an anger carried by the same people who mobilized in 2011 and obtained nothing in terms of economic and social rights,” said political scientist Olfa Lamloum.

The trigger of the new protests was a finance law imposing tax hikes after a year of rising prices.

The Tunisian economy has never recovered from the instability that followed the revolution.

The key tourism sector was dealt another crushing blow by jihadist attacks that shook the country in 2015 including the beachside massacre of 38 foreign holidaymakers.

The government was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund which lent Tunisia $2.9 billion in 2016 on condition that it reduced its budget and trade deficits.

Youth unemployment remains above 35 percent according to the International Labor Organization.

Every year since 2011, 10,000 children have dropped out of primary school and 100,000 young people have left college or high school without diplomas, says the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.

In a sign of growing disenchantment, illegal emigration reached the highest level since 2011 in the autumn.

Municipal polls seen as the final stage in Tunisia’s transition to democracy have been delayed until May, while fresh legislative and presidential elections are planned for 2019.

But the democratic steps have not extinguished the revolutionary fervor altogether.

“The potential for resistance is still there,” Lamloum said. “Young people still have the same dream for Tunisia even if it will take time.”

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86763.

2018-01-12

TUNIS – Fresh scuffles broke out Friday as hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets of the capital and coastal city of Sfax, waving yellow cards and demanding the government reverse austerity measures.

More than 200 young people rallied in Tunis following a call from the Fech Nestannew (What Are We Waiting For?) campaign for a major protest against the measures imposed at the start of the year.

They held up yellow cards, chanted slogans and scuffled with riot police as they marched on administrative offices in the capital.

“The people want the Finance Act repealed” and “The people are fed up with the new Trabelsi”, they shouted, referring to the graft-tainted in-laws of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

“We believe that dialogue and reforms are still possible,” said Henda Chennaoui of the Fech Nestannew campaign.

“We’ve got the same demands we’ve been seeking for years — to tackle real problems like the economic crisis and the high cost of living,” she said.

In Sfax, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Tunis, around 200 people vented their anger over rising prices.

“The people’s money is in the palaces, and the children of the people are in the prisons,” read one placard.

Tunisian authorities said Friday the number of people detained in the wave of violent protests had risen to nearly 800, after a provincial town was hit by a night of unrest over the austerity measures.

Correspondents in the northern town of Siliana said police fired tear gas at dozens of youths who pelted them with stones during skirmishes that lasted around three hours overnight.

– ‘Heavy-handed’ –

Interior ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani said 151 people were arrested Thursday, taking the number detained for alleged involvement in the violence to 778 after several nights of unrest.

Chibani said clashes between youths and police were “limited” and “not serious”, and insisted no acts of violence, theft or looting were recorded Thursday evening.

Rights group Amnesty International accused the authorities of using “increasingly heavy-handed methods to disperse rallies and subsequently arrest protesters” during the unrest.

“Tunisian security forces must refrain from using excessive force and end their use of intimidation tactics against peaceful demonstrators,” the watchdog said.

One man died in the unrest on Monday night, but the authorities have insisted the police were not responsible for this.

A number of left-wing activists have been arrested by the authorities in recent days, after officials accused them of fueling the violence.

Several dozen members of the Popular Front party demonstrated Friday in front of a court in the town of Gafsa after the arrest of several local activists.

Tunisia is considered a rare success story of the Arab Spring uprisings that began in the North African country in 2011 and spread across the region, toppling autocrats.

But the authorities have failed to resolve the issues of poverty and unemployment.

Protests are common in Tunisia in January, when people mark the anniversary of the revolution that ousted long-time dictator Ben Ali.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86754.

2018-01-09

By Tarek Amara – Tunis

One person was killed on Monday during clashes between security forces and protesters in a Tunisian town, the government said, as demonstrations over rising prices and tax increases spread in the North African country.

A man was killed during a protest against government austerity measures in Tebourba, 40 km (25 miles) west of Tunis, the interior ministry said in a statement. He had had chronic breathing problems and died due to suffocation from inhaling tear gas, it said.

The protest had turned violent when security forces tried stopping some youths from burning down a government building, witnesses said. Five people were wounded and taken to a hospital, state news agency TAP said.

Tunisia, widely seen in the West as the only democratic success among nations where “Arab Spring” revolts took place in 2011, is suffering increasing economic hardship.

Anger has been building up since the government said that, from Jan. 1, it would increase the price of gasoil, some goods, and taxes on cars, phone calls, the internet, hotel accommodation and other items, part of austerity measures agreed with its foreign lenders.

The 2018 budget also raises customs taxes on some products imported from abroad, such as cosmetics, and some agricultural products.

The economy has been in crisis since a 2011 uprising unseated the government and two major militant attacks in 2015 damaged tourism, which comprises 8 percent of gross domestic product. Tunisia is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to speed up policy changes and help the economy recover from the attacks.

Violent protests spread in the evening to at least 10 towns.

There was also a protest turning violent in the capital, residents said. Security forces had already dispersed small protests in Tunis late on Sunday.

On Monday, about 300 people took to the streets in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, cradle of the country’s Arab Spring revolution, carrying banners with slogans denouncing high prices.

A lack of tourists and new foreign investors pushed Tunisia’s trade deficit up by 23.5 percent year-on-year in the first 11 months of 2017 to a record $5.8 billion, official data showed at the end of December.

Concerns about the rising deficit have hurt the dinar currency, sending it to 3.011 versus the euro on Monday, breaking the psychologically important 3 dinar mark for the first time, traders said.

The currency is likely to weaken further, said Tunisian financial risk expert Mourad Hattab.

“The sharp decline of the dinar threatens to deepen the trade deficit and make debt service payments tighter, which will increase Tunisia’s financial difficulties,” he said.

Hattab said the dinar may fall to 3.3 versus the euro in the coming months because of high demand for foreign currency and little expectation of intervention from the authorities.

Last year, former Finance Minister Lamia Zribi said the central bank would reduce its interventions so that the dinar steadily declined in value, but it would prevent any dramatic slide.

The central bank has denied any plans to liberalise the currency but Hattab said Monday’s decline showed there was an “undeclared float” of the dinar.

A weaker currency could further drive up the cost of imported food after the annual inflation rate rose to 6.4 percent in December, its highest rate since July 2014, from 6.3 percent in November, data showed on Monday.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86697.

December 29, 2017

The Ministry of Public Health in Tunisia has re-launched a program which it hopes will encourage its citizens to stop smoking.

First launched in 2016, the “Yakfi” campaign comes as part of the cooperation between the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

As part of “Yakfi”, the Arabic words for “enough”, a free phone number has been issued to help support those wishing to quit smoking.

Health Minister Imed Hammami told Shems FM that the campaign offers six weeks of support during the weaning period with ongoing monitoring of the goals and commitments.

The “Mobile Tobacco Cessation” which represents the end of smoking using smart phone apps will be applied through SMS interaction. “This action is the first axis of the project to promote health through modern technologies,” the ministry added.

According to Hammami, the proposal was presented to the government along with a pitch for an amendment to the anti-smoking law.

According to the ministry’s statement broadcasted by Mosaique FM, the new measures proposed will include a ban on the sale of cigarettes to those under 18, a ban on the sale of cigarettes near schools and hospitals and a total ban on smoking in cafes, restaurants and other public spaces.

Those who smoke in unauthorized places will be fined just over $20, double the previous fine of $10.

Annually more than 6,900 Tunisians die as a result of diseases linked to tobacco use, while more than 28,000 children and more than 205,9000 adults continue to use tobacco every day.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171229-tunisia-launches-yakfi-quit-smoking-campaign/.

Tunisia elections delayed

2017-12-17

TUNIS – A new date next May has been set for Tunisia’s first post-revolt municipal elections, already long delayed, polling officials said Saturday.

The Independent High Authority for Elections said the polling date was set at May 6, rather than March 25 as previously announced, at a meeting with political parties which requested the delay to better prepare for the vote.

The polls have been seen as the final stage in Tunisia’s transition to democracy following its 2011 uprising which sparked the Arab Spring revolutions.

Following the uprising, municipalities were dissolved and replaced by “special delegations” — provisional bodies set up to manage urban centers.

This has coincided with falling standards of living in cities and towns where the collection of garbage has been random and quality of infrastructure deteriorated.

At the election, almost five million Tunisians are eligible to vote to elect the leaders of 350 municipalities.

Tunisia has been praised for a relatively democratic transition over the past six years, during which a new constitution was adopted and legislative and presidential polls held in 2014.

Source: Middle East Online.

Link: http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=86458.

November 29, 2017

Independent bodies which deal with the fight against corruption, journalists’ rights and human rights in Tunisia have today united to condemn the government’s attempts to “marginalize” them by “emptying them of their content and reviewing their regulatory laws in order to control them”.

In a joint press conference, member of the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication, Hisham Snoussi, said: “It has become clear to us that the executive authority decided to circumvent the Constitution and to empty the authorities of their content by introducing laws that contradict rights and freedoms. There is a real decline in the authorities’ role.”

Speaking to the Anadolu Agency, Snoussi added: “All the authorities feel that the retreat implies the government’s power and contempt for the Constitution, especially when President Beji Caid Essebsi expressed his intention to amend the Constitution, criticizing the authorities’ role.”

On 6 September, Essebsi said in an interview with a local government newspaper that “constitutional authorities exercise absolute powers without supervision, under the right of independence, and they threaten the state’s unity and existence.”

National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists Director, Naji Baghouri, said: “All authorities have concerns about marginalizing and emptying them of their content and authority, by reviewing their regulatory laws.”

He added that “the authorities play an important role in the process of democratic transition.”

The Tunisian National Instance for the Fight Against Corruption, the Independent High Authority for Audiovisual Communication, the Information Access Authority, along with the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists and the Tunisian Human Rights League have all condemned the government’s actions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171129-tunisia-government-trying-to-control-independent-bodies/.