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Tunisians vote in first free municipal elections

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring because it toppled a long-serving autocrat, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in 2011

Tunisians voted on Sunday in their first free municipal elections, another step in a democratic transition that has become marred by disappointment over a lack of jobs and economic opportunities.

Ennahda and Nidaa Tounis parties, which form a coalition at national level, are expected to dominate the polls for 350 municipalities.

Tunisia has been hailed as the only democratic success of the Arab Spring because it toppled a long-serving autocrat, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, in 2011, without triggering major violence or a return to authoritarian rule.

But enthusiasm for democratic change has long given way to anger over stubbornly low living standards, which have driven some Tunisians to make the dangerous sea crossing to Europe in search of work or have prompted a few to turn to militant Islam.

“I intended to boycott (the vote), but I changed my mind at the last moment,” Mohamed Ali Abadi, told Reuters after leaving a polling station. “We are facing a lot of economic problems but will continue our way in a real democracy.”

The turnout in three polling stations visited by Reuters in the capital Tunis in the morning was weak with mostly elderly people voting while young people were sitting in cafes nearby.

“I want a job,” said a young man who gave his name as Ramzi. “No one cared for us in the past years and we suffer from unemployment.”

The main challenge will be to match voters’ expectations with local budgets in a country where the central government makes the main decisions about how and where money gets spent.

A new law envisages some decision-making being gradually devolved to the local level, though it remains unclear how it will work in practice.

Western donors want to provide funds for councils to start projects from day one.

This comes on top of billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund and various countries to help plug a budget deficit caused by political turmoil and one of the world’s highest public sector bills.

(Source / 06.05.2018)

‘Political tendency is to deny press freedom,’ say Tunisian journalists

Image of Tunisians protesting and holding banners in support of missing journalists [file photo]

Tunisians protesting and holding banners in support of missing journalists

The leader of the Tunisian Journalists’ Syndicate has accused political groups of having a “tendency” to deny press freedom. Naji Baghouri made his comments during a seminar on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day last Wednesday.

“The reality shows that the authorities have backed away from the philosophy upon which the Constitution was based and which aims at the distribution of power between executive institutions and independent constitutional bodies, similar to the High Independent Authority of the Audiovisual Commission (HAICA),” explained Baghouri. “There is a clear will to re-establish control over media structures and the media landscape, through draft laws that actually contradict with the principles of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and access to information.”

According to the head of the HAICA, Nuri Lajmi, “Seven years after the revolution, we have started to notice a certain decline in freedom of expression, which is reflected mainly in some distorted official speeches in the media, as well as draft laws that threaten the gains that have already been achieved.”

Imad Al-Hazki, meanwhile, said that, “A new bill to protect personal data, which is being prepared by the government, will constitute a violation of the principle of access to information because it does not distinguish between private personal data and data contained in public documents that relate to public affairs.” The head of the independent National Authority for Access to Information stressed the need to review this bill in order to preserve the gains made regarding access to information approved by Tunisian law.

Tunisia: Media sector crisis continues, entering decisive phase

A report by Reporters Without Borders ranks Tunisia 97th out of 180 countries in the 2018 Press Freedom Index, which is the same ranking it occupied last year. The Tunisian Centre for Freedom of the Press has revealed that nearly 70 per cent of Tunisian journalists do not have access to information even though in 2016 the state parliament ratified the first law to allow access to information from the authorities.

The government in Tunis, however, announced earlier its commitment to allow journalists to have access to information so as to keep citizens informed through the best protocols. It explained that this would happen within “the ethics of public officials” — guidance issued in 2014 — whereby information or official documents on subjects of interest to the public will not be disclosed without the prior permission of the duty official’s immediate supervisor.

Read: Tunisia journalists protest ‘erosion of press freedoms’

(Source / 05.05.2018)

Tunisia journalists protest ‘erosion of press freedoms’

Journalists stage demonstration in Tunis to protest alleged restrictions on their activities by interior ministry

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 / 02.02.2018)

Tunisia: Former Interior Minister in Prison for Conspiracy against State’s Security

Tunisian Interior Minister Mohamed Najem Gharsalli speaks with journalists during a press conference on March 26, 2015 in Tunis
Tunisian former Interior Minister Najem Gharsalli was sentenced to prison on Friday, following investigations on conspiracy against the state’s internal security.

The investigative judge heard Gharsalli on Thursday for long hours on the background of his communication with foreign parties. Tunisian authorities informed, last Monday, Gharsalli that he must return to Tunisia in 48 hours.

On Aug. 23, the investigation judge suggested hearing the testimony of Gharsalli regarding the case of conspiracy against the state’s internal security and high treason against Chafik Jarraya and Saber al-Ojaily.

On another level, security syndicates held several protests and called on all security men to hold red signs to express rage over recurring attacks on security men, especially after the number of deaths since December 2012 reached 66 cases until today under the campaign to fight terrorism.

Security syndicates in Tunisia intensified pressures to enact a law that deters offensives on security men, after the death of an officer due to his injuries resulting from a terrorist attack on Wednesday. Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nacer provoked the syndicates when he said: “It is our duty to protect the security men but it is also our duty to protect human rights and respect the constitution.”

Syndicates granted the parliament 15 days and threatened to lift security protection of members of the parliament and heads of parties starting Nov. 25 in case the law wasn’t enacted. President Beji Caid Essebsi asked Tunisia’s Prime Minister Yousuf Chahed to take care of the deceased officer family and to place the bill as a priority.

Observers criticized the back and forth pulling between the parliament and security syndicates – they considered it as an arm twist for the parliament and a revolution on the ministry of interior.

Security expert Noureddine al-Nifer stated to Asharq Al-Awsat that the security men are in need of a law that protects them but the political dilemma is represented in terrorism threats, which haven’t been socially removed yet.

(Source / 01.11.2017)

Extremist Arrested after Knife Attack Near Tunisia’s Parliament

An AFP file photo shows a policeman in Bardo square in Tunis

A suspected militant was arrested on Wednesday after wounding two policemen in a knife attack near the parliament building in the Tunisian Capital, the interior ministry said.

The assailant was known to authorities and said after the attack that he considered the police to be “tyrants”, according to the statement.

One of the policemen was taken to hospital for treatment after being injured in the neck, while the other was only lightly wounded, it said.

Large numbers of police were deployed to Tunis’ Bardo square in the aftermath of the attack, a witness said. Blood could be seen on the ground in the square.

The square is opposite the parliament building and close to the Bardo museum, the site of a militant attack against foreign tourists that killed 21 people in March 2015.

An official at the police station where the man was taken after being detained said the attacker was in his 20s and appeared “very aware of what he did”.

“He spoke calmly and showed no remorse,” the official said, asking to remain anonymous.

Tunisia suffered two other major attacks that year, one against tourists at the beach resort of Sousse and the other against presidential guards in the capital.

Since then, security has been boosted at strategic sites while Tunisian authorities have cracked down on militants, dismantling dozens of networks.

(Source / 01.11.2017)

Tunisia groups: Essebsi’s remarks are ‘retreat from democracy’

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi [File photo]

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi

Four independent Tunisian bodies have rejected remarks by President Béji Caid Essebsi in which he said they “operate without censorship”.

The High Independent Authority for Audiovisual Communication, the Higher Committee for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture released a joint statement in which they described Essebsi’s remarks as “a dangerous indicator that threatens democracy in Tunisia”.

The statement stressed that the organisations work in accordance with the laws in place and called on the Parliament, political parties, civil society and trade unions to “be vigilant and stand together against these dangerous trends”.

In an exclusive interview with the state-owned Al-Sahafa newspaper last week, Essebsi said Tunisian independent bodies operate “without any censorship” and “under the name of independent absolute powers”.

The president said that sovereign bodies and institutions such as the Parliament have turned into mere organs to recommend decisions for these bodies.

(Source / 16.09.2017)

Tunisia Lifts Ban on Muslim Women Marrying non-Muslims

Tunisia

Women look at sale signs at a shop in central Mehdia,Tunisia, Aug 17, 2017

Tunisia- The Tunisian government lifted on Thursday the ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslim foreigners, a step that triggered a legal and social controversy among conservative Islamic blocs and liberal and left-wing blocs.

“Congratulations to the women of Tunisia for the enshrinement of the right to the freedom to choose one’s spouse,” presidency spokeswoman Saida Garrach posted on Thursday.

The announcement came a month after President Beji Caid Essebsi called for the government to lift the ban dating back to 1973, preventing Muslim Tunisian women from marrying a non-Muslim.

In a related matter, the opposition and civil society in Tunisia have expressed concerns over the democratic transition after the parliament enacted a controversial amnesty law for those involved in corruption during the former regime term.

Monica Marks, a researcher at Oxford University, said the law’s passage was “a huge symbolic victory for impunity. It signals a green light, from the top of Tunisia’s state institutions to individuals engaged in abuses of power.”

The bill grants an amnesty to businessmen and Ben Ali officials on trial for corruption, in exchange for returning ill-gotten money plus paying a fine. In the face of growing public anger, the text was revised to cover only officials accused of involvement in administrative corruption, not those who received bribes.

The presidency defended the law, saying it would enhance the investment climate in a country undergoing an economic crisis.

“The law applies to around 2,000 senior officials who did not receive any bribes,” cabinet director Selim Azzabi said to AFP, adding it would affect people who “received instructions and applied them without profiting.” He said the law could boost Tunisia’s economic growth up to 1.2 percent.

Others say it could even represent a return to authoritarian practices. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the law “risks perpetuating practices inherited from the old regime” and places the young democracy on a bad slope.

Nidaa Tounes, which includes members of the former regime, welcomed the adoption of the law as it paves the way for a new stage of reconciliation and union.

“Ultimately, Ennahda – despite being the party most persecuted by the old regime, including old regime officials likely to be amnestied by the Reconciliation Law – prefers to preserve coalition with Nidaa Party,” Marks said.

(Source / 15.09.2017)

Tunisia: Dispute Between Parties Delays Ministerial Amendment

Tunisia's PM-designate Youssef Chahed speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunisia

Tunisia’s Prime Minister-designate Youssef Chahed speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi (not pictured) in Tunisia, Tunis August 3, 2016

Tunisia- Stances expressed by Ennahdha Party and Al Nidaa Party have revealed a huge difference in points of view towards the ministerial amendment that was announced by Prime Minister of Tunisia Yousef El-Shahed, before he delayed its implementation later on.

The ministerial amendment has been proposed since April when Shahed dismissed ministers of education, finance and investment. Reliable sources stated that Shahed hasn’t yet finalized the ideal figures to replace the three sacked ministers because of the considerable number of candidacies and pressure from opposition parties.

Points of views regarding the ministerial amendment varied between the two parties. Ennahdha executive office insisted that any vast change in the government formation should be postponed until local elections are completed.

But the executive office also urged filling the partial void in certain ministries until a new political map is formed after Dec. 17 – date of municipal elections. As for the candidates, Ennahda spokesman Imad al-Khamiri said that the party has suggested to the prime minister
known for their qualification.

Khamiri highlighted that ministers should have the needed qualifications, integrity and transparency.

Several political sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that standing in the way of implementing the ministerial amendment and filling the void in the government attributes to Shahed pursuit to assign an expert in economy in the ministry of finance in order to be a strong negotiator with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Same sources added that Shahed is seeking thorough information from the ministries of interior and justice on candidates to avoid facing challenges similar to that of the Minister of Investment Mohammed Fadel Abdel Kafi who appeared to be facing a lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Finance.

(Source / 27.08.2017)

47 arrested during clashes in Tunisia

Image of security forces during a protest in Tunis, Tunisia on 21 March 2017 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Image of security forces during a protest in Tunis, Tunisia on 21 March 2017

Two policemen were wounded and 47 people arrested during clashes yesterday between street vendors and police authorities in the centre of Tunis, according to the Interior Ministry.

The incident occurred during a rally of around 300 people outside the headquarters of the Tunisian General Union of Labour (UGTT), the protest was being held against the local authorities’ decision to prohibit street stalls from operating.

According to the ministry, the police intervened causing the situation to escalate into clashes with protesters throwing stones at the officers resulting in damaged vehicles. The ministry has confirmed that an investigation will be opened into the clashes.

#TunisiaProtest

One protester complained about the “showdown” committed by the authorities against the working poor and denounced the failed promises of the governor of Tunis, Omar Mansour.

The clashes are believed to be a result of a campaign launched in June against anarchic stalls, which have proliferated since the 2011 revolution in a social context marked by poverty and unemployment.

Read: Tunisian police use tear gas to disperse protesters

The governorate of Tunis has given street vendors an ultimatum of five days to evacuate the areas. Other municipalities including La Marsa, in the suburbs of Tunis, or Sousse have launched similar campaigns.

(Source / 04.07.2017)

Nidaa Tounes dissenters set to announce Tunisia First Party

Tunisians wave the national flag in the southern city of Tatouine on 11th April, 2017

The former leader of Nidaa Tounes Party, Boudjemaa Remili, has told Quds Press that a number of the party’s senior members are intending to form a new party. Tunisia First looks set to be launched, he said, after efforts to reform Nidaa Tounes failed.

“We have officially submitted a file to the secretary of state about our intention to establish a new party,” explained Remili. “We have made preparations centrally and regionally for drafting texts and programmes for the party.”

He explained that he and his colleagues were the founders of Nidaa Tounes Party and tried to avoid division. “Unfortunately, there was a shift away from the principles upon which the party was founded. In view of our experience and political expertise, we decided, in the same spirit with which we founded Nidaa Tounes, to establish a new political party with the original principles.”

One of the most noticeable manifestations of the shift in Nidaa Tounes, Remili pointed out, is that it has been tainted by autocracy and an attempted monopoly rather than a collective effort. “This has no place in post-revolution Tunisia,” he insisted. “This unilateral leadership has destabilised the balance that had been achieved in the country. Nidaa Tounes has turned into one of Ennahdha Party’s allies, and this is also a serious deviation.”

Remili criticised the bringing in of media and political figures and giving them leadership positions in Nidaa Tounes, although they have nothing to do with the party and its foundation. “This is part of the attempt to circumvent the deficit reached by the leadership team. It recruited personnel and dismissed the founding fathers in a totally unacceptable way.” Such new members, he claimed, are in positions that they do not deserve. “They have not been welcomed by the party supporters and have just caused it to sink instead of saving it.”

Among the dissidents who are founding the new party are Ridha Belhaj, Fawzi Maawiyah, Nasser Shuweikha and Khamis K’ssila, as well as Remili.

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was one of the founders of Nidaa Tounes in June 2012 and won the last parliamentary election with 86 seats out of a total of 217. The party was ranked first in terms of MPs, followed by Ennahdha Party, and went on to form a coalition government. Essebsi also won the presidential election in November 2014 to become the successor to President Moncef Marzouki.

Since then, Nidaa Tounes has been going through successive crises that some believe are caused by the president’s bid to have his son Hafedh Caid Essebsi “inherit” the party leadership. However, others believe that the crises are a natural result of the heterogeneous mix of ideologies represented within the party itself. As well as independents, communists and former trade unionists from the Tunisian General Labour Union, there are former members of the defunct Democratic Constitutional Rally, which was the party of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The dictator was overthrown by the popular revolution that broke out in late 2010.

(Source / 24.06.2017)