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Signs of political crisis between government and Labour Union in Tunisia

Unemployed university graduates argue with the security forces during a demonstration held to demand job opportunities, in Tunis, Tunisia on November 24 2016 [Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency]

Unemployed university graduates argue with the security forces during a demonstration held to demand job opportunities, in Tunis, Tunisia

The Tunisian government appears to be on the verge of falling into a political crisis with the General Labour Union over a divergence of views about the recent cabinet change and some of the union’s demands.

According to the secretary general of the Secondary Education Union in Tunisia, it will consider on Thursday the possibility of suspending classes indefinitely. “There are no positive signs encouraging the union to calm down or decide not to escalate the situation,” Saad Al-Yacoubi told Radio Shems FM in Tunis.

The union is demanding the resignation of Education Minister Neji Jalloul, a move which is rejected by Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, despite a protest by secondary school teachers in the capital on Wednesday. The teachers believe that the minister is “difficult” to work with.

Read: Does Tunisia really want a president whose master is the UAE’s Bin Zayed?

Abdellatif Mekki of the leading Ennahda Movement told Quds Press that dialogue between the government and the trade union is the shortest and best way to overcome these differences. He ruled out the possibility of a confrontation between the government and the Labour Union.

“I do not think there is anyone who seeks confrontation between the Union and the government,” he explained, “but there are real differences and I believe that we must expand dialogue to reach a consensus.”

(Source / 02.03.2017)

Whistleblowers get greater protection in Tunisia

Tunisian parliament in Tunis, Tunisia on December 23, 2016 [Yassine Gaidi / Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian parliament in session in Tunis, Tunisia

Tunisia yesterday voted in favour of a law which protects whistleblowers in corruption cases.

The Assembly of People’s Representatives (APR) unanimously adopted an amended version of a draft law on the denunciation of corruption and the protection of its whistleblowers.

All 145 members supported the adoption of Article 17 of the draft law which will provide protection for whistleblowers. Proposals to amend the article in relation to the protection of investigative journalists were rejected.

Read: Amnesty accuses Tunisia security forces of abuses

According to the Speaker of the Assembly of People’s Representatives, Mohamed Ennaceur, the adoption of the law is an important step in the fight against corruption and conflicts of interest.

The law sets out the conditions and procedures for denouncing corruption and protecting whistle-blowers as well as the necessary penalties envisaged against any person who proposes to reveal the identity of a whistleblower.

The ARP also adopted a bill calls for the creation of the “Loyalty and Sacrifice” badge to recognise the sacrifices of the civilians and military service officials in the fight against terrorism.

(Source / 23.02.2017)

New Tunisian electoral law raises issue of military’s role in politics

Tunisian soldiers listen to the national anthem in Sabkeht Alyun, Tunisia, Feb. 6, 2016

On Feb. 2, the Tunisian parliament approved a law related to local and municipal elections, granting members of the security and military institutions the right to vote for the first time in the country’s history. This precedent sparked controversy in Tunisia, as some people believe that military officers should enjoy the right to vote, just like their fellow citizens, while others believe that passing such a law will jeopardize the impartiality of the military institution and will involve it in political affairs.

After years of complete neutrality in political and electoral life, Tunisian soldiers, officers and security members will cast their votes in the upcoming municipal and local elections. Chapter 6 of the new local electoral law states that “military and security officers are allowed to vote in local and municipal elections only.” But this law contradicts Article 18 of the Tunisian Constitution, which states, “The national army is a republican army charged with the responsibility to defend the nation, its independence and its territorial integrity. It is required to remain completely impartial.”

The law also contradicts Article 19 of the constitution, which states, “The national security forces are responsible for maintaining security and public order … with complete impartiality.”

In this context, Sami bin Salameh, a former member of the Independent Higher Authority for Elections in Tunisia, told Al-Monitor, “Security and military officers, as well as members of the armed forces, are special citizens. For that reason, we must always adapt their rights as citizens to the respect of principles related to security and military life, hence discipline, loyalty, neutrality and readiness to serve. Granting them the right to vote in elections — even if only municipal — is a dangerous process that could affect these four principles, interfere with their work and involve them in the political arena in spite of themselves. After all, Tunisia is still living an incomplete transitional phase plagued by difficulties and violation attempts from parties.”

The military institution has yet to issue a comment on the law, as its members are quite reserved and do not disclose their opinions to the media.

Salemeh pointed out the security hazards of granting security and military officers the right to vote, saying, “Their votes will reveal their political and ideological affiliations, in addition to disclosing their identities and where they are based due to their registration on electoral lists.”

Tunisia has been the stage of several terrorist operations since 2011, some committed by jihadi groups affiliated with al-Qaeda such as Uqba Bin Nafi Battalion and others by groups pledging allegiance to the the Islamic State. These terrorist acts have claimed the lives of more than 220 security officers and soldiers and 98 civilians, as per a survey conducted by local website Inkyfada. The latest of such attacks targeted a military vehicle in Jebel Samama, in the west of the country, and killed three soldiers in August 2016.

Political analyst and journalist Abdel Sattar al-Aidi told Al-Monitor, “Granting security and military officers the right to vote in local and municipal elections only — rather than in legislative and presidential elections — constitutes a good test for their discipline and commitment to complete neutrality in politics. At the same time, it allows them to enjoy their right of citizenship, especially given that the constitution affirms total and indiscriminate equality — including professional indiscrimination — between citizens and guarantees all Tunisians the right to vote.”

Aidi added, “The assessment of the upcoming municipal elections will be important and useful. If the country finds it difficult to maintain the military and security institutions’ neutrality after granting their members the right to vote, the law will be amended and the article that allows them to vote will be annulled. You never know until you try. If need be, the new electoral law will be amended to suit the needs of society and the state.”

Fida Nasrallah, the director of the Carter Center in Tunisia, which had specialized in electoral monitoring, supervising the drafting process of the constitution and putting in place the elections’ legal framework, told Al-Monitor in a previous interview Oct. 12, “Depriving them [military officers and internal security staff] of their right runs contrary to the international obligations of the Republic of Tunisia under the international covenant of the United Nations on civil and political rights. In addition, it is contrary to Article 21 and Article 34 of the Tunisian Constitution.”

Nasrallah said in the same interview, “The fear that the army will not remain neutral and that the vote may be manipulated is an obsession shared by many countries. But these concerns can be reduced by adopting certain measures, not by categorically denying the rights of the armed forces.” The Carter Center had urged the Tunisian parliament in a statement Sept. 28 to grant the military and security forces the right to vote.

The Islamist Ennahda movement first objected to granting military and security officials the right to vote in elections, only to vote later in favor of the new law Jan. 31. Apparently, Islamists are sensitive to the military institution, given its history in the region. In Egypt, for instance, former Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohammed Morsi was toppled by his defense minister, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, on July 3, 2013. In Turkey, a group of army officers spearheaded the failed coup attempt against Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 15, 2016.

When the electoral law deliberations took flight in September, former officers in the Tunisian army objected, sayting this could potentially cause division in the security and army ranks. Meanwhile, secular parties, especially the Popular Front, which includes 11 parties; leftist, environmental and national groups; and the liberal Afek Tounes Party welcomed the law.

The upcoming elections will be the basis for deciding whether allowing the military and security officers to vote in municipal and local elections was the right thing to do. Still, the concerns of the opponents of this law are justified. Involving the security and military institutions in political life — even if for a good cause — might risk the future of a country still treading carefully toward democracy while fighting an open war against terrorist groups on its eastern borders with Libya and western borders with Algeria. But, at the same time, the upcoming elections will practically test the internal security and military institutions’ ability to maintain their discipline and respect for the neutrality principle stipulated by the constitution while practicing their right to vote.

(Source / 18.02.2017)

Tunisia extends state of emergency amid ‘terror threats’

Youssef Chahed, Tunisia's newly appointed Prime Minister addressing the Tunisian parliament on August 26 2016

Youssef Chahed, Tunisia’s newly appointed Prime Minister addressing the Tunisian parliament on August 26 2016

Tunisia has renewed its state of emergency for an additional three months despite government assurances of improved security in the country. The special measures have been in place across the North African state since a deadly Daesh terror attack in 2015, which left 12 presidential guards dead in the capital Tunis. The latest move was announced by the president’s office.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed told a local radio station that the state of emergency would “definitively be lifted in three months.” The police have been given special powers and, in theory, the authorities have the right to prohibit strikes and meetings likely to provoke “disorder”. The state of emergency also permits authorities “to ensure control of the press.”

The decision coincided with news about the large number of Tunisian nationals who have joined the ranks of Daesh over the past few years but have now decided to return home. This is likely to provoke additional security disturbances in the country. Although Interior Minister Hedi Majdoub claimed recently that fewer than 3,000 fighters have returned to Tunisia, international reports claim that the number has gone beyond 5,500.

Read: Algeria announces state of emergency on Tunisia border

Nevertheless, Defence Minister Farhat Horchani said that there had been a “major improvement” in the country’s security situation. “As long as our situation is linked to Libya, though, and as long as Libya does not have a government that is in control of the situation,” he warned, “the threat exists.”

Tunisia shares a 500 kilometre border with Libya, a country plagued by chaos since the NATO-backed ouster of its former dictator, Muamar Gaddafi, in 2011. Taking advantage of the situation, Daesh terrorists have managed to gain a foothold in Tunisia’s larger neighbour. The group was also behind attacks in 2015 at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis and a beach resort, which together killed 59 foreign tourists and a Tunisian security officer.

These deadly incidents were part of an ongoing insurgency since a 2011 revolution toppled long-time dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

(Source / 17.02.2017)

Tunisia’s Ben Ali slapped with another prison sentence

Image of the former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [file photo]

Image of the former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Tunisia’s former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Ben Ali, have been issued new 10-year prison sentences for corruption, part of several sentences issued in absentia since Ben Ali was ousted in 2011.

A court in Tunisia found the couple guilty on Tuesday in a case involving “administrative and financial corruption”, according to Sofiene Sliti, spokesman for the prosecution.

Ben Ali was also sentenced to life imprisonment for his forces’ crackdown on demonstrations during the 2011 revolution where 338 people were killed in clashes.

Read: Tunisia adopts system for voluntary redundancies in public sector

The court also convicted two other officials who included a former environment minister who was jailed for five years and a ministry official sentenced to three years.

Leila Trabelsi, Leila’s relative, was also sentenced to three years in prison.

When Ben Ali’s 23-year rule came to an end in 2011, during the country’s revolution, the couple fled to Saudi Arabia where they have been living in exile.

Last month, the European Council again extended the freeze on the assets of 48 people, believed to be responsible for the misappropriation of state funds in Tunisia, until 31 January 2018.

The sanctions have been extended since they were first imposed in January 2011 on Ben Ali, his wife and 46 others.

(Source / 10.02.2017)

UK tribunal hears of Tunisian police ‘cowardice’ during Sousse terror attack

The aftermath of the Sousse terror attack that took place on 26th June 2015 in Tunisia [Facebook]

The aftermath of the Sousse terror attack that took place on 26th June 2015 in Tunisia

Tunisian security forces were accused of “cowardice” yesterday during the testimony of a Tunisian judge at a British inquest for failing to respond in proper time to a terrorist attack that occurred in a Tunisian coastal resort in 2015.

38 holiday makers, mostly from the United Kingdom, were gunned down at the Riu Imperial Marhaba hotel in the Tunisian city of Sousse on 26 June 2015 by 23-year-old Seifeddine Rezgui Yacoubi.

Yacoubi’s murderous rampage lasted 40 minutes unchallenged when he entered the hotel unimpeded to carry out the attack on the beach resort.

Armed police took 30 minutes to arrive at the scene when three minutes should have been the expected arrival time, according to a UK tribunal that began last month that is expected to last seven weeks. The tribunal was commissioned to investigate the Sousse attack.

A video was shown at the tribunal that shows the gunman being dropped off by a white van moments before the attack then casually walking off and stalking the hotel lobby looking for his victims.

“[The head of the police operations room]… asked the tourist security team leader to go to the scene with his men but there was no response,” Lazhar Akremi, a Tunisian judge, explained.

According to Akremi, the initial refusal of security forces to respond to the terrorist attack when the emergency was first raised was due to “simple cowardice, when they could have prevented the loss of life.”

The UK tribunal heard the testimonies of one marine who fainted at the scene out of “terror and panic” and another officer who reportedly removed his uniform to prevent himself being a target for the killer.

Daesh later claimed responsibility for the attack when they released a picture of Yacoubi posing with two Kalashnikov rifles on one of their sites.

The Spanish-owned five star hotel was a target for Yacoubi due to its popularity amongst foreign tourists and the minority of Tunisians who visited and stayed at the place, according to the tribunal.

The tourists “needlessly lost their lives” that day, Samantha Leek QC, legal counsel to the tribunal, stated. “[Security forces] had the ability to put an end to the attack before the police arrived but wasted a considerable amount of time in getting to the hotel.”

In a post-mortem report, Yacoubi was found to have high doses of cocaine in his system when he orchestrated the killings.

Three months before the Sousse attacks, 24 people were killed in an attack on the Bardo museum in the country’s capital, Tunis.

Tunisia has seen an increase in violence since 2011’s uprising that subsequently ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali from power.

Hundreds of Tunisians have gone to fight alongside Daesh in countries like Syria and neighbouring Libya with many Tunisians fearing the fighters’ return to Tunisia as Daesh strongholds are threatened with recapture will prove consequential for Tunisia in its attempts to curb its worrying growth in extremism.

(Source / 09.02.2017)

How Tunisia’s young entrepreneurs are hoping to boost the economy

Young Tunisians work at the co-working space Startup Haus in Tunis, Tunisia. Posted Dec. 19, 2016

Two dozen casually dressed entrepreneurs were gathered around a Scandinavian-style wooden table, eating glazed pastries and pouring each other cups of coffee. They introduced themselves — web designer, graphic designer, gamer — in a mix of French, Arabic and English. With its sleek blond wood floors and rustic pallet sofas, we could have been at a hip cafe in Brooklyn or Berlin. But this is Startup Haus, a co-working space in downtown Tunis, just a stone’s throw from the city’s busiest intersection.

Startup Haus, which opened in March 2016, is one of six co-working spaces that have popped up in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution. Last year, Cogite, which opened in 2013 as the country’s first co-working space, was ranked in Forbes’ Top 10 co-working spaces worldwide. The annual Co-Working Summit for entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region was hosted in Tunisia in 2015 and 2016. Long overshadowed by the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan, Tunisia’s co-working spaces and entrepreneurs seem to be having a moment.

“Since 2011, you can say there’s been a boom,” Miriam, the manager at Startup Haus, told Al-Monitor during a recent visit.

Although the legal framework pertaining to startups has not been updated since the country’s startup minister, Noomane Fehri, was booted from his post and financial lending from national banks is still difficult to procure, Tunisia’s entrepreneurship sector has been on the rise.

Foreign interest — from financing to sharing soft skills — has helped boost the market. Hivos International, a Dutch organization, opened a Tunisian office focusing on promoting youth entrepreneurship. Startup Haus is supported by two German organizations, Impact Tunisie and Westerwelle Foundation.

But the most promising aspect are the Tunisians themselves.

“As a young Tunisian after the revolution, it is as if we have a breath of fresh air. I really believe in entrepreneurship to create jobs,” said Khouloud Talhaoui, a 27-year-old business developer with Iris Technologies, which rents an office space at Startup Haus. The start-up helps apiculturists manage their beehives with new technology. Talhaoui admits that the spirit of entrepreneurship is “still in its infancy,” but attention is increasing.”

On the ground floor, Startup Haus has three enclosed offices for established businesses; they are all currently in use. Responding to demand, the Haus has plans to create several more offices this year. Around 25 individuals use the mezzanine, which is for people who are in the initial phases of project creation. Other co-working spaces, like Cogite, have several hundred entrepreneurs and digital nomads filtering in and out of the space each day.

Tunisia has a surplus of educated youth, many of whom are unable to get traditional jobs. Unemployment currently hovers around 15.5% across the country, with youth unemployment reaching up to 42%. Co-working spaces normalize entrepreneurship, provide a flexible and cheaper option than an office, and most importantly, provide a community of like-minded, supportive individuals.

“I love working with others in a space where everyone helps each other,” Housem Zouaghi, a 25-year-old computer scientist and multimedia engineer told Al-Monitor. Zouaghi studied in Canada before returning to Tunisia to create his gaming startup, which has now branched out into advertising and web design. Zouaghi started with two employees; in five months, he’s hired six more people.

Like other co-working spaces, Startup Haus offers workshops, training sessions, skill shares and speakers. Last month, an Egyptian marketing expert gave a lecture on trends in digital marketing. Cogite hosted a Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, with classes on education and women’s empowerment. Creativa, a co-working space in the northern suburb of La Marsa, has organized feng shui sessions.

Many events are free and open to the public, and the spaces themselves are imbued with a positive, can-do attitude. Though most co-working spaces are concentrated in Tunis, the country’s capital, two new spaces opened in Sousse and the southern island of Djerba.

“We have the youth, the hope and even the financial support,” Talhaoui said. Co-working spaces are helping to create a more favorable climate for entrepreneurs, and the future looks bright.

“I don’t have any reason to leave,” said Zouaghi with a smile.

(Source / 03.02.2017)

Tunisian parliament passes draft bill allowing security personnel participate in local elections

Tunisian security forces [file photo]

The Tunisian parliament passed on Tuesday a draft bill allowing the armed forces and police to vote in municipal elections scheduled for later this year.

The clause on security personnel voting was passed as part of a draft bill on municipal elections by 144 deputies. Eleven deputies rejected the clause and three abstained.

The draft bill was introduced in May 2016 but deliberations were suspended after the parliament failed to vote on it.

However, last week the Tunisian parliament decided to resume the discussions to speed up the local elections no later than the end of this year.

Tunisian Minister of Local Affairs and the Environment, Riadh Mouakher said earlier that the government intends to hold municipal elections in 2017.

(Source / 01.02.2017)

Tunisia: Senior Ennahda leader defends Ghannoushi’s recent moves on Libya, says they are consistent with state policies

Foreign Ministers of Libya's neighbouring countries meet in order to find solutions for the political and economical crisis in Libya on 21st January 2017 [Ibrahim Ramadan/Anadolu]

Foreign Ministers of Libya’s neighbouring countries meet in order to find solutions for the political and economical crisis in Libya on 21st January 2017

A senior member of Tunisia’s Ennahda movement said on Sunday that the moves recently taken by the movement’s leader Rachid Ghannouchi regarding the Libya issue are fully in line with the official policy adopted by the national unity government, headed by Youssef Chahed of the secularist Nidaa Tounes Party.

Harouni, who heads Ennahda’s Shura Council, added in a press conference held on the sidelines of the council’s eighth round, that communication with all Libyan sides is very important for finding a political settlement and uniting Libyans.

Last week, Ghannouchi denied allegations that his external moves regarding the Libyan crisis constitute a “parallel diplomacy” outside the framework of the Tunisian state’s official diplomacy.

“In political science, popular diplomacy is carried out by political parties and civil society organisations,” Ghannouchi said, “and it does not compete with or clutter official diplomacy but it … supports it and opens horizons for it.”

(Source / 30.01.2017)

EU Extends Sanctions on Former Tunisian President, His Wife, Inner Circle

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali/Reuters

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Brussels – The European Union (EU) announced on Friday the one-year extension of the economic sanctions imposed on the Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his wife, as well as 46 others.

The approval was granted from EU without any discussions. The resolution will be published in the official gazette of the union on Saturday when it will be applicable, the EU revealed in a statement.

EU member states agreed to freeze the assets and funds of Ben Ali and 48 others in January 2011. They believe “the misappropriation of state funds is depriving the Tunisian people of the benefits of the sustainable development of their economy and society and undermining the spread of democracy.”

Since the introduction of the sanctions, they are being extended on an annual basis. EU also pledged to support Tunisia in accomplishing the democratic transformation process, achieving social development and creating job opportunities.

Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi visited, at the beginning of January, Brussels on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of signing the first cooperation agreement between the two parties.

Essebsi delivered a speech at the European parliament (EP) where he considered that Tunisia’s succeeding in moving to democracy serves the best interest of Tunisia and Europe as well, hailing the mutual values and interests that link both parties.

For his part, President of EP Martin Schulz called on European tourists to return to Tunisia and demanded member states and European institutions to adopt economic strategies based on confidence, with emphasis on sustaining the tourism sector in Tunisia and directing investments to the educated and active youth there.

Furthermore, EU announced earlier doubling financial assistance to Tunisia to EUR300 million in 2017 to support ongoing reforms

(Source / 28.01.2017)