Tunisia’s Ennahda slams calls to boycott Hajj

Supporters of the boycott argue that the Hajj ritual has become too expensive

Muslim Hajj pilgrims try to touch Kaaba stone as they circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site, located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on 22 August, 2017 [Fırat Yurdakul/Anadolu Agency]

Muslim Hajj pilgrims try to touch Kaaba stone as they circumambulate around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest site, located in the center of the Masjid al-Haram (Grand Mosque) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on 22 August, 2017

Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement has decried calls aimed to urge Muslims to boycott the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Calls have recently grown in Tunisia demanding the issuance of a fatwa to prevent Tunisians from going to the holy lands in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj ritual.

Supporters argue that the ritual has become too expensive and that revenues are being used by Saudi authorities to stage wars in Muslim countries.

“These are isolated and ideological calls that only serve personal purposes,” Ennahda said in a statement.

It warned that such calls would lead to strain relations between Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, nearly 11,000 Tunisian pilgrims performed the annual ritual, which costs around 12,000 Tunisian dinars ($4,583 USD).

Saudi Arabia is leading an Arab coalition that launched a massive air campaign in 2015 against Shia Houthi rebels, which overran much of Yemen, including capital Sanaa a year earlier.

(Source / 01.07.2018)

Controversial hidden camera programme reveals Tunisian links with Israel

Tunisian flag raised up at Belvedere Park in Tunis on 20 March, 2017 [Amine Landoulsi/Anadolu Agency]

Tunisian flag raised up at Belvedere Park in Tunis on 20 March, 2017

A private Tunisian TV channel has gone ahead with the broadcast of a controversial hidden camera exposé programme. “Shalom” tackles the issue of normalisation with the Israeli occupation, Quds Press has reported.

Tunisna Channel explained that the programme shows a scenario whereby a politician or public figure is supposedly invited for an interview with CNN. It turns out, though, that the “interviewer” is actually an Israeli official offering the guest the opportunity to deal with Israel in exchange for financial and political support.

According to producer Walid Zribi, the “guests” have been putting pressure on Tunisna not to broadcast “Shalom”. The media expert explained that the programme “aims to expose Tunisian political figures who are willing to deal with Israel.”

The channel denied allegations that it was under pressure not to broadcast the programme and pointed out that the broadcast material does not meet the normal quality standards. It added that the current context of the Palestinian issue makes the content of the programme a clear provocation to viewers and a search for excitement in a subject that does not tolerate humour or derision. It added that those who were stung by the programme were “mainly a group of artists and politicians who have no authority or influence to exert pressure on any party.”

Tunisia bans Israel delegations from sports contest

According to the presidential foreign affairs adviser Anouar Al-Gharbi, “The idea of a hidden camera programme over the normalisation with the Zionist occupation at this time in particular raises many question marks.” He pointed out that Tunisians are fully in favour of the unarmed Palestinians who face the crimes of the Israeli occupation in the Great Return Marches.

“The crimes of the Zionist entity against Tunisia amount to more than a hidden camera,” Al-Gharbi told Quds Press. “They are facts on the ground, especially with regard to the events of Hammam Chott [bombed by Israel in 1985], the murder of [the PLO’s] Abu Jihad and the assassination of Engineer Mohamed Zouari.”

However, Ahmed Al-Kahlawi, the head of the National Association to support Arab resistance in Palestine and Iraq, said that regardless of the source of the programme it lets Tunisians know about Israel’s recruitment of public figures to serve its objectives… “even if the style of the programme needs to be discussed.” Al-Kahlawi told Quds Press that the Tunisian media is under the influence of the pro-Israel media and the advertising companies” associated with it. “Many media professionals may have fallen under the influence of these foreign companies, so Tunisia’s national security forces must put an end to this Zionist intervention which we see in tourism, culture and even security itself.”

Protest in Tunisia against normalisation with Israeli occupation

This was particularly evident, he added, when the Tunisian aviation engineer Mohamed Zouari was assassinated in front of his house in December 2016, and Israel’s Channel 10 had a reporter breaking the story from in front of Zouari’s house. “This was in addition to the broadcast of a later report from in front of the Tunisian Ministry of the Interior.”

The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) accused Israel of assassinating Zouari, who was a member of Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the movement.

Al-Kahlawi pointed out that the Tunisian government is also “involved in normalisation” through what are called “pilgrimages” to the Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba. “They appear to be religious, but are, in fact, a Zionist breakthrough.”

Israel’s Channel TV7 was wandering around the country, and then reported the statements of the Mufti of Tunisia, Othman Battikh, about the International Symposium on Dialogue among Religions and Civilisations, which was recently organized in Djerba. “The Mufti of Tunisia would not do this without the permission of the government,” he insisted, “especially since the Zionist rabbis, whose hands are stained with the blood of Tunisians, Palestinians and Arabs, and who toured Tunisia, would not have entered the country without receiving official invitations from ministries in the Tunisian government.”

(Source / 21.05.2018)

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 activist: ‘Zionism is inhumane’

Tunisians protest against US President Donald Trump’s announcement to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on 9 December 2017 in Sfax, Tunisia

A Tunisian campaign seeks to gather one million signatories in order to criminalise normalisation of relations with Israel.

“Tunisians against normalisation” was launched in response to US President Donald Trump’s unilateral move to declare his administration’s decision to recognise unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in contravention of international laws and numerous UN resolutions.

Official spokesman for the campaign, Hafez Al-Sawari, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, that the campaign will include all Tunisians, including political parities, organisations and NGOs, and is a historical opportunity to rally people behind a single cause. He believes that this initiative has come about due to their belief that “Zionism is inhumane”.

He added that Tunisia has sacrificed many martyrs to liberate Palestine and fight Israel since 1948.

Read: Israelis warned not to travel to Tunisia

Al-Sawari also noted that the recent American decision has accelerated this campaign, which is the least that can be done to support Palestinians and the Palestinian cause. This movement, along with countrywide protests, send a message that Tunisians are against normalisation and support the Palestinian cause.

According to Al-Sawari, the campaign collected 13,000 signatures within a few hours of its launch. The goal is to reach a million signatories, making it the largest campaign in Tunisia. It will then be presented to the People’s Assembly to demand the adoption of a law that criminalises normalising relations with Israel.

(Source / 15.12.2017)

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)