Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Archive for the ‘Tunisia’ Category

Tunisian Islamists Conceed Defeat to Secular, Nidaa Tounes, Party,

leave a comment »

Tunisia: Nidaa Tounes Beats Islamists.

Tunisia’s Ennahda party, the first Islamist movement to secure power after the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolts, conceded defeat on Monday in elections that are set to make its main secular rival the strongest force in parliament.

Official results from Sunday’s elections – the second parliamentary vote since Tunisians set off uprisings across much of the Arab World by overthrowing autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali – were still to be announced.

But a senior official at Ennahda, which ruled in a coalition until it was forced to make way for a caretaker government during a political crisis at the start of this year, acknowledged defeat by the secular Nidaa Tounes party.

We have accepted this result, and congratulate the winner Nidaa Tounes,” the official, Lotfi Zitoun, told Reuters. However, he repeated the party’s call for a new coalition including Ennahda. “We are calling once again for the formation of a unity government in the interest of the country.”

Earlier, a party source said preliminary tallies showed the secular party had won 80 seats in the 217-member assembly, ahead of 67 secured by Ennahda.

Reuters.

These are some percentage figures.

Nidaa Tounes 38.24% = 83 seats Ennahdha: 31.33% = 68 seats Free Patriotic Union (run by rich businessman and Africa football club owner Slim Riahi), : 7.83% = 17 Seats Popular Front (the left bloc): 5.25% = 12 seats Afek Tounes: 2.3% = 5 seats Congress for the Republic: 1.84% = 4 seats The Initiative: 1.84% = 4 seats

Tunisia Live.

Le Monde reports,

The Islamist party knew he would see a decline in popularity but had not imagined such a setback. Triumphantly elected in 2011, when the first free elections were held after the fall of Ben Ali, the movement had two difficult years in government, marked by economic failure, political assassinations and a rise in terrorism.

On Sunday, voters did not hesitate to say they had voted Ennahda in 2011 and had been then disappointed. So that they had decided to turn to Nidaa Tounès. “We need people who can make the country move forward “, noted a resident of Rafraf, small coastal town in the north, attracted as were many voters by the figure of Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister and leader of the transitional government after the revolution.

While British commentators  like the Guardian’s Seumas Milne had described Ennahda as “progressive” and “centre left” critics from Tunisia’s important secular left and labour movement had accused it of harbouring a hard-line Islamist wing, and practising neo-liberal economics.

The assassination of the left leader Chokri Belaïd (February 2013) indicated the existence of a far-right Islamist current prepared to use violence against the progressive movement. It as a key moment in defining the difference between Islamist reaction - including that of Ennahda – and the Tunisian left (seeTunisie : Le mouvement ouvrier à la croisée des chemins.). At one point it looked as if the fringes of the party would work with the religious hard-liners  and establish Islamic ‘mini-states’ based on the Sharia.

This did not happen.

The Parliamentary Islamists recoiled from the terrorism of the Salafist inspired street fighters.

All Tunisian elected parties have since accepted a new (2014) Constitution, unique in the Arab world, which establishes a framework for open decentralised government, promotes gender equality and accepts freedom of religion (that is the right not to be a Muslim), although restricts attacks on faith.

Nidaa Tounes (the حركة نداء تونسNidā’ Tūnis, French: Appel de la Tunisie, Call of Tunisia), is a secular party, or as Wikipedia calls it “secularist”. “founded by the former prime minister Beji Caid el Sebsi after the post-revolution 2011 elections. It describes itself as a “modernist” party.”

In this context modernist means that the party is dedicated to democracy, gender equality, social openness, and is not prepared to allow movements imposing Islamic rules on daily life. Economic development is seen as a condition of progress.

“The party has patched together former members of ousted president Ben Ali’s Constitutional Democratic Rally, secular leftists, progressive liberals and Destourians (followers of Tunisia’s “founder” Habib Bourguiba). In addition, the party has the support of many members of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the national employers’ union, UTICA. They believe that Tunisia’s secular forces have to unite to counter the dominance of the Islamist Ennahda Movement.”

Nidaa Tounes’ promises increased growth and a reduction in unemployment (currently at 15,20%).

It is believed that the party’s criticisms of the “instrumentalisation” of Islam, experienced candidates (regardless of their Destourian past),  and its call for “sécurité et de la stabilité” accounts for its successes.

To their left with 17 seats the Popular Front has achieved Parliamentary representation. It suffered from leftist in-fighting, and the alliance of some trade unionists with Nidaa Tounes. Nevertheless it also remains linked to the left-wing of the powerful  Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT).

It is believed that the UGTT and Tunisia’s strong civil society have helped hinder the growth of an Islamist anti-democratic movement.

Nevertheless over  2,400 Tunisian citizens (out of a population of 10,89 million) have joined the jihadists in Syria and Iraq.

It is expected that very different social conflicts will result from any attempt by the probable national unity government that the elections are likely to create (led by Nidaa Tounes) to tie a ‘modernising’ economic agenda to neo-liberal policies. Calling themselves “technocrats” is an obvious attempt by politicians to deflect opposition to unpopular measures which could include further austerity.

For the moment minds are concentrated on the defeat of Ennahda.

There are inevitable charges of – marginal – electoral malpractice.

But some things stand out: watching the images of voting in Tunis on the (UK) telly news stations today you could have been excused for simply thinking how ordinary the Tunisians looked – democratic, calm, modern people.

Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A Reply to Andrew Murray.

with 5 comments

Communist Party of Australia’s View of Imperialism.

Imperialism, anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A reply to Andrew Murray.

Imperialism, the Marxist historian Victor Kiernan claimed, shows itself, “in coercion exerted abroad, by one means or another, to extort profits above what simple commercial exchange can procure.” Andrew Murray begins Imperialism has Evolved since 1914, but it still Rules to World (Morning Star. 2.8.14. reproduced on 21st century Manifesto), by citing this assertion to observe that the “wars of 1914 and 1939 are the outstanding examples of what happens when that international system of extortion breaks down.” “Break-down and crisis” are as much a feature of “imperialism” as growth and slump are of capitalism. We might explain this, as a critic of Kiernan once noted, as the result of an inherent “atavistic” tendency to revert to type. (1)

Murray paints a picture of contemporary ‘imperialism’ in which there are “instruments of inter-imperialist mediation and control” such as Nato and the IMF, which bear some marks of “ultra” or “super” imperialism. That is, as Lenin put it in 1915, the view that there was underway an “international unification of national (or more correctly state-bound) imperialisms which “would be able to eliminate the most unpleasant, the most disturbing and distasteful conflicts, such as wars, political convulsions which the petty bourgeois is so much afraid of.”(2) At its most developed the idea of ‘ultra-imperialism’ would foresee a “single world trust” that would swallow up all states and enterprises. This, Lenin argued, simply would not happen.

Does the past show us the future? We can clearly set aside any idea of a single Capital dominating capitalism. Politically the existence of inter-state institutions, including international justice systems, does not eliminate rivalry between countries. There is no effective “global governance”. Conflicts have a recurrent source. “The shaper contradiction is between that world order managed and maintained by US power and those big powers which stand to a significant extent outside of it. There are two – Russia and China.”

Dominant, naturally, is the “US-led bloc”; the imperialism “constitutes the dominant system in the world today”. This is bound, hand and foot, to a policy of aggression, “the main driver of war lies in the policy of the US and the imperialist world order it has created to further its leading business interests, and those of its capitalist allies, Britain pre-eminent among them.” That is, despite signs of US “retreat” and “difficulties in the Middle East, it is “commanding” with world-wide military bases, and control of the (above) “inter-imperialist” bodies, like the IMF and Nato.

Anti-Imperialism.

Threaded into this analysis Murray states, “anti-imperialism now is at the heart of any serious progressive politics”. Sometimes it may lead progressive to “deal with contradictory cross currents”. One, is that “Russia’s role as a challenger to global US hegemony and the legitimacy of many national demands arising from the break up of the Soviet Union, may often mandate contingent support for the positions of the Putin government”. That is with the “contradictory” recognition that Russia has “corrupt oligarchic and repressive” practices, in “restored Russian capitalism.”

It is odd that anybody would consider that backing any aspect of Russian foreign policy is ‘anti-imperialist‘. It may be done with reasons, but if the government of Putin is the head of a capitalist state, meshed into the imperialist system, then how exactly it is a consistent part of anti-imperialism? It is hard to see many people rushing to the defence of one group of oligarchs fighting another.

One wonder how many other ‘challengers’ to US hegemony also “mandate” contingent support? To be supported (or in real terms, given kind words and some public show of endorsement) how far can a foreign policy trump a domestic one? A debate has begun on the US-left, with echoes in Europe, on Hamas. The American International Socialist Organization reject any backing for the violent, reactionary ISIS and Islamic State Islamists in Syria and Iraq. But they offer “unconditional but critical” support for the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which has right-wing anti-socialist and anti-liberal policies. (3) The importance of their anti-imperialist battle with Israel over-rides their anti-democratic and corrupt practices.

Others might argue that it would be better simply to oppose Israel’s actions in attacking the Palestinians and depriving them of their rights than in to offer any succour to a group with a proven record of hostility to any form of left-wing and progressive politics. No amount of bluster about solidarity can disguise this side of Hamas. Israel’s actions need to be fought by a coherent movement, one not entangled in this dead-end. Such a push requires co-operation with Israeli citizens opposed to their state’s policies, and not a call to drive them into the sea. This is not to “blame” Hamas, it is simply not to take their political side.

Romantic third-worldism appears to have survived the collapse of any specific “non-capitalist” development after the fall of Official Communism and the rise of neo-liberal economics and politics. Perhaps we are seeing signs of a part others about to plunge into a second-youth, digging out dusty copies of Frantz Fanon to find inspiration for their “anti-imperialism”. (4) It continued to exist in the half-life of university “post-colonial” theory and some marginal groupuscules, like the French Les Indigènes de la République. These self-appointed representatives of the “natives” battle against neo-colonialist secularism and Marxism. They really are unconditional backers of Hamas, and treat the racist anti-Semite, ‘anti-Zionist’, and Holocaust denier, Dieudonné with great tenderness.

It is perhaps unfair to draw such conclusions from what are, at present, straws in the wind. But it is disingenuous to claim that you give “unconditional” support to a movement or party when you reserve the right to be “critical”. Heroes do not generally appreciate unfavourable comments, even if made very discreetly, from their fans. No doubt politics is full of tales of unrequited love. The left groups that popularised this and similar formulae in the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, knew many such disappointments, from African national liberation movements, to the IRA, to cite but a few.

People often comment on a distinct strand of visceral anti-Americanism in what is left of post-war leftism and Communism. It could be said  that sometimes it plays a role not dissimilar to Marx’s eminently forgettable phobia against Tsarist Russia (Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century, mid 1850s)  That led Marx to make some claims which can only be described in terms of conspiracies, the “secret collaboration between the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg” back to Peter the Great(!). Today it is frequent to see people throw responsibility for wars and exploitation on the US in terms of intrigues, spying, most recently, through the etheral spheres of the Net.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is, one hopes, made of sterner stuff. While there is a continuing regret at the demise of ‘actually existing socialism’ only a few have found a new home in the national conservatism of Putin’s Kremlin – though many more indulge its media, such as Russia Today. Andrew Murray notes that the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine have been circumscribed by the need to maintain “economic links with important Ukrainian enterprises”. The Communist Party of Britain, and some left groups, contains people who do not consider Russia imperialist. Murray suggests “otherwise” – on the basis of its international economic interests. This is indeed an illustration of how the left cannot “conditionally” align with any existing capitalist power. But mroe deeply is he seriously suggesting that it might be a good thing if Russia stood by the separatists? Why exactly? What socialist objective does that meet? It is bad enough having a right-wing pro-EU pro-US government with far-right involvement. But does a break-away solve the problems of the Ukraine? What criteria are being used to determine this?

Imperialism Otherwise.

It is the case that the “territorial” and “economic” mechanisms that states are caught up are shaped by the hegemony of one great power, the United States. ‘It’, or rather the fractions and networks that dominate the country’s economic and politics, has played a key (though, as is obvious, by no means exclusive) role in spreading the neo-liberal economic agenda. It has tried to exert, with no great success, territorial rights in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and across the globe. These actions have been a major cause of great, and continuing, bloodshed. (5)

But Murray’s “otherwise” has to be extended. There are plenty of ‘other’ factors to consider behind conflicts in the world today.Nor are things reducible to the US-leadership. However, adding the European Union to this list of powers still leaves us short of determining the overwhelming influence of a new ‘concert of imperialist nations’. To give one example,  the failure of the ‘Arab Spring’ can hardly be reduced to the machinations of the Pentagon, the EU, or the galaxy of US-inspired think tanks and ‘advisers’ on democracy. Domestic politics, state structures, and the rise of the “micro-powers” of Islamic coercion, and the pressures of economic flows, could be put into the very long list of causal factors at work behind the (still unsettled) outcome of these revolts. 

If there are forces for the left to support they can probably be best found in those determined to put democracy and social justice above religious and national concerns. Göran Therborn recently argued that the “new middle classes” in the developing world could divide into those who take sides, “either with the oligarchs against the poor, or with the people against the oligarchs. (6) This expresses a theme popular amongst journalists, that democracy is the central issue of our time and the basis for new cross-class alliances led, in the South, by a “modern” Westernised professionals and the intelligentsia.

The recent record (from the Arab World to Turkey) of such movements is not one of success. Syria has apparently melted down to a confessional war, stained by state mass murder and the rise of the totalitarian genocidal ISIS, which has spread into the Iraqi Islamic State. In Baghdad a confessional Shiite regime clings to power. Egypt has returned to a repressive military oligarchy. States founded on religious authority, repression, and sexual apartheid, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, remain in place.

Many Marxists have always argued that democracy is tied to the struggles of the labour movement, a more permanent, and more radical and better-founded basis for change. Therborn may be right that economic change means that its class bases have weakened. Yet it’s worth noting that Tunisia, a case apart in the Arab Spring, in which some hopes may still be placed, is marked by opposition to the domination by Islamists of a, sometimes stormy, partnership between intellectuals and the powerful trade union federation the UGTT (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail).

Western governments may create, or exacerbate wars. Their prime concern remains the economy. Neo-liberal economics do not rely on heavy-handed domestic repression. In Europe and elsewhere, it is the privatisation of the public sphere, and exploitation by a new class of rentiers, that is the most pressing threat. 

How does this affect  internationalism – something  basic behind genuine open-minded  ‘anti-imperialism’? Globalisation and mass migration have created a sense that the “distance” between lands is far less than it was 100 years ago.This is a fight that could unite people across the world against the ‘empire’ of those enlarging their grossly unequal territories, not divide them.  On this democratic and socialist basis we could be said to be “anti-imperialist”. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that corresponds today to the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, “anti-imperialist united front”, nor, given the diversity of  world politics and states, does one look likely to reappear.  There is no division of the world into clear-cut “camps” to choose. We have to make our own choices. (7)

References.

(1) Page 58. Imperialism. Pioneer of Capitalism. Bill Warren. NLB 1980.

(2) Page 12. V.I. Lenin. Introduction to Imperialism and the World Economy. N.Bukharin. (1915). Merlin Press. 1972.

(3) What do socialists say about Hamas? July 31, 2014

“We differentiate between utterly reactionary Islamist movements such as ISIS, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism in defence of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people.

We consider Hamas, which originated in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s, and won wide popularity among Palestinians because of its rejection of the concessions and surrender which Fatah offered to the Zionist enemy and the United States, and through its military resistance to the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.

From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel, because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the United States, and therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.

Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical, however, because we believe that the movement’s strategies in the struggle to liberate Palestine – like the strategies adopted by Fatah and the Palestinian left before it – have failed and will fail in the future.”

(4) See: Capitalism, Class and universalism: escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory. Vivek Chibber. Socialist Register. 2014.

(5) “In the course of four decades of unremitting struggle, a military and political order was constructed that transformed what had once been a merely hemispheric hegemony into a global empire, remoulding the form of the US state itself” Page 110. Imperium. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 82 (New Series) 2013. See also, Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. Andrew Coates. “The Bush administration’s shift towards unilateralist, towards coercion rather than consent, towards a much more overtly imperial vision, and towards reliance upon its unchallengeable military power, indicates a high-risk approach to sustaining US domination, almost certainly through military command over global oil resources. Since this is occurring in the midst of several signs of loss of dominance in the realms of production and now (though as yet less clearly) finance, the temptation to for exploitative domination is strong.”(P 75) The New Imperialism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 2005.

(6) New Masses? Göran Therborn. New Left Review. 2nd series. No 85. 2014.

(7) The anti-imperialist united front. Alliance for Workers Liberty. 2013.

Mejiri, in Tunisian Prison for Images of the ‘Prophet’ pardoned but remains in Prison.

leave a comment »

Not Yet Free.

President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.

- See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2014/02/19/presidency-announces-pardon-for-jabeur-mejri-but-supporters-say-hes-still-in-jail/#sthash.ai2XIpLq.dpuf

President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.

- See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2014/02/19/presidency-announces-pardon-for-jabeur-mejri-but-supporters-say-hes-still-in-jail/#sthash.ai2XIpLq.dpuf

Background.

Ghazi Beji  and Jabeur Mejri are Tunisian citizens sentenced on 28 March 2012 to 7.5 years’ imprisonment for “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order” after posting naked caricatures of Mohammad to Facebook.Mejri faced trial in court, while his friend Beji was convicted in absentia, having fled to Europe to escape prosecution. Mejri’s appeal of his sentence was denied on 25 June 2012. Mejri’s lawyer objected to his client being denied medical evaluation, describing him as “mentally unstable” and unemployed for the past six year.  Wikipedia.

Today Libération reports that Jabeur Mejri has  received a Presidential pardon.

But he remains in Prison on a (critics allege, fabricated) charge of having operated a fraud as an emploeye of the Tunisian railway services.  While unemployed when arrested for “blasphemeny” he had in the past worked in the ticket office of Mahadia.

Ghazi Beji has been granted political asylum in France.

This story is also on Tunisia Live.

“President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

.Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.”

Written by Andrew Coates

February 20, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Tunisia’s New Constitution: A Great Step Forward but Some Doubts Remain.

with one comment

Tunisian Women Protesting for Fundamental Rights in New Constitution.

This week, Tunisia passed a truly historic constitution widely heralded as a progressive and monumental document.

Here’s just some of what these brave elected representatives agreed upon in the face of strong pressure from the more extreme factions of their parties:

  • Guaranteed equality between men and women
  • A constitutional mandate for environmental protection, only the third country in the world to do so
  • A declaration that health care is a human right, with preventative care and treatment for every citizen
  • democracy with civil laws that respects freedom of religion
  • An established right to due process and protection from torture

In one stroke, Tunisia’s become more democratic than many Western countries have been for years. 

This is a revolution of democracy and a great victory for human rights — and the more we recognize that, the more Tunisia can shine as an example for the Western and the Arab world!

MESSAGE FOR TUNISIAN LEGISLATORS: We , the citizens of the world, applaud your bravery in making a strong commitment to universal human values in your constitution. People deprived of democracy around the world look to you to set the example of human rights and democratic principle — hold true to the promises made in this revolutionary document!

From Watchdog.

Last Friday, largely unnoticed in the Anglophone press, invited by Tunisia’s provisional President,Mohamed Moncef Marzouki,a whole range of Heads of State, from Africa, Arab countries, and Europe ( France’s President – the sole Western leader to attend) took part in  a ceremony in Tunis to celebrate this step forward.

The French Gauche anticapitaliste (part of the Front de gauche), has called the Constitution a “Phare” (a Beacon) of democratic social  principle,  though not necessarily a model that others can follow.

Some doubts about the new Constitution  remain,

On Human Rights Watch Amna Guellali (Director of the Human Rights Watch office for Tunisia and Algeria) observes,

Article 6 attempts the impossible task of reconciling two radically different visions of society. On the one hand, it caters to a hyper-religious audience that sees the government as a watchdog and protector of all things sacred. At the same time, the article describes a society that leaves each person the freedom of religious choice, without intrusion or interference. The two irreconcilable visions are forced together in a complicated and wordy fashion.

The article, as adopted, reads:

“The State is the guardian of religion. It guarantees liberty of conscience and of belief, the free exercise of religious worship and the neutrality of the mosques and of the places of worship from all partisan instrumentalisation.

The State commits itself to the dissemination of the values of moderation and tolerance and to the protection of the sacred and the prohibition of any offense thereto. It commits itself, equally, to the prohibition of, and the fight against, appeals to Takfir [charges of apostasy] and incitement to violence and hatred.”

These paragraphs, overloaded with meaning and references, are filled with contradictions. More disturbing, however, is how vague they are. The clauses allow for the most repressive of interpretations in the name of offence against the sacred. Citing the constitution, lawyers, judges and politicians could interpret Article 6 however they see fit. This ambivalence could hold grave consequences for the country.

This problem, the ” the criminalization of actions that could be considered “offence(s) to the sacred” remains a potential mine-field.

It is unlikely to disappear.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 13, 2014 at 12:08 pm

Tunisia: Islamist Bigots Refuse Freedom of Conscience.

with 18 comments

Amira: Democrat at the Heart of Tunisian Politics.

There was a brilliant article on the Nouvel Obsevateur site yesterday, describing the role of 29 year old  Amira Yahyaoui in helping frame the new Tunisian Constitution. They call it, “La première Constitution démocratique du monde arabe.”

The text of this interview by   is on the Nouvel Observateur link above.

But naturally the Islamists have objected to some key clauses in the Constitution.

We learn today,

A coalition of religious groups have criticized the draft of the constitution currently being adopted by the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), claiming that some of the articles so far approved violate the fundamentals of Islam.

The organizations released a statement Saturday which was posted on the Facebook page of the Tunisian Front of Islamic Organizations on Tuesday. The statement is signed by several groups, including the Association of Rhetoric and Forensic Science of Sfax.

A group of imams and Islamic associations brought the message to the NCA’s headquarters in Bardo Tuesday, expressing their disapproval of the constitution and specifically the current draft of Article 6, which was approved by a majority vote in the assembly.

The statement calls on NCA members to edit Article 6 and delete its ‘’freedom of conscience’’ clause. The statement claims this language would pave the way for “satanism” and “homosexuality.”

They demanded that the assembly drop a clause banning “takfir,” a word that means accusing someone of being a nonbeliever. The statement says this issue was not studied thoroughly and was introduced only to satisfy some deputies.

The groups also denounced the influence of secular NCA members on the drafting of the constitution and claimed that religious scholars were not consulted about the sections addressing religion.

They also criticized what they deemed attempts to vilify ‘Shariaa Laws.’

The statement concluded by asserting that NCA members have a historic responsibility to pass a constitution compatible with Islam. Tunisia Live.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 16, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Tunisia Commemoration of Mohamed Bouazzi: Left Raises Protests.

leave a comment »

December the 17th 201o, Mohamed Bouazzi, a 26 year old street vendor, set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid to protest against social conditions. 

It was this act that triggered a protest movement against the regime that went beyond his home town of  Sidi Bouzid, Tunis and Tunisia to affect countries across in the Arab world. Al Huffington Post Maghreb (French version). 

Al-Jazeera reports,

This year, two separate events are planned to take place on December 17; one organized by major unions UGTT and UTICA, the leftist Popular Front, and civil society organizations, and one officially sanctioned programme, which will feature remarks from government officials as well as artistic performances.

Marzouki has confirmed his attendance, according to organisers.

“Politics have divided Sidi Bouzid,” says Aida Daly, an organizer of this year’s official December 17 programme. “It will be impossible to repeat the first [anniversary].”

“There is nothing to celebrate” this year, Daly added. “After the revolution, we still see martyrs; police and security officers who died because of violence and terrorism.”

Part of the UGTT-backed programme will be what organizers are calling a peaceful march to express loyalty to the martyr’s of the revolution. The committee has designated public spaces in Sidi Bouzid to be named in memorial of Mohamed Brahmi, who was assassinated this year.

As for unrest, both Gharbi and Daly acknowledged the tense political tone underlying the planned events; Daly citing whispers of protest in Sidi Bouzid, and Gharbi pledging them. and expressing that the political climate affects these programmes.

“This year, like last year, the festival will have a stamp of politics,” said Daly, adding, “I don’t imagine there will be more promises this year.”

La Presse de Tunisie supplies more background on the anniversary and the hostility of many Tunisians to the  ruling Islamists of  Ennahda.

They cite this,

 «La Révolution survient quand ceux qui sont au pouvoir ne veulent plus le quitter et ceux qui sont dans l’opposition sont incapables de les déloger. » (Lénine)

The revolution continues to exist while those in power do not want to leave it, and those in the opposition are unable to dislodge them.

French branch of the Front Populaire here.

Tunisia Live, in English, here.

This explains why many people feel why the Revolution has yet to achieve its objectives.

Tunisia: security sector reform Robert Joyce.

In October, photos surfaced of the savagely beaten body of 32 year old Tunisian man Walid Denguir. Police reportedly arrested Denguir in the Bab Fellah neighborhood of Tunis. Around an hour after his arrest, Denguir’s mother was called on by the police and told her son was dead. Pictures taken after autopsy show Denguir’s skull had caved in and a prominent human rights lawyer said that his injuries resemble the “roasted chicken” position, said to be common to the Ben Ali era, where the victim is hung by four limbs on a pole and beaten with sticks.

Three days after Denguir’s death, the Ministry of Interior remarkably released a statement blaming his death on “excessive violence” while in custody. The officials quickly got back to the normal routine, though, and removed the press release. An investigation is said to be under way from both within the ministry and the external court. Since then, despite continued reporting and civil society pressure no updates have been released. In a show of stunning nerve, the security forces union blamed Denguir’s death on the consumption of cannabis. Local media has run the same cause of death, attributing this to a phantom autopsy report.

The Denguir case serves as a particularly brutal example of the larger issues of police arrest practices. A Human Rights Watch report released earlier this month exposed the flaws in existing laws that have yet to be improved since the revolution. Police in Tunisia can hold arrested suspects for six days without pressing charges or processing them in the prison system. During this time as HRW writes, “detainees are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment by law enforcement agents because they have no access to a lawyer or to family visits.”

Written by Andrew Coates

December 17, 2013 at 11:42 am

Tunisian Politics Update.

leave a comment »

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in central Tunis to call for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition

Tunisia Protesters Against Islamist Government. 

Reuters  reported this,

“Thousands of Tunisians marched through the capital on Wednesday chanting for their government to step down, hours before ruling Islamists and opposition leaders were to start talks aimed at end months of political crisis.

The moderate Islamist party Ennahda has agreed that the government it leads will resign in three weeks and make way for a non-partisan administration until new elections in the country where the “Arab Spring” revolts began in 2011.”

For all one’s respect for Reuters not everybody agreed that this  precisely the case.

Libération states this morning.

The Prime Minister promised in Wednesday night on the “principle” of the government to resign. But the start of the dialogue is uncertain.

On Wednesday night confusion reigned in Tunisia. This was notably about the beginning or  not the “national dialogue” that is supposed to resolve Tunisia’s a deep political crisis.

Let’s be clear, there was an engagement on Wednesday night “in principle” that the Islanist Prime Minister would resign,.

But the opposition  has called for a clear commitment to withdraw from the prime minister Ali Larayedh,  “The statement by the head of government was ambiguous (…) we can not enter into the national dialogue , said Jilani Hamami, representative of the Workers Party (Parti des travailleurs, note one of the Popular Front’s parties, the main left bloc).

The situation has further been complicated today.

Tunisia Live (which has become essential reading) reports,

Political negotiations meant to resolve Tunisia’s political crisis and prepare for its next elections were further delayed Wednesday after separate incidents of violence against state security forces.

The BBC updates,

Tunisia’s president has announced three days of national mourning for six officers killed by suspected militants in the central Sidi Bouzidi province.

President Moncef Marzouki was speaking on the second anniversary of the country’s first free elections.

Earlier, PM Ali Larayedh confirmed the government would resign after talks with the opposition on appointing a caretaker administration were complete.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2013 at 3:01 pm