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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Tunisia: Islamists Agree to Leave Office Before the End of the Month.

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Protest at assassination of Tunisian leftist leader Mohammed Brahmi .

Latest news: Tunisia deal to bring end to Islamist rule.

“Tunisia’s political rivals have agreed on a timetable for the Islamist-led ruling coalition to quit and be replaced by a government of independents.

The Islamist Ennahda party and opposition groups in the country signed a roadmap aimed at creating a new government within three weeks.”

More in Al Jazeera.

The Islamist Ennahda party, which heads the Tunisian government vowed on Saturday afternoon to step down before the end of October to resolve a deep political crisis. This comes two years after their  victory in elections following the January 2011 revolution. Libération.

Tunisia Live continues,

The roadmap plan drafted by a group of civil society organizations calls for government and political leaders to meet for direct negotiations, and mandates that the current government resign three weeks from the first session of talks in favor of group of technocratic leaders to be chosen during the dialogue.

Leaders of Ennahdha, the largest party in the ruling coalition, and Ettakatol, one of its governing partners, both signed the agreement at a ceremony today in Tunis. Most opposition parties, including Nidaa Tounes and members of the Popular Front coalition, also signed on. *

The same web site noted on Friday,

The Popular Front opposition coalition confirmed that it will take part in the direct talks between government and opposition parties, scheduled to begin Saturday morning.

“We are going to participate,” Popular Front leader Mohamed Jmour told Tunisia Live Friday. “But all parties have to respect the roadmap. Otherwise, we will leave the dialogue.

Tunisia has been in a political deadlock since the July 25 assassination of Popular Front member Mohamed Brahmi.

The roadmap plan guiding the dialogue was proposed by the UGTT labor union, the UTICA employers’ union, and two other civil society organizations.

This plan calls for direct meetings between political leaders and calls for a new government to replace the current government within three weeks of the first session of talks.

According to the UGTT, the opening session will kick off on Saturday at 9:30 am at the Palais de Congrés in Tunis.

Al Jazeera says,

Mistrust

“I want to thank you for joining this dialogue because you are opening the door of hope for Tunisians,” said Houcine Abassi, whose UGTT trade union confederation was the lead mediator behind the roadmap, at Saturday’s ceremony.

Delegates at the Palais des Congres said the launch of the hard-won dialogue with a symbolic ceremony had earlier been jeopardised by a last-minute dispute.

The UGTT said Ennahda had initially refused to formally sign the text that underlines the timetable of the national dialogue.

The two sides are still divided over issues including the date of elections, the role of a special assembly finishing a draft of a new constitution and composition of an electoral body to oversee the vote.

Libération also notes,

As a sign of prevailing animosity in Tunisia opposition figures this week again accused Ennahda of being involved in the assassination of MP Mohamed Brahmi in July and the killing in February of another opponent, Chokri Belaïd. These crimes, for which nobody has  yet to claim responsibility, have been laid at the door of the Salafist movement.

The country remains locked in institutional paralysis, linked to the emergence of armed Salafist groups. This has increased  economic difficulties. Investors have become more and more cautious, while inflation and the depreciation of the Tunisian dinar have eroded ordinary people’s purchasing power.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 6, 2013 at 11:03 am