Archive for the ‘North Africa’ Category
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.
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
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 (see: Tunisie : 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 تونس Nidā’ 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.
Tunisian Women Protesting for Fundamental Rights in New Constitution.
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
- A democracy with civil laws that respects freedom of religion
- An established right to due process and protection from torture
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!
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.
Likes a Larf.
French President François Hollande is known for his jokes.
David Cameron, said that he would roll out the red carpet for French companies who did not wish to pay the 75% tax rates (for the highest earners) the Socialist-led government had introduced.
Holland replied, “J’apprécie l’humour, et surtout l’humour britannique. Donc j’étais très heureux que l’on puisse m’offrir un tapis pour les prochains mois et les prochaines années.”
I like a joke, particularly British humour. So, I am happy that they will be able to offer me a red carpet, in the coming months, and indeed for the coming years.
There is an article, in English, on the BBC web-site, giving more details on this, appealing side, of the French President.
This time his fondness for a laugh has got Hollande in hot water.
On Monday, December 16, the 70th anniversary celebration of main French Jewish umbrella group CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), Hollande joked that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had returned from a trip to Algeria “safe and sound…which is saying something”.
Algerian officials were not amused.
On Saturday in Algiers, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra told journalists that the French President’s wisecrack about France’s former colony was “a regrettable incident”.
The Algerian press was was particularly unamused by the joke. On Saturday, five days after Hollande made the comment, the front pages of Arabic-language newspapers El-Khabar, Echorouk and Ennahar featured the news. One headline read: “Hollande mocks Algeria in front of the Jews”. France 24.
Hollande should have read Claude Cockburn.
In I Claud (1967) Cockburn observed that humour often falls flat in diplomatic exchanges.
Beginning with De Gaulle (who liked to make, often cutting, witticisms), Cockburn then brings up the case of high European diplomacy and (if memory serves me rightly) a Renaissance example where an attempt at wit caused more serious difficulties than Hollande has, so far, encountered.
Left-wing political humour is a genre in its own right (Hollande is reported to be a master there was well).
Here too we find a regrettable tendency not to get the jest.
The SWP leadership, despite its fame as a laughing-stock, shows an unhappy inclination to resent the honest efforts of wags, on the Internet and off it.
Words such as “slander” spring to their lips.
Even the Weekly Worker, we hear, shows a humourless school-teacher side when that august publication is subjected to mild ribaldry.
Tendance Coatesy likes funny.
And that’s that.
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).
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.
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.”
Students in the UK are demonstrating against university guidelines allegedly backing gender segregation. Channel 4 News looks at what sparked the debate in the UK’s biggest universities. Channel Four.
The report explains,
Campaigners are targeting Universities UK (UUK) offices in Tavistock Square, London, after the organisation published a report last month saying universities could segregate by gender during talks from external speakers.
In the report, UUK claimed that universities faced a complex balance of promoting freedom of speech without breaking equality and discrimination laws.
The report presented some hypothetical case studies which come up on campuses, including whether a speaker from an ultra-orthodox religious group requests an audience is segregated by gender.
Maryam Namazie, spokesperson of One Law for All and Fitnah, Movement for Women’s Liberation, said: “Today, International Human Rights Day, we rally outside of the office of Universities UK to condemn their endorsement of segregation of the sexes.
“Their new guidance to universities on external speakers states that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as both men and women are segregated side by side rather than women being made to sit in the back.
“Would racial apartheid have been non-discriminatory if white and black people had been segregated in the same manner? In fact that is the very argument the apartheid regime of South Africa used when faced with criticism: separate but equal.”
In an extraordinary defence of segregation, Camillia Kahn, Head of Communications, Federation of Student Islamic Societies, argues that religious, that is Islamist practice, is fair because women are “separate but equal”.
It begins with this gobbledegook,
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression – it is a word loaded with modern history, drawing back to the belligerent injustices of the slave trade, apartheid, and the Holocaust. It blows the discussion out of proportion and acts to politicise it further. Segregation implies a hierarchy a form of discrimination which asserts the dominance of one group over another- which is a very different reality to a voluntary seating arrangement which impacts both males and females equally. Thus, the current discourse is creating new imagined problems rather than solving existing ones.
In other words, speech, critical ‘discourse’ about this practice, tries to create a reality.
The discourse surrounding this issue must change if our campuses are to continue placing student interests at the forefront, broadening their view to a more diverse perspective.
Kahn continues, by reference to the Qur’an’s recipe for gaining, “the pleasure of God” “ultimately in salvation through good deeds.”
It would be interesting to know how a “discourse” can indicate the truth of this claim about something called ‘God’.
Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it. The men and women’s rows in the Prophet’s mosque were separate, yet it formed the basis for a social model which empowered women to become scholars, businesswomen, military personnel and doctors.
So equal in fact that women can take as many husbands as men can take wives….
The term ‘segregation’ denotes discrimination and isolation – and this couldn’t be further from the general reality. There needs to be a linguistic shift in the discourse – but more importantly, the shift must be an ideological one which accepts that there exist differences based on sound spirituality, and these need to be embraced, led by brave and nuanced organisations such as Universities UK.
Guy Deutscher in Through the Looking Glass. Why The World Looks Different in Other Languages (2005) accepted that things may indeed take on distinct aspects in different languages. This appears to happen through the way time and space are organised in verbal morphology but in fact any language can still make the same distinctions by adding information not indicated by the conjugations of verbs.
He founds however that colour terms, spatial co-ordinates (our internal cognitive compass),and even (more debatably) grammatical gender may be part of a stratum that indeed shapes our fundamental thought by dint of the language we use.
But these are minor aspects. If some languages code information in distinct ways, and their grammar obliges people (they must) express things in such a way, all languages may refer to the same reality.
Deutscher has fun taking apart strong linguistic relativism.
One case he cites is George Orwell’s Newspeak. This aimed to make certain thoughts impossible. Deutscher comments that eliminating words might then be seen to eliminate the things.
If be banish the word poverty, hey presto, poverty is abolished!
Now what is the reality of gender segregation as practised by Islamists?
In Tunisia the attention of the Salisfists is focused precisely on this area.
KB: Could you describe the current situation and the biggest challenges for women activists and secularists now?
AG: The main subject is civil liberties and how to survive the current wave of violence against women. There is tension vis-à-vis women in terms of their clothes, their life-style, etc. For example, swimming in Ramadan causes problems now for some women. It is a new phenomenon in Tunisia – this new relationship with the body and the feeling that in the public sphere you are not free. There are others who are using violence in order to “correct” the behavior of women. It is not possible any more for women activists to travel around the country on their own at night or to go to rural areas, especially to some areas where fundamentalists impose their rule, such as rural areas near Bizerte where there is reported to be Salafist controlled territory or “Imara Salafya”. Tunisia is not the same as it was two years ago. We do not have the same freedom of movement
Perhaps Camillia Khan would care to comment on these “syntagmatic relations”.
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, fighting for democracy, and equality, restores the reputation of the liberal Islam that Khan besmirches.
Glory to those fighting Religious Segregation!
More background from Shiraz Socialist.
Protest Against Tunisia’s Islamists (September 2013).
“We know no spectacle so ridiculous as the British Left in one of its periodical fits of morality.” (Tendance Coatesy. Collected Works Vol.3).
At present the Alliance for Workers Liberty is caught up in such a spasm of outrage.
Beside himself with rage Marcus Halaby writes of the “AWL’s anti-anti-imperialist Islamophobia” in Workers Power Yassamine Mather in the Weekly Worker (October the 31st) spends a page pinning down “angry accusations of Islamophobia, racism and pro-imperialism” against the AWL leader Sean Matgamma. Halby states, “Matgamna’s shameless Islamophobia, the latest, virulent strain of racism in the West, and the AWL’s failure to distance itself from it certainly deserves to be harshly criticised and condemned.”
One AWL member states that it is this was the final straw that pushed him to resign from the group,
Pat Smith says, “Not just the Islamophobic language, but the chauvinist – worse than chauvinist – world view that it presents; a world view that permeates and informs the entire article, a world view upon which Sean’s explanation for the appeal of Islamic fundamentalism is predicated.”
The response of the AWL is here.
What is this all about?
One article, originally published in 2007, and now re-presented, Political Islam, Christian Fundamentalism, Marxism and the Left Today
Yassamine Mather summarises its arguments,
- First, that “The ‘war on terror’ was not a ‘put-up job’, an artificially concocted replacement for the old cold war with Stalinist Russia … to create an external enemy which can be used to bind atomised capitalist society together.”
- Second, that “[the west] did not for that purpose invent the upsurge of militant political Islam, or, rather, the emergence of political Islam as a force in international politics …” So “Neither covert western encouragement nor neo-con manipulation” explains the “fundamental root of the luxuriantly thriving Islamic fundamentalism.” Instead, “it has other, indigenous, roots.”
- Third, that “In the Arab countries, especially, political Islam has expanded to fill the space created by the collapse of Arab nationalism”, which imploded “in part … because it had achieved all it could achieve – the independence of Arab states such as Egypt and Iraq, which were semi-dependencies of Britain until the 1950s.”
- Finally, that today’s political Islamist movements are the contemporary equivalents of the “desert tribes of primitive Muslim simplicity and purity enviously eyeing a rich and decadent walled city and sharpening their knives, or country folk in former Yugoslavia eyeing a city like Dubrovnik – so now much of the Islamic world looks with envy, covetousness, religious self-righteousness and active hostility on the rich, decadent, infidel-ridden, sexually sinful advanced capitalist societies.”
For her the fault line is clear, for the “philistine Matgamna…. this phenomenon is simply as some sort of ideological ‘living fossil’, separate from the main developments that characterise the other, ‘modern’ world.”
Sean Matgamn’s “monstrosity” largely centres on this paragraph – the pivot of all the other arguments (nobody is, to be honest, interested in the comments on Christianity).
Like desert tribes of primitive Muslim simplicity and purity enviously eyeing a rich and decadent walled city and sharpening their knives, or country folk in former Yugoslavia eyeing a city like Dubrovnik, so, now, much of the Islamic world looks with envy, covetousness, religious self-righteousness and active hostility on the rich, decadent, infidel-ridden, sexually sinful advanced capitalist societies.
Marcus Halby says, “Thus he is accusing, let us put it plainly, Muslims of making hypocritical denunciations of the Western world when in reality they want to plunder it of its riches and enjoy its corruption.”
Yasminna comments, “It is oddly reminiscent of passages one might have read in a mid-19th century history text book, possibly taught in a (second-rate) public school.”
Halby outdoes her, “It should, of course, be shocking that the leading figure of a far left organisation should be using the sort of racist and Orientalist language more traditionally associated with professional Islamophobes like Melanie Phillips, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz, Brigitte Gabriel and Mark Steyn: a fleshly paradise, harems of virgins, a starved beggar squatting, desert tribes, primitive simplicity and purity, decadence, envy and covetousness, the sharpening of knives, a walled city, the walls of Vienna, sexual sinfulness, infidels, luxuriantly thriving.”
Well, so much for the colourful language. And so much for Marcus Halaby whose detailed sectarian attacks on the AWL – even for Coatesy – pass beyond the will to read further than the lines we cited.