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Ed Webb

Opinion: Tunisia, A Gulf Crisis Battleground | The North Africa Journal - 0 views

  • Since the Arab Spring uprisings shook the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2010/2011, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have sought to be drivers of political developments in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia—and, to lesser extents, Algeria and Morocco—not only through petrodollar diplomacy, but also through direct military intervention
  • The three-year-old GCC crisis—pitting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt against Qatar since mid-2017—has significantly regionalized
  • By far, the Gulf crisis has played out more destructively in Libya than anywhere else in the Maghreb. Yet Tunisia is a salient example of how another North African country became an arena for the Gulf rivalry albeit one where far less violence has erupted
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  • From the beginning of the Arabian feud, officials in Tunis stressed their preference for not picking sides while also offering to help with diplomatic efforts aimed at resolving the crisis.
  • Qatar gave Tunisia critical financial support in 2012 that helped the government in Tunis maintain domestic stability amid a sensitive period of time following the Jasmine Revolution. While under growing International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressure after President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s fall, Tunisia received USD 500 million from the Qatari National Bank
  • Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Spring protests that shook Tunisia in 2010/2011 secured some greater soft-power influence for Qatar among Tunisian revolutionaries
  • Those leading Ennahda had ties to Doha dating back to the 1990s when Qatar was beginning its escape from the Saudi-led, counter-revolutionary order of the Arabian Peninsula
  • Emirati press often reports on the politics of post-Arab Spring Tunisia in ways that depict the country as having fallen under too much influence of Islamists, who are by definition “terrorists” as Abu Dhabi sees it
  • After Nidaa Tounes took power in 2015, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan paid his first visit to Tunisia since 2011. While in Tunis, he met with then-President Beji Caid Essebsi, who founded Nidaa Tounes, and he invited him to the Emirates. Essebsi also paid Egypt’s president a visit in October 2015 and invited Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to Tunis. According to Emirati calculations, these developments were supposed to weaken Doha-Tunis relations. By opening up more channels of communication with Ennahda’s domestic opponents, Abu Dhabi wanted to bring Tunisia’s regional foreign policy into closer alignment with the Emirates, and further away from the Qatari-Turkish axis.
  • Just as the Qataris helped Tunisia maintain its stability during the aftermath of its 2010/2011 revolution, the Tunisians paid them back in terms of assistance in the domain of food security after the Saudi- and Emirati-imposed siege began.
  • Qatar is the top Arab investor in Tunisia
  • From 2011 to 2019, Doha’s exports to Tunisia doubled six times while Tunisian exports to Qatar doubled ten times. Qatar and Tunisia’s growing relationship has manifested in the signing of 80 agreements across a range of areas
  • leaders in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh have seen the Jasmine Revolution as a threat to their model of “authoritarian stability” which entails support for Arab dictators such as Ben Ali. Both the Saudi and Emirati governments have major concerns about any country in the Maghreb holding free elections that open up the possibility of Islamists being empowered to govern. Furthermore, the growth of Qatari influence in Tunisia following Ben Ali’s fall has irked both Abu Dhabi and Riyadh
  • Certain segments of the population saw Doha’s agenda as geared toward supporting political Islam, not democratic revolutions in the Arab region. Such perceptions of Doha pushing Tunisia under the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence created problems for Qatar among many Tunisians who oppose Islamism.
  • One of the reasons why the UAE has more influence in Tunisia than the Saudis pertains to the Emiratis’ culture and ethos of trade and commerce which Tunisian businessmen easily understand and appreciate.
  • To this point, the majority of Tunisians are indifferent to the ideological underpinnings of the Gulf feud and simply want as much investment from as many Gulf and non-Gulf states as possible. The percentage of Tunisians who are staunchly ‘pro-Qatar’ or ‘pro-UAE’ is below 50, yet their percentage is increasing which underscores how the GCC crisis’ impact on Tunisia has been polarizing
  • Many of these citizens who staunchly welcomed the Jasmine Revolution see Abu Dhabi as a counter-revolutionary force seeking to topple Tunisia’s democratic government. A common narrative is that the Emiratis would like to do to Tunisia what they did to Egypt in 2013 in terms of bankrolling a coup d’état to reverse an Arab Spring revolution.
  • The UAE’s hand in Tunisia is certainly weaker than it is in Egypt or Libya. Tunisia lacks a military or “Deep State” that the Emiratis would be able to coordinate with to stage a popular coup d’état in which the putschists could enjoy a degree of legitimacy among Tunisians comparable to what the Egyptian junta enjoyed among ordinary Egyptians in 2013
  • Ennahda was more humble, moderate, and modest during its time at the helm compared to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). As a result, Ennahda left Tunisians, including those who oppose political Islam, with less reason to favor a coup d’état to end the Islamist party’s role in the country system of governance.
  • UAE seems more set on preventing Tunisia from being pushed into the Qatari-Turkish axis’s orbit, particularly with respect to the conflict in Libya. Ironically, as Hamdi posits, Tunisia’s non-aligned politics vis-à-vis Libya’s civil war, which the UAE seems to accept, “is in line with Tunisian public opinion which predominantly [favors Tunisian] neutrality and a political solution and view Turkey’s military intervention with much suspicion.”
  • there are signs that the UAE and Saudi Arabia are frustrated with Tunisia’s view of the UN-recognized GNA as legitimate and Tunis’s opposition to foreign (including Emirati, Egyptian, and Russian) intervention in the conflict
  • Among secular Tunisians from elite backgrounds, there is a common narrative that Doha has been sponsoring terrorism and radicalism in their country. This message is in lock-step alignment with Abu Dhabi’s narratives about Qatar being a dangerous power in the Arab region. In fact, some opponents of Ennahda have even accused the party of covering for Qatar’s alleged role as a driver of terrorism in post-Ben Ali Tunisia and wished that Tunis would have supported the blockade of Doha in 2017
  • that Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda reached a political compromise has helped Tunisia achieve significant political stability and peace despite all the chaos in the region. Experts agree that this landmark “secularist-Islamist rapprochement” could have been severely undermined by Tunis picking sides in the GCC dispute
Ed Webb

New Texts Out Now: Joel Beinin, Workers and Thieves: Labor Movements and Popular Uprisi... - 0 views

  • situate the movements in Egypt and Tunisia in the framework of the imposition of neoliberal economic reform and structural adjustment programs (ERSAPs) on Tunisia, from the mid-1980s, and Egypt, from 1991. The labor movements were the most salient expression of the deteriorating conditions of life under the regime of neoliberal globalization, or “flexible accumulation,” as the regulation school of political economy terms it
  • The recent murder and torture of the Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni, who was researching the independent trade union movement in Egypt, suggests that it will be quite a while before anyone takes up this subject again.
  • class and political economy were far more salient elements of the 2011 uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt (and I might have added Bahrain and Morocco) than most Western (and even local) accounts were willing to acknowledge
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  • the successful installation of a (highly problematic, to be sure) procedural democracy in Tunisia, in contrast to the establishment of an authoritarian praetorian regime far more vicious than that of Mubarak in Egypt, made it necessary to argue that class and political economy alone do not determine outcomes
  • The character and political role of the Tunisian and Egyptian armies is also a factor
  • the economic and social discontent expressed by the desperate demise of Bouazizi and Yahyaoui has only intensified
  • In 2010 the national unemployment rate was under thirteen percent. By 2015 the figure rose to 15.3 percent. Unemployment rates in the center-west and southern regions of the country (including Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid) are typically nearly double the national average. In 2015 the OECD estimated national youth unemployment (ages fifteen to twenty-four) at nearly forty percent.
  • The government understands the problem, but has no solution. On 20 January the cabinet announced that 5,000 unemployed in Kasserine would be hired for new public sector jobs. Another 1,400 were to be hired through an existing employment program. However, on 22 January, Finance Minister Slim Chaker revoked the promise of 5,000 new jobs in Kasserine, claiming that the previous announcement was due to a “communication error.”
  • “There will be another revolution if the social and economic circumstances do not change,” said President Béji Caïd Essebsi on the fifth anniversary of Tarek Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation. Nidaa Tounes, a big-tent coalition of secularists ranging from former communists to former Ben Ali supporters has split. Over two dozen of its deputies have left, and it is no longer the largest party in the parliament. The terrorist attacks have reduced tourism to a catastrophically low level. The economy is not expected to grow at all in 2016. None of its traditional elite political forces—secular or Islamist—imagine an economic program substantially different than the one Tunisia has pursued since the mid-1980s.
  • On 19 January, faced with a UGTT threat to call a general strike, the employers’ association (UTICA) agreed to increase wages for about 1.5 million private sector workers. But for the unemployed, the streets are their only recourse.
Ed Webb

Seven Ways to Steady a Tunisia under New Attack | Crisis Group - 0 views

  • The Ben Guerdane attack was repulsed by security forces but marks a new departure. It is unprecedented since the “Gafsa coup” of 27 January 1980, when a raiding party armed by Libya and supported by Algerian military intelligence took control of the central Tunisian city of Gafsa and called for a popular revolt
  • It was an attempt at a local insurrection, coordinated by some 50 members of IS sleeper cells in Ben Guerdane
  • The mental geography espoused by IS does not adhere to the borders established in North Africa in the twentieth century. Experts on the group say IS members dream of re-establishing the historic borders of the Aghabid dynasty (800-901), which ruled a semi-independent emirate roughly based on the ancient Roman province of Africa Proconsularis, including Tripolitania (western Libya), most of modern day Tunisia and the eastern half of Algeria. In this vision, Ben Guerdane is a strategic nexus point of a “liberated” zone that would tie south-eastern Tunisia to western Libya. The city’s business life has long been dominated by a parallel economy based on an informal foreign currency exchange market and smuggling; it could become a convergence point between jihadis and regional criminal networks.
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  • Tunisia will have to do more to preserve the culture of compromise and civil society inclusion in 2013-14
  • The Tunisia-Libya border cannot be secured without the close collaboration of the local population, especially the smuggling cartels operating in the area. Trying to combat these at the same time as jihadis would dissipate energy and likely feed local resentment of the state, since so much of the local economy depends on this smuggling. In order to secure their cooperation, Crisis Group has argued that the government should consider the creation of free trade zones at the border that would legitimise at least part of the border trade.
Ed Webb

Will Tunisia, Algeria relations recover through land border reopening? - Al-Monitor: In... - 0 views

  • Tebboune announced that land borders between the two countries would reopen July 15. The announcement represented a breakthrough in the silent crisis between the two countries as the closure of the land borders has heavily affected Tunisia in particular.
  • disputes between the two countries have pushed Algeria to pressure Tunisia on several issues, including in delaying the reopening of the border.  Among the files that may have contributed to the silent tensions is Tunisia's position on the Western Sahara dispute pitting Morocco against the Algerian-backed Polisario Front.
  • Tunisia has in the past tried to distance itself from the Western Sahara conflict, amid reports of Algeria’s attempts, in vain, to lure Tunisia to its side.
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  • on May 26 Tebboune stated from the Italian capital, Rome, that Tunisia is facing a political impasse and needs support in reinstating democracy
  • Tunisia has valid concerns about Algeria raising gas prices in light of the global energy crisis.
  • Algeria sells gas to Tunisia at preferential prices, and the latter earns a right of passage of 5.25% on the total of Algeria gas transported through Tunisian territory to Italy.
  • Algeria has expressed concerns over potential Tunisian normalization with Israel despite the fact that Saied had stated during his electoral campaign in 2019 that “normalization with Israel is tantamount to treason.”
  • Taboubi leads the UGTT, a historically strong and popular union in Tunisia with more than 1 million workers. In an explicit reference to Morocco's normalization with Israel, Taboubi said in his June statements that a campaign to push Arab normalization with Israel aims to pressure Algeria, which leads a campaign to boycott Tel Aviv in the North African region.
  • Although the opening of the land borders appears to be an indication of the beginning of the recovery of Tunisian-Algerian relations, other measures will need to be in place to guarantee this recovery
Ed Webb

Will Biden Help Revive the Arab Spring, Starting with Tunisia? - 1 views

  • Saied’s so-called emergency measures remain in place, and the U.S. State Department said Wednesday that no further action has been taken. “We are monitoring and engaged,” a State Department spokesperson told Foreign Policy. Some activists and regional experts say more concrete forms of pressure from the United States are needed. They say preserving democracy in Tunisia will be a test of U.S. President Joe Biden’s central commitment to what he has called a “defining question of our time”—that is, “Can democracies come together to deliver real results for our people in a rapidly changing world?” 
  • Critics like Dunne say the administration has fallen seriously short of what Blinken, in a major March 3 speech, said would be a new U.S. policy to “incentivize democratic behavior” and “encourage others to make key reforms … [and] fight corruption.”
  • What is at stake is far more than a somewhat dysfunctional democracy in a nation of 12 million people on the periphery of the Arab world, some experts say. Tunisia’s democratic survival is a test for the whole Middle East—and, indeed, could help provide a long-term solution to the ongoing problem of Islamist terrorism. 
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  • “If this administration wants to be serious about protecting democracy as a broad policy approach, there are really few places more significant.” It wouldn’t cost a lot, Feldman points out. But making clear that Saied’s moves are unacceptable would “show we actually believe in democracy and we’re not being merely situational about it.”
  • the Arab tyrannies and monarchies have been urging Saied on toward more authoritarianism and lumping Ennahdha together with extremist Islamist groups
  • democracy has not been terribly rewarding so far for Tunisia. Saied’s power grab was actually popular among large masses who have complained of rampant corruption and are suffering terribly for basic needs.
  • A report this month from Human Rights First indicated that the restoration of Arab dictatorships may be generating a new generation of terrorists; in Egypt, a harsh crackdown on democracy and human rights activists by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general who seized power in 2014, has led to active recruitment by the Islamic State in Egypt’s prison system. 
  • “It’s time to stop saying it’s early days [for this administration] because we’re six months in and there is no palpable new approach.” In February, the Biden administration approved a $197 million sale of missiles to Egypt days after the Egyptian government detained family members of a U.S.-based Egyptian American human rights activist.
  • The president is as much a practitioner of realpolitik as he is an advocate of democracy, and it’s clear his main interest is not in nurturing new democracies but in herding together the mature industrial democracies against major authoritarian threats such as China and Russia.
  • hortly before Saied’s takeover, the U.S. government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation approved nearly $500 million in aid to strengthen Tunisia’s transportation, trade, and water sectors. Saied’s government is also seeking a three-year $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which answers to pressure from Washington and other major capitals. Washington has other leverage as well: In 2020, the United States signed on to a 10-year military cooperation program with Tunis, and the two sides regularly hold joint exercises. And in the last decade, Washington has invested more than $1 billion in the Tunisian military, according to U.S. Africa Command.
  • Tunisia has had no support for its transition within the Middle East North Africa region and far too little support from other democracies in Europe and the United States
  • “I think we often forget that democratic revolutions are almost never successful on the first attempt,”
Ed Webb

How Kais Saied uses irregular migration for political gain - 0 views

  • Since Kais Saied's assumption of the Tunisian presidency in 2019, the number of African migrants who have arrived in Tunisia without being stopped or registered has dramatically increased. “Officially, 10,000 irregular migrants have crossed the borders from Libya to Tunisia during the first half of 2022”, M.E., a former UNHCR employee in Medenine revealed. In reality, the numbers are much bigger.
  • it is believed foreign migrants in Tunisia far exceed a million. 
  • Since the start of his tenure, Saied has put the army and the police at the behest of his political project. After his referendum on a new constitution, Saied sacked and replaced nine high-ranking police officers. Furthermore, Saied's Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has been appointing his own friends to key positions in the police and the National Guard.
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  • Tunisians have witnessed many Africans taking part in pro-Saied rallies in the past months.
  • Tunisia has always formally rejected calls to host migrants and refugees on a permanent basis
  • Migrants in these overpopulated, mostly working-class neighbourhoods “now have a sort of autonomous, independent communities. They have their own laws,” Zarzis-based activist Jihad A. told The New Arab, adding “migrants have strained ties with local communities. Clashes, sometimes violent, have often taken place in the past year."
  • “Unemployed, uneducated, and rebellious Tunisian youth have constituted a big challenge to the regime, since the Ben Ali era”, believes T.J., a blogger and civil society activist. “To get rid of these young people, mainly in the poor southern towns of the country, Saied’s authorities are shutting their eyes to the massive daily migration journeys from the south-eastern coasts of Zarzis, Jerba and Sfax to Italy”
  • more Tunisians sail to Europe from Tunisia than Africans
  • On August 1st, Italy’s Interior ministry revealed that the biggest numbers of irregular migrants who arrived in Italy from January to July 2022 are Tunisians, which is more than Bangladeshis, Sub-Saharan Africans, Iranians and others.
  • in Tataouine, there’s a flourishing network of migration for Tunisians to western Europe, via Turkey and Serbia.
  • individuals and families fly regularly to Istanbul. There, a Tunisian official sells them the official security document, which states that a person is ‘clean’, and not prosecuted in any legal cases in Tunisia. That document, which is never delivered in Tunisia because it is supposed to contain “classified” information, is strictly required by Serbia to allow Tunisians in
  • Medenine and Tataouine, two key regions for fuel smuggling and human trafficking, have remained without senior officials for months after President Saied sacked their old governors.
  • “Mayors can play a major role in monitoring irregular migration and in the hosting of migrants”, explains Boubaker Souid, Mayor of Tataouine. “But they are now left without any prerogative and who knows how Saied’s regime will get rid of them”.   
  • “It seems that one of the tactics of the Tunisian authorities is to empty the country of young people, who have always been the main source of contest and revolt”, says M.B., a civil society activist from Medenine.
  • On February 24, 2022, Kais Saied announced that he wanted to ban foreign funding for associations. For him, associations applying for or receiving foreign funding are “suspicious activities”. Consequently, the civil society ceased to play its role in monitoring and reporting migration issues and in delivering credible information and data about it.
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    Tendentious, but certainly a lot of complex, possibly related phenomena discussed in this anonymous article
Ed Webb

Tunisia - between instability and renewal | European Council on Foreign Relations - 0 views

  • Even though the 2011 revolution was motivated in large part by socio-economic concerns, the governments that have held office since then have been unable to improve the situation. Growth has remained low, and unemployment is high: 15 percent of the population is without work, and the rate for those with a university degree is over 30 percent. Inequality between the more prosperous coastal region and the deprived interior of the country remains striking. Around half of all workers are employed in the informal economy. Many young Tunisians lack any prospect of being able to afford a home or a car, or of being secure enough to start a family.
  • Faced with increasing debt and deficit levels and shrinking foreign currency reserves, Tunisia agreed a loan of $2.9 billion with the International Monetary Fund in 2016. The IMF called on Tunisia to cut public spending, overhaul its collection of taxes to raise government revenue, and allow the currency to depreciate. The IMF argues that it has been fairly flexible so far in enforcing public spending cuts, but it is now stepping up its pressure on the Tunisian authorities.
  • Wages in the public sector account for 15 percent of GDP (up from 10 percent in 2010), so it is hardly surprising that the government is now trying to limit spending in this area. Yet it is doing this at a time when inflation (worsened by the deflation of the Tunisian dinar that the IMF has promoted) and subsidy cuts have already had a severe impact on people’s purchasing power.
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  • It is an anomaly of the Tunisian political scene that the UGTT’s anti-austerity position has little representation among elected politicians: the largest political groups (the Islamist Ennahda party and various offshoots of the secular-modernist Nidaa Tounes party) have backed the IMF agreement
  • unemployment and the proliferation of grey-sector jobs are linked to structural biases in the economy that systematically favour a small group of politically connected businesses. Measures that might address this problem include increasing access to credit for would-be entrepreneurs, changing regulations and practices within the public and banking sectors that are tilted to a narrow elite, and reducing corruption. According to Tunisians, corruption has not been reduced but only “democratised” since the revolution. Investment in infrastructure serving disadvantaged parts of the country could also help spur more inclusive growth
  • Since the revolution, the overarching priority of political life in Tunisia has been to seek enough stability to preserve and complete the political transition. Much has been achieved, though a few important steps (notably the establishment of a Constitutional Court) remain unfulfilled. But Tunisia has now reached a point where the greatest threat to stability is no longer political rivalries around religious identity but unmet social and economic aspirations. Until now, the country’s political parties have not organised themselves to offer distinctive and coherent visions of how Tunisia’s socio-economic development can be improved, and they are paying the price in public alienation from the entire political system
Ed Webb

Is Tunisia Abandoning Morocco for Algeria? - 0 views

  • Power balances in North Africa are shifting. The latest indication that Algeria’s star is rising—along with European demand for its natural gas—as Moroccan influence wanes was all but confirmed by Tunisia’s decision to include the leader of the Western Sahara independence movement the Polisario Front in an investment conference, a move seemingly designed to ruffle feathers in Morocco.
  • For decades, Tunisia has looked on, maintaining its neutral stance as both sides jockeyed for dominance. However, by appearing to have unilaterally invited Brahim Ghali, the Polisario leader and president of the self-declared Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, to a conference it was holding in tandem with Japan, that neutrality has come into question. Moreover, for many observers, the invitation confirmed what many suspected: that Tunisia is growing increasingly close to Algeria, potentially at the expense of its historically close ties with Morocco, while Rabat’s relations with Japan, which Tunis enjoys a burgeoning relationship with, are cast into doubt.
  • His presence appeared to take many by surprise, not least Morocco, which swiftly issued furious missives of the “hurt” caused to the Moroccan people by Tunis’s action. Ambassadors were withdrawn by both countries while Morocco’s newspapers denounced Tunisia’s shortcomings.
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  • Saied and his foreign ministry claimed surprise at the reaction, citing a circular from the African Union, which extended the invitation to all leaders, including Ghali. A statement was issued by the foreign ministry, reaffirming the country’s total neutrality in line with international law, stating, “This position will not change until the concerned parties find a peaceful solution acceptable to all.”
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI used a televised address to send what he said was a clear message to the world, telling viewers, “The Sahara issue is the prism through which Morocco views its international environment.”
  • with European gas prices soaring, Algeria—Europe’s third-largest gas supplier (after Russia and Norway) and the Polisario Front’s chief backer—is also enjoying a diplomatic renaissance. European politicians and regional power brokers are all enjoying a renewed interest in Algiers, with Tunisia’s Saied among them
  • Tunis also relies on Algeria for its own gas, buying it at a discounted price, as well as receiving revenue for the transport of Algerian gas across its territory, bound for Sicily and then the rest of Europe.
  • “The war in Ukraine and its impacts on Europe in terms of gas supplies reposition Algeria as an important player in the western Mediterranean,”
  • The plight of the Sahrawis is one of the world’s longest-standing refugee crises. Since 1975, thousands of Sahrawis have been sheltering in the Algerian desert, waiting for the opportunity to return home.
  • the U.N. estimates that around 90,000 “vulnerable refugees” are sheltering in the desert, relying on international aid just for their daily food and shelter.
  • “Weather conditions are especially adverse in this part of southern Algeria, where temperatures in summer can reach up to more than of 50 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), which causes casualties among the elderly, children, and pregnant women.”
  • with both Algeria and Morocco having relatively static leaderships, where there is little change in personnel, the dispute was allowed to rumble on
Ed Webb

Proposed Initiative Could Make Tunisia Regional Supplier of Alternative Energy : Tunisi... - 0 views

  • Nur Energy, a collaboration between the British solar plant developer NurEnergie and Tunisian investors, recently held a conference in Tunis announcing the commencement of construction on the world’s biggest solar energy export project.
  • Privileged by its proximity to Europe and an abundance of renewable natural resources, North Africa could play a central role in an envisioned integrated electrical network joining Europe and the Middle East. Consisting of solar, wind, and hydroelectric means of electrical production, the backbone of this network would be the sun-soaked deserts of North Africa.
  • “The countries of North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe are facing the challenge of giving future generations access to clean and sustainable energy. Thanks to the complementarity of their renewable resources and their seasonal demand for energy, these regions make ideal partners
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  • the Desertec Foundation, in cooperation with the Tunisian National Advisory Council for Scientific Research and Technology, has launched an initiative to enhance scientific cooperation. Eighteen universities and research facilities in North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe will collaborate through this network to promote the transfer of knowledge and expertise between the member institutions
Ed Webb

Why the U.S. and Tunisia Keep Their Cooperation Secret - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Two years ago, American Marines battled Al Qaeda militants in western Tunisia along the border with Algeria. A Marine and a Tunisian soldier were wounded and two other Marines were later commended for their valor in the gunfight.Yet many details of the February 2017 clash remain murky, largely because of the Tunisian government’s political sensitivities over the presence of American forces in its territory.
  • Last year, when one of the most detailed accounts of the clash to date surfaced in a report in Task & Purpose, a privately owned American website focused on military and veterans affairs, the Tunisian Ministry of Defense was dismissive. It said the “presence of American troops in Tunisia was only for cooperation and training, not conducting operations.”
  • some 150 Americans training and advising their Tunisian counterparts in one of the largest missions of its kind on the African continent
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  • The deepening American involvement in an array of secret missions goes largely unreported because of Tunisian and American concerns that publicizing this could attract even more extremist violence
  • “Tunisia is one of our most capable and willing partners,” Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, the head of the Pentagon’s Africa Command, told Congress in February.
  • Unarmed American surveillance drones fly reconnaissance missions from Tunisia’s main air base outside Bizerte, the northernmost city in Africa, hunting terrorists who might be seeking to infiltrate through the country’s border with Libya and other areas
  • The value of American military supplies delivered to the country increased to $119 million in 2017 from $12 million in 2012, government data show
  • has struggled to control a threat from Al Qaeda and other radical groups, which have exploited the new freedoms to radicalize followers and establish networks of cells across Tunisia.
  • Tunisia has succeeded in dismantling most of the militant networks since 2015, according to government officials, diplomats and security analysts. But it still faces threats.
  • “The jihadist cells have completely given up the playbook of gaining the sympathy of the population,” said Matt Herbert, a director of Maharbal, a Tunisian strategic consulting firm. Now, he said, they are trying to terrorize them.
  • Prime Minister Youssef Chahed supports the fight against terrorism. The government spends 15 percent of its budget on the defense and interior ministries for that purpose, he said recently. But he acknowledged that this had come at a cost for other pressing problems, such as poverty and unemployment.
  • still struggling with its porous borders with Libya and Algeria, which serve as transit areas for Al Qaeda’s branch in North Africa and as well as the remains of Islamic State cells in Libya
  • In the Kasserine mountain area, only a few dozen guerrillas are active at any given time. Yet because of its proximity to the Algerian border, the Tunisian Army has struggled to secure it.
Ed Webb

Black Lives Matter skirts North Africa despite everyday racism - France 24 - 0 views

  • the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, most observers agree, has not triggered a major debate on racism or police violence against black Africans within the Maghreb region itself.Only Tunis saw a small demonstration in early June of around 200 locals and foreigners, at the call of the association Mnemty.The protest was "a message for African Americans from Mother Africa to say 'We are with you'," said its leader, Saadia Mosbah, a dark-skinned Tunisian.
  • a long-standing culture of silence about race.
  • "We have to wage a permanent struggle against these verbal abuses," said Algerian sociologist Mohamed Saib Musette."Some Algerians forget that they themselves are Africans." Interracial marriages are rare in North Africa, he said, and "very few TV stars, civil servants or political leaders are dark-skinned".
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  • In Morocco, a coalition of associations in 2014 launched an anti-racism campaign in support of sub-Saharan migrants with the message "Massmiytich Azzi!", literally, "Don't call me a black man".After a string of attacks in Tunisia, including a violent assault against an Ivorian woman, Mnemty successfully lobbied parliament into adopting a law against hate speech in October 2018.
  • In Morocco, a coalition of associations in 2014 launched an anti-racism campaign in support of sub-Saharan migrants with the message "Massmiytich Azzi!", literally, "Don't call me a black man".After a string of attacks in Tunisia, including a violent assault against an Ivorian woman, Mnemty successfully lobbied parliament into adopting a law against hate speech in October 2018.
  • And the Algerian parliament followed suit in April 2020, reflecting, according to Musette, the fact that the reality of racism "is there and must be fought".
  • And the Algerian parliament followed suit in April 2020, reflecting, according to Musette, the fact that the reality of racism "is there and must be fought".
  • Slavery was first formally abolished in the region by Tunisia in 1846. French-colonised Algeria partially followed suit two years later, while Morocco under French mandate only did so in 1922.
  • Slavery was first formally abolished in the region by Tunisia in 1846. French-colonised Algeria partially followed suit two years later, while Morocco under French mandate only did so in 1922.
  • modern-day slave markets have been reported in war-torn Libya, where desperate migrants suffer horrific abuse at the hands of human traffickers
  • In the absence of official data, non-government groups estimate there are more than 200,000 African foreigners in Algeria, and tens of thousands in both Morocco and Tunisia.
  • Algeria and Tunisia bar foreign Africans from obtaining residency papers unless they are students.Only Morocco has exceptionally granted residency rights to some 50,000 people, mostly from West Africa, since 2014.
  • Algeria and Tunisia bar foreign Africans from obtaining residency papers unless they are students.Only Morocco has exceptionally granted residency rights to some 50,000 people, mostly from West Africa, since 2014.
Ed Webb

US lobbying creates headaches for candidates back home - 0 views

  • Lobbying records first disclosed last week by Al-Monitor have played a role in today's presidential runoff in Tunisia, where candidate Nabil Karoui is under fire over a $1 million contract to help boost his chances. The revelations have prompted a Tunis court to open a criminal investigation not only into Karoui’s US activities, but those of two other political actors as well.
  • US lobbying laws, however, do not explicitly ban foreign actors from engaging in lobbying activities that would be illegal back in their home countries.
  • “FARA does not involve enforcing the laws of other countries. It is the responsibility of foreign agents to ensure that they are complying with all laws, both domestic and foreign.”
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  • In the case of Tunisia, it has fallen on the Tunis Court of First Instance to open a criminal investigation into Karoui’s contract with Canada-based Dickens and Madson following a complaint from his rivals. He is alleged to have broken two provisions of Tunisia’s electoral law: Article 80, which bans foreign gifts, including “propaganda,” and Article 81 on campaign contribution limits (the cap for the first round was around $625,000).
  • ensnared the Ennahda party, which has retained Burson-Marsteller (now BCW) for public affairs work in the United States since 2014, as well as parliamentary candidate Olfa Terras-Rambourg, who retained the Washington firm America to Africa Consulting in early September. While the FARA filing on behalf of Karoui openly aims at “attaining the presidency of the Republic of Tunisia,” those for Ennahda and Terras-Rambourg, however, are less incriminating and only aim to boost their image abroad without openly calling for electoral help
  • Two Turkish opposition parties, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP), are also registered as foreign agents in the United States. Both have US liaison offices involved in grassroots political organizing and advocating for certain policies while walking on a legal tight rope: Article 69 of the country’s constitution states that “political parties that accept aid from foreign states, international institutions and persons and corporate bodies of non-Turkish nationality shall be dissolved permanently.”
  • a bevy of Iraqi and Libyan political actors, from individual politicians to the Kurdistan Regional Government, also lobby independently of their central governments
  • “In a lot of cases,” she said, “the politicians or campaigns or political parties route the payments for these foreign influence operations targeting the US through shell companies or offshore accounts or other types of opaque financial structures, since it’s either disfavored in their country or in some cases illegal.”
Ed Webb

U.S. presses Tunisia, once a bright spot of Arab Spring, on democracy - The Washington ... - 0 views

  • The Biden administration is pressing Tunisia’s leaders to reverse steps weakening the country’s democracy, exposing friction with a nation once seen as the most promising of those who experienced Arab Spring revolutions.
  • talks between Saied and Barbara Leaf, the State Department’s top official for the Middle East. During a visit to Tunis last month, Leaf conveyed worries about a new constitutional framework “that weakens Tunisia’s democracy and how crucial going forward an inclusive and transparent reform process is to restore confidence of the Tunisian people,”
  • U.S. officials have sought to forcefully nudge Tunisia while avoiding a total rupture with a nation whose cooperation on counterterrorism is seen as a crucial element of U.S. strategy for North Africa. Tunisia, with a population of nearly 12 million, for its part values U.S. military support and needs America’s backing as it seeks a deal with the International Monetary Fund.
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  • In July, Saied’s government reacted angrily to a statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken raising questions about a constitutional referendum vote marked by low voter turnout.
  • The Biden administration has adopted a more critical stance than its European allies, many of whom are focused on deterring migration via North Africa
  • U.S. officials believe their pressure may be having the effect of heading off even more problematic steps, like a more dramatic crackdown on the media and civil society groups.
Ed Webb

Desert Cucumbers: The Sahara Forest Project Comes to Tunisia - Tunisialive - 0 views

  • A $30 million, high-tech agricultural facility covering 10 hectares in the desert in Tunisia’s south is scheduled to open in 2018. The facility, which is a highly sophisticated green house, will use solar energy to power its operations and seawater to irrigate crops and maintain humidity. The extracted salt from the seawater will also be sold commercially.
  • hoped to be a new environmental solution to create green jobs through profitable production of food, water, clean electricity and biomass in desert areas. The first pilot project opened in Qatar in December 2012, and another facility will be launched in Jordan later this year
  • Although there are no numbers or estimates available for Tunisia yet, the Qatar facility directly employs 6,000 people, with a further support staff of 30,000. Tunisian unemployment is estimated around 15 percent countrywide and even higher among young college graduates
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  • It has also become increasingly difficult to maintain a stable agricultural output as the country faces droughts and floods due to climate change
  • 1 percent of Tunisia’s energy supply is based on renewable energy sources, but the Tunisian government has pledged to increase that number to 30 percent by 2030
Ed Webb

World Bank Announces A New Strategy For Tunisia : Tunisia Live - 0 views

  • a program which will focus on three areas of engagement: sustainable economic growth through job creation, promotion of  social and economic inclusion with a focus on Tunisia’s minorities and gender equality, and finally an effort to strengthen governmental transparency.
  • The plan referred specifically to the Constituent Assembly’s drafting of the country’s new constitution and Tunisia’s upcoming elections as areas where the World Bank Group hopes to offer guidance.
Ed Webb

In 1930s Tunisia, French Doctors Feared a 'Tea Craze' Would Destroy Society - Gastro Ob... - 0 views

  • In 1927, at a meeting of the Academy of Medicine in Paris, a French-trained Tunisian doctor, Béchir Dinguizli, sounded the alarm about a “new social scourge” spreading like an “oil stain” across Tunisia. It had “entered our morals with lightning speed,” he warned, and if not stopped by French authorities, it had the power to paralyze Tunisian society. The alarming threat? Drinking tea.
  • Although practically unknown before World War I, tea imports nevertheless shot up from 100,000 kilos in 1917 to 1,100,000 in 1926. The catalyst appears to have been the Italo-Turkish War of 1911-1912, which sent an influx of tea-drinking refugees from Tripolitania (modern-day Libya) into Tunisia.
  • Among these French administrators, there was real fear that the colonized population was turning into tea addicts, with medical, social, and economic consequences for France’s mission civilisatrice.
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  • “The harm that [tea] causes is especially visible in the [Tunisian] countryside, where it weakens the race, which is literally intoxicated and morally and physically diminished.”
  • In 1941, the French doctor Edmond Sergent described in several scientific articles how Tunisians, instead of adding fresh tea leaves to already boiling water, added used leaves to the water as it boiled, creating a harmful, tar-like drink. Sergent also argued that Tunisians’ black tea was more dangerous than Moroccan green tea, which explained why cases of teaism were rare in Morocco, despite Morocco’s tea consumption being much higher.
  • French administrators tried banning illegal coffeehouses, which served tea, and increasing customs duties on tea. There were also calls for posters and educational films on the dangers of tea and how to prepare it correctly, for creating a state monopoly on tea, and even a law restricting tea sales to pharmacies upon presentation of a prescription
  • The perceived social consequences of teaism were founded in the belief that tea addicts would do almost anything to satisfy their habit. According to Sergent, the whole salary of many Tunisian workers went “to the buying of tea and sugar.” When their money ran out, Tunisian teaists sold their last possessions, stole from employers, friends, and family, and, in Dinguizli’s words, lost their “usually docile character.”
  • By the 1940s, a variety of publications had ceased to view teaism as an exclusively Tunisian problem, as diagnoses cropped up elsewhere in the Maghreb, such as, in 1948, the psychiatrist Charles Bardenat offhandedly ascribing an act of conjugal manslaughter committed in Algeria to the overconsumption of coffee and tea.
  • not a single case of a French settler in Tunisia being diagnosed with teaism can be found in the French publications.
  • According to Dinguizli, teaism was an addiction comparable to alcoholism, a form of chronic poisoning with nervous tremors, amnesia, palpitations, blurred vision, serious disturbances of the nervous and circulatory system, a general weakening of the body, and even a marked decrease in birth rates. Later authors delineated additional mental consequences, such as hallucinations, delusions, and even psychoses.
  • Tea neither produced hallucinations nor induced crime, and it did not “corrupt” Tunisians. They simply enjoyed a new drink that French authors objected to.
  • When tea first reached England in the 17th and 18th centuries, writers described it as un-British, “unmanly,” and altogether dangerous
  • chocolate, once the drink of choice at rowdy British clubs, inspired similar concern
  • The French viewed coffee, which was produced in their colonies of Martinique and La Réunion, as the drink of the Enlightenment and reason
  • The sight of Tunisians sitting and chatting over tea fueled settler prejudices about Tunisians as lazy and immoderate—nearly all descriptions of teaism focused on the economic consequences
  • feared attacks, revolt, and any sign of the population losing their supposed “docility.”
  • The irony of teaism is that the only real epidemic was the diagnosis of teaism itself. Today, tea is practically Tunisia’s national drink
Ed Webb

The Qatar Blockade Is Over, but the Gulf Crisis Lives On - 0 views

  • Officials from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Qatar sought to end their rancorous three-and-a-half-year dispute over Qatar’s drift toward Iran and restore much-needed cohesion to the GCC, which also includes Kuwait and Oman. The GCC summit was a resounding success. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt lifted their blockade on Qatar and restored diplomatic relations with the country. Qatar also suspended its World Trade Organization case against the UAE’s economic isolation efforts.
  • the Gulf crisis is far from over. The reconciliation at the GCC summit was triggered by fatigue from the blockade and by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s desire to rebrand his tarnished image with the new U.S. administration
  • focus on symbolism over substance at the GCC summit bodes poorly for the organization’s long-term cohesion
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  • Mistrust between Qatar and the blockading states, an ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar, sharp divergences in policy toward Iran and Turkey, and geostrategic contestation in Africa could reheat the Gulf crisis in the near future
  • the recent blockade’s impacts were felt at both the elite and popular level. Hardships, such as the separation of mixed-citizenship Saudi-Qatari couples, created lasting societal rifts. Saudi and Emirati state-aligned media outlets relentlessly promoted the narrative that Qatar was a state sponsor of terrorism, while Qatari media outlets equated the UAE’s religious tolerance policies with support for idolatry. In turn, Saudi, Emirati, and Qatari publics have increasingly come to view each other as adversaries rather than as neighbors or friends
  • The ongoing rivalry between the UAE and Qatar could derail any normalization in the Gulf. Since the 2011 Arab Spring protests, the UAE and Qatar have advanced competing visions for the region’s future. The UAE has condemned Islamist civil society movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, and, with few exceptions, has supported the forces of counterrevolution against those of political pluralism. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Bahrain align with the UAE. Qatar enthusiastically supported the post-Arab Spring Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt and continues to encourage popular unrest in the Middle East. Turkey is the principal backer of Qatar’s vision
  • The GCC remains divided especially on Iran and Turkey, which will impede intra-bloc cooperation on security issues
  • the GCC will remain bifurcated on Iran policy between a pro-engagement bloc consisting of Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait and a pro-isolation coalition comprising Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain
  • Due to Turkey’s operation of a military base in Qatar and Doha’s standing as the second largest foreign investor in the Turkish economy, the Turkey-Qatar strategic partnership will only tighten in the post-crisis period. Qatar’s alignment with Turkey is a source of friction with the UAE.
  • the GCC could respond incoherently to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean
  • Although countries that balance positive relations between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, such as Pakistan and Malaysia, benefit from the GCC’s reconciliation, the UAE-Qatar rivalry in Africa remains an unresolved source of friction. The UAE wishes to counter Qatar’s influence in Tunisia, which has grown due to large-scale Qatari investment in the Tunisian economy and Qatar-Tunisia diplomatic cooperation in Libya. Qatar has similarly capitalized on UAE-Algeria frictions, which were triggered by Abu Dhabi’s concerns about strengthening Turkey-Algeria relations and Algeria’s opposition to the UAE’s normalization with Israel.
  • The UAE and Qatar also vie for influence in Somalia. The UAE has close relations with the self-declared state of Somaliland, and Qatar aligns with Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s government
  • The United States should not view the GCC as a united security bloc. Regional strategies that depend on Gulf unity, such as the Middle East Strategic Alliance, should be shelved. U.S. officials should also carefully vet large-scale arms transfers to GCC countries, such as former President Donald Trump’s $23 billion arms deal with the UAE. These contracts could trigger reciprocal arms buildups that revive the Gulf crisis
  • the new state of cold peace on the Arabian Peninsula can benefit U.S. interests
  • As Qatar has returned to the GCC fold, it could act as a moderating influence on Saudi Arabia and the UAE’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which Biden seeks to revive
Ed Webb

Tunisia Plans to Join BRICS Nations | Asharq AL-awsat - 0 views

  • Tunisia said on Saturday that it intends to join the BRICS countries bloc of emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
  • “We will accept no dictates or interference in Tunisia’s internal affairs. We are negotiating the terms, but we refuse to receive instructions and the EU’s agenda,”
  • Mabrouk described the BRICS nations as “a political, economic and financial alternative that will enable Tunisia to open up to the new world.”
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  • In 2018, Tunisia signed an agreement to join the "Belt and Road" initiative, which was established by China in 2013. Bin Mabrouk went on to say: "After Algeria announced that it will join the group, we will also announce our intention to join BRICS." Alegria had earlier announced plans to join the BRICS group next year.
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