Monthly Archives: October 2011

Suha Arafat

According to the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, the Court of First Instance in Tunis issued an arrest warrant against Suha Arafat, the widow of the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The reasons for the decision have not been specified, according to Kadhem Zine Al Abidine, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, but it is with reference to the affair of the International School of Carthage that she founded in 2006 with Leila Trabelsi, the wife of former Tunisian President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali.

One year after the establishment of the school, Suha Arafat was stripped of her Tunisian citizenship, which she acquired in 2004 after her husband’s death, and she was expelled from the country in August 2007, supposedly following a disagreement between her and Leila Ben Ali.

Mrs. Arafat explained previously that she has nothing to do with the International School which she founded with Mrs. Leila Trabelsi  before she officially gave up her partnership in the school to Asmaa Mahjoub, Mrs. Leila Ben Ali’s niece.

The 48-year-old Arafat spends most of her time in Malta, where she owns a house.

According to a leaked report from the United States ambassador to Tunisia in November, 2007, one possible theory for the revocation of Arafat’s Tunisians citizenship in 2007 was her visit to then-Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to ask for money. When Gaddafi confronted Ben Ali for failing to provide for Yasser Arafat’s widow, Ben Ali was so embarrassed he revoked her citizenship.

Tunisia’s small environmental parties emerged from Tunisia’s October 23rd election without a single seat in the new Constituent Assembly, leaving Tunisia’s evnironmental future in doubt.

The 217-member Constituent Assembly will have the power to draft a new constitution and appoint a new transitional  government, starting with the President and Prime Minister.

The top four political parties in the Constituent Assembly are Ennahda with 90 seats, followed by the Congress for the Republic (CPR) with 30 seats,then Ettakatol with 21 seats and Aridhaa Chaabia with 19 seats.

Tarek Nefzi, the head of the “Environment and Green Economy” independent list, told Tunisia Live, “Our list was created in March, and we were not popular enough. We also did not have enough financial support to run a huge campaign.”

He continued, “Tunisians are really aware of the environmental problems facing Tunisia today, and they really want to protect the environment. However, they need encouragements.”

Mr. Nefzi also talked about the importance of a green economy, especially protecting and paying more attention to agricultural resources. Careful environmental management will, according to Nefzi, create more jobs. In addition, he emphasized the promotion of agricultural Tourism (agri-Tourism), meaning tourists visiting agricultural regions, learning about the processes, and enjoying the landscape.

Abed Khader Zitouni, general coordinator of the Green Tunisia Party, said that they won no seats in the Constituent Assembly because of electoral violations. He told Tunisia Live, “The elections were fake and dishonest. Some political parties bought people’s voice.” Mr. Zitouni continues, “Our party was created in April 2004 and we did not get a visa until January 2011. We are the victims of  a conspiracy; that’s why we did not win.”

Mr. Zitouni added that their aim is to protect the environment and find solutions to the environmental problems in Tunisia, such as re-building drainage systems. Flooding is a very current problem at the moment, as a day of heavy rain flooded many neighborhoods in Tunis and northern Tunisia.

Mr. Zitouni concluded, “All environmental parties, independent lists, and associations need to work together hand in hand, because all of us share the same aim: a better environment.”

Tunisian Internet users flooded the Facebook page of American President Barack Obama Sunday night with a uniquely Tunisian form of satire called “tanbir.” Their comments were sparked by recent news of Occupy Wall Street protesters injured in clashes with police in the United States, and they cast Obama in the role of Arab dictators who have recently been deposed or shaken by popular protests.

“Tunisian people denounce violations against the American people by the security forces, which affect the freedom of expression,” writes Tunisian Facebook user Fawzi Benarab.

Protests ousted former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14th of this year, and popular uprisings followed across the Arab World. Tunisian citizens elected a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution and appoint a new government on October 23rd.

An altered image from Facebook shows American President Obama in the place of former Tunisian President Ben Ali, saying, "Tanbir is not acceptable, it cannot be justified."

One Facebook post declares, “[Tunisian Chief of Staff] Rachid Ammar declares a no-fly zone over America to protect peaceful protesters from harm.” In March, the United Nations Security Council voted to establish a no-fly zone over Libya with the same justification. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) enforced the operation, with American and international military power.

Tunisian tanbir involves the amplification and exaggeration of reality for humorous effect. It is not meant to be believed, but as satire it can be potent political commentary.

“Obama on the plane to Saudi Arabia,” reads another post. Ben Ali has lived in Saudi Arabia since January.

The most popular of the posts on Obama’s page focus on the reversal of roles. Within the past ten days, American protesters have been injured in clashes with American police, and Tunisians have held the first free and fair elections in their nation’s history. Young Tunisians, flush with their democratic success, are heading to Obama’s Facebook wall to re-write their own revolutionary stories using a cast of characters from the United States. The humor is a giddy declaration that Tunisians have arrived as equals among the democratic nations of the world.

“Eminem arrested for his song, ‘Mr. President,'” says one comment. Tunisian rapper El Général was arrested by the Ben Ali regime in December 2010 for the political content of his music, and his most famous song is still “Mr. President.”

Through tanbir, Tunisia’s young Internet users exaggerate their nation’s success, casting Tunisia as the democratic example helping a troubled foreign country. One comment imagines that the US government has fallen to protesters and declares, “Tunisia is the first country to recognize the American Transitional Council.” The international community’s recognition of the Libyan National Transitional Council as the legitimate national authority in Libya was an important moment in the slow fall of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

As in most Internet humor, the references can play on very specific moments and quotations. “I am not a sun to- to- to- to sunny all over America,” Obama says in one satirical post. The quotation is taken from a point in Ben Ali’s final speech to Tunisia, the day before he fled the country, in which he appeared nervous and stuttered while trying to explain that he could not fix everyone’s problems at once.

“Samir Tarhouni at Chicago’s Airport to arrest Obama’s family,” writes another commenter. Over thirty members of the extended Ben Ali family were arrested in Tunis-Carthage airport the same night that Ben Ali fled Tunisia, and their legal case is ongoing. Samir Tarhouni is the Tunisian police officer who says he decided, on his own initiative, to go to the airport and arrest the fleeing members of the former regime.

In Arabic, French, and English, the posts lampoon familiar icons of American power and influence, including former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Wall Street, CNN, President Obama himself, and even cultural touchstones like hamburgers and hot dogs. “Snipers in Sidi Wall Street,” writes one poster, merging Wall Street with the birthplace of Tunisia’s revolution, Sidi Bouzid.

With over 130,000 comments since Sunday and new posts every minute, the sudden outpouring of satire demonstrates a new feeling of empowerment among young Tunisians. With a successful election behind them, suddenly, no power in the world feels beyond reach. Whether the comments are pro- or anti-Obama is largely beside the point next to a dramatic statement of Tunisian pride. Many posts refrain from satire altogether and simply declare, “Viva Tunisie!”

Tunisians have also targeted the page of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Mixed in with the tanbir and pride are familiar cricisms of American foreign policy. “Free Iraq, Americans get the hell out,” reads one post. Several criticize America’s treatment of Palestine. “People want to free Palestine,” reads one comment, echoing the slogan of the Arab Spring, “The people want the fall of the regime.”

“Allahu akbar” appears occasionally, and one writes, “USA ennemy [sic] of Islam and pro Israel.”

The sudden phenomenon appears to be organic and mostly without leaders. Some posts call for one million posts in twenty-four hours; others urge Tunisians to visit other pages. Remarkably, the overwhelming majority of the posts are from Tunisia alone and no other Arab countries.

Americans may feel bemused or threatened by the flood of comments on their president’s Facebook page. Before social media, such large-scale meetings between distant cultures were impossible. After sparking the Arab Spring and holding a credible democratic election, Tunisia’s young revolutionaries continue to surprise the world.

by M. Adnen Chaouachi

The process of building a democracy in Tunisia was launched by demonstrations in the streets of towns and cities throughout the country, which led to the rapid departure of Ben Ali. Mohamed Bouazizi set himself alight in Sidi Bouzid on December 17th, 2010, and Ben Ali fled the country with his wife on January 14th, 2011. The citizens of Tunisia began to enjoy freedom of speech, expression and the media, and organized free and fair elections which were held on October 23rd. These events summarize the different factors that shook Tunisia over the past 10 months.

Yet, there’s a missing element on the list. It is the announcement of the results of the elections, which has been given much attention by local and foreign observers who are trying to understand how the Constituent Assembly will look like. In simple terms, the announcement is just an event that takes place after the votes are counted, the results gathered and finally communicated to the organizing committee, the Higher Independent Authority for the Elections (ISIE). On October 27th, however, the announcement of the results was not easy for many Tunisians. Today, many Tunisians claim that some political parties should never have risen to power as they are too radical or too liberal, not representing the will of the people.

To classify and judge political parties might be legitimate when discussing politics with friends or the family. But politicians, political commentators and journalists with close media ties and an impact on public opinion should be more responsible and think twice before making radical comments. This, by no means, implicates a return to censorship, but rather a responsibility for the consequences of public statements and actions. In the past, those who dared denouncing injustice and censorship were jailed and prohibited from having any professional activity. For years, the majority of Tunisian political parties suffered from censorship and exclusion that was thoroughly enforced by the government. Today, Tunisians are proud that the country’s emerging democracy is an open space for divergent political orientations and heated debates.

The results of the elections have been communicated to the world. The moderate Islamic party Ennahda and the Congress for the Republic (CPR) will dominate the Constituent Assembly for the period of transition. It is a scenario that nobody expected. If you have followed the media coverage of the electoral campaign, you have probably thought that Ennahda and the CPR will have some seats but never the majority. Yet, predictions were mere a senseless understanding of the newly born Tunisian democracy. They misrepresented the voting patterns and the political affiliations of the people, both in the Tunisian capital and remote areas.

The political debates and programs broadcast on some Tunisian media outlets have played a significant role in misleading the public opinion and underestimating the power of Ennahda and the CPR. There was a gap between the media’s understanding of the political situation in Tunisia and the reality on the ground. These two parties were demonized and accused of benefiting from foreign funds and assistance. The media thought that attacking these parties would weaken them and pave the ground for more liberal voices to occupy the seats at the Constituent Assembly. This strategy and propaganda, however, has had the opposite effect because it was based on accusations without evidence. Indeed, instead of preventing people from voting for Ennahda and the CPR, it reinforced their belief that the “victims” of the past were still targeted. The reaction was certainly unexpected but “natural”. At this level, one wonders whether we should trust our media outlets or the results of the elections, which have been described by foreign governments and the international media as “fair” and “transparent”.

M. Adnen Chaouachi is a journalist and radio presenter on Tunis International Radio. He is also a Teaching Assistant of Communication at the ISSHT, the University of Tunis-El Manar. M. Adnen Chaouachi is currently working on political communication and propaganda in the media.

Here are the top stories from Tunisia, October 30th, 2011:

Heavy rain flooded the streets of Tunis and uncovered the absence of public services.

On October 29th, during a visit to the  Tamim Foundation, former Interior Minister Ahmed Friaa revealed some of the concomitants circumstances that occurred during his rule, which lasted from 12 to 27 January 2011. Mr. Friaa expressed his distress and concerns in regards to the accusations he is facing, of which that of being against the Tunisian Revolution and one of Ben Ali’s henchmen. Such accusations have left him perplex as to their foundation, as he says he doesn’t understand where they come from.

He revealed that, on 11 January, Ben Ali called him and explained to him that he did not know what was really going on, and that his advisors tended to mislead him and hide the truth from him. That’s when, Friaa says, Ben Ali offered him the position, which he accepted, hoping to stabilize the situation.

On 13 January, Friaa claims he banned the use of real bullets on protesters, and that he condemned the use of violence. He also declared that on January 14th, while on the phone to him, Ben Ali could hear Tunisians shout “Ben Ali dégage” outside the Ministry of Interior.

The former interior minister apologized to those who he had unintentionally harmed, and for being a part of a regime that was persecuting its own people. He also added that many of the political figures dominating the post-revolution political arena were once Ben Ali’s supporters. He also said we ought to give Tunisian youth a full opportunity to build Tunisia.



Hamma Hammami Head of the Tunisian Communist Workers' Party

In an interview with Assbah, Hamma Hammami the leader of the Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party conceded defeat in the election battle for seats in the Constituent Assembly.  Hammami attributes the election loss of his party to the failure of leftist parties from working together.

For Hamma Hammami it is now time to get used to being in a minority bloc of the Constituent Assembly.  As the election was a first for Hammami, he can now look at this historical event from a critical perspective. There were a lot of breaches of the electoral law during the election and even before it began.

Quoting Kamal Jendoubi the head of ISIE, Hamma Hammami said that some political parties have spent twice the legally authorized budget on their electoral campaigns. He also said that the process of reporting political money has negatively impacted the integrity and transparency of the election. The Secretary General of the communist party mentioned that one the serious breaches of election law before the election was the use of mosques to promote some “Islamist” political parties, encouraging people to vote for parties with a religious agenda over other ones.

The Communist Worker’s Party claims to have documented their accusations of election fraud and Hamma Hammami said that he filed appeals in many districts.

Mr. Hammami re-emphasized his long held position that his party will not sit in a coalition containing parties ideologically opposed to his party. He said also that he and his party will form the opposition to anyone who tries to violate democracy or women’s rights.

Source : Assabah

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP)

When the Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE) disqualified six lists of the Aridha Chaabia group from the October 23rd elections, the seats were reassigned to the next runners-up. Aridha’s loss became other parties’ gain, representing a sizeable shift in the power balance of the Constituent Assembly.

Tunisians voted October 23rd for representatives to a Constituent Assembly that will appoint a new transitional government and write a new constitution. These were the first elections following the ouster of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14th, an event which motivated popular protests across the Arab world.

Aridha Chaabia would have won 27 seats, but the invalidation of six lists resulted in a loss of eight seats (not nine seats as this journal previously reported). The ISIE justified their decision by saying they have proof of campaign finance violations.

Aridha Chaabia was almost completely unknown before their surprising electoral success. It enjoyed broad success in marginalized and interior regions, but it is widely rumored to be organized by actors loyal to the old Ben Ali regime.

Of the eight invalidated seats, two went to Ennahda, one to the Congress for the Republic (CPR), one went to Ettakatol, one went to the Patriotic Democratic Movement (MPD), and one went to the “Independent List” in Sidi Bouzid.

The underperforming Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) won two of Aridha’s disqualified seats, boosting them from finishing with fifteen seats to seventeen. The difference sounds small, but it puts them about even with Aridha Chaabia itself, which ended up with nineteen seats after the disqualification.

Overall, the disqualification of Aridha Chaabia drastically reduces its influence within the Constituent Assembly. Without ISIE’s decision, Aridha would have been the third-place finisher, capable of functioning as a powerful bloc of votes on its own or forming influential alliances. The PDP was, by contrast, a diminished player, only influential as part of a larger center-left bloc including Ettakatol, Afek Tounes, and the Democratic Modernist Pole (PDM).

Instead, the Constituent Assembly will be dominated by a “big three” of Ennahda, the CPR, and Ettakatol. The PDP may function as a fourth large player if they become a rallying point for other small center-left parties.

Even though these electoral winners have broad and fundamental disagreements, they seem ready to pursue their priorities by negotiating with each other and other well-known parties rather than ceding any influence to Aridha.

ISIE’s decision to invalidate eight seats of Aridha Chaabia because of campaign finance violations puts the Constituent Assembly much more firmly in the hands of Tunisia’s mainstream, familiar parties.

Tunisian Dinars

According to latest reports, economical recovery in Tunisia is slowly underway, with a growth rate of 1% maximum during the second quarter of this year. This slowdown is expected to have negative repercussions on unemployment rates as well as on the country’s financial balance.

On Saturday, October 22, 2011, Mr. Fouad Mebazaa, Tunisia’s Interim  President, authenticated the 52nd annual report of the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) for the fiscal year 2010. The latter indicated that the stabilization of the economic situation can only be progressive, given the unpredictable variations of the international and regional environments, and the adjustments necessary to Tunisia’s democratic transition and that of its institutions.
The objective is first to make up, as soon as possible, for the hold up of economic activities, and then to proceed with the implementation of an economic program, to ensure stronger  growth and improve the economy’s performance in general. Measures were also taken by the Central Bank of Tunisia to help financial companies recover, and has lowered their interest rate from 4.5%  to 3.5%. According to the 2012 economic draft budget , investments will increase by 18.4% and provide at least 75.000 jobs. A 4.5% growth rate is also predicted.

According to a summary developed by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, “the economic budget for the year 2012 is different from those developed under the old regime.” Moreover, it is said that the Development Plan aims to fight against all forms of poverty and marginalization.