Tunisian Foreign Affairs Minister Rafik Abdessalem is on a working visit to London from the Â 27th to the 28th of March. Â He will be meeting with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and will conduct a series of talks with a number of other political figures.
The ongoing discussion seeks to improve partnership in a number of areas, such as energy, education, and tourism.
The visit also aims to promote the prospects for economic cooperation by arranging meetings between Tunisian and British business executives, with the goal of motivating British investment in Tunisia and the promotion of Tunisia’s economic potential, according to a press release from the Tunisian Foreign Affairs Ministry.
During a previous interview conducted by Tunisia Live, British Ambassador to Tunisia Christopher Oâ€™Conner reaffirmed thatÂ Britain is a reliable partner for Tunisia. He also stated thatÂ Hague was the first foreign minister to visit Tunisia after the Tunisian revolution.
When asked about the repatriation of the assets of the family of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, he stated that once the judicial proceedings are completed in Tunisia, the British government will immediately unfreeze the assets.
During his visit, Hague announced new UK funding to support reform projects across the Middle East and North Africa in the areas of access to justice, freedom of expression, democratic institutions, and civil society.
On the 8th of February, the foreign secretary announced the UKâ€™s Arab Partnership program. According to the Foreign Commonwealth Office, the Arab Partnership works to provide funding and support through multilateral organizations, in particular the G8 and the EU, to provide strengthened support to the Arab regions undergoing democratic reform.
The UK has also pledged Â£110m (262.7 million TND) to be disbursed over the next four years to the Arab Partnership, with the goal of supporting political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa.
The website of the Foreign Commonwealth Office states, “The fund is structured around six key objectives, political participation, rule of law, corruption, public voice, youth employability and private sector development.”
Tribal dispute in Gafsa results in one dead and seven wounded
The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior announced a curfew in the region of El Ksar, in the Governorate of Gafsa, in the wake of deadly violence that erupted on theÂ morning of Tuesday, March 27th.
The clashesÂ were triggered by a land dispute between two families that degenerated when hunting guns became involved, resulting in one dead and seven injured. The acts of violence also involved the burning of a number of houses and the police station, according to reports.
The incident was not the first such violence to take place in Gafsa after the revolution. Ayman Essboui, a resident of Gafsa who is an unemployed graduate of Islamic studies, said that these incidents are not spontaneous. He speculated that political actors intentionally sewed division between groups to divert peopleâ€™s attention from the real problems and concerns of the region such as poverty, marginalization, and unemployment.
â€œThis is an attempt to suppress the social movement in the regionâ€¦Every time people rise up to ask the government to fulfill its promises, we find ourselves facing some trivial internal conflict,â€ Essboui said.
Although such conflicts are frequently attributed to a lack of security in post-revolution Tunisia, Essboui asserted that clan strife has always been a part of life in Gafsa, though it was not as widely reported previously.
“The previous regime opted for swiftly inhibiting the conflicts and blocking the information before it reaches media,” he said.
“Gafsa has always been governed by arouchiyaÂ [clan system]“.Â People of the same clan live together and favor their relatives in everything. They have inter-clan marriages but once a conflict breaks out, they will run to defend their cousins,â€ he explained.
Essboui thinks that civil society organizations can play a key role in improving the social situation in these regions and halt such violent acts. â€œAssociations should intervene by organizing dialogues and discussions between people to try to solve these clan-based disputes,â€ he concluded.
Tunisian human rights activist and President of the International Federation of Human Rights, Souhayr Belhassan, received on March 27, in Lisbon, the North-South Prize for 2011.
The prize is awarded annually by the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity to two personalities, who have distinguished themselves by their deep commitment to promote solidarity between the global North and South. The promotion and protection of human rights and the defense of pluralist democracies is one of the criteria considered by the prize committee.
Belhassan was given the award by Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, for her long history of activism advocating for human rights, in particular those of women in developing countries.
Serbian President, Boris Tadic, was the second recipient of this year’s award “in recognition of his political action for the reconciliation of the Balkans and the integration of his country in the process of European construction.”
Belhassan told Tunisian news agency TAP that she feels delighted to have received this prestigious prize in distinguished company of the likes of Nawal Al-Saadawi and Kofi Annan.
â€œThis award comes at an important moment in our struggle. We saw down an absolutist regime and now we are building free and democratic institutions. This is a tribute to Tunisian human rights activists and to all human rights activists,â€ said Belhassan.
She emphasized the importance of this award at a unique time when North-South relations are experiencing tensions from both ends.
“In the north, we are now witnessing the shutdown of free circulation, a savage globalization and the settlement of right-wing governments, while in the South, Islamist governments have settled,â€ she noted.
The 2010 winners were former Brazilian President, Lula Da Silva, and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour.
The President of the Tunisian Jewish Community Roger Bismuth
The President of the Tunisian Jewish Community Roger Bismuth has expressed deep concern over the security of Tunisia’s Jewish Community, and has called on the government to take immediate action against those who incite hatred against others.
Bismuth announced that he will be taking legal action against the Salafist preacher. “We can’t have this violent speech in our country… it is not the first time this has happened… it is totally unacceptable and I am going to take him to court,” said Bismuth.
Mofdi Mossadi, a spokesman for Ben Jaafar, told local radio station Mosaique FM that Ben Jaafar strongly condemned verbal abuse against Tunisia’s Jewish community and that it was critical that hateful rhetoric end.
During a press conference yesterday, Rached Ghannouchi,Â the leader of Tunisia’s Islamist political party Ennahda, promised to defend the rights of all of Tunisia’s minority communities. “Tunisia defends the rights of all citizens. We will fight for the rights of all ourÂ minorities, including the Jewish minority,” Ghannouchi said.
According to Tunisian State News agency, TAP, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has also condemned “all calls to fight Jews,” and deemed the incident on Avenue Habib Bouguiba to be an “isolated act.”
Bismuth reported that many Tunisian Muslims have called him to thank him for speaking out against the Salafist preacher, and have expressed their solidarity with Tunisia’s Jewish community. “If we don’t do something about this now, incidents like this will only get worse,” said Bismuth.
A Courthouse in Tunis
Tunisia’s judiciary faces many challenges to its credibility as an independent body.
The Association of Tunisian Judges along with the Union of Judges have recently submitted a proposal to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) for a temporary commission that will regulate the judicial branch.
â€œThis commission aims to fill in the constitutional and legal void as both the SCM [Supreme Council of the Magistrates] and the constitution are no longer operational,â€ stated Kalthoum Kennou, president of the Association of Tunisian Judges in a press conference held last Saturday to celebrate the National Day of the Independence of the Judiciary on March 26th.
Kennou said that in their new project, they will insist on disentangling the Judiciary from the Executive. â€œThe Judiciary has always been treated as a subordinate to the Executive; it is time for the judicial power to become fully independent,â€ she added.
â€œThe new commission will be elected and even the people that will organize the election will be elected,â€ stressed Kennou.
Kennou stated the judges who were involved with the practices of the old regime are prevented from running for both elections.
Many people in post-revolutionary Tunisia have accused judges of colluding with the Ben Ali regime to conceal its flagrant infringements. â€œCleansing the judiciaryâ€ before reforming it has become a popular demand present in many popular protests.
Wahid Ferchichi, a law professor and judicial expert warned against the consequences of these generalizations made by people whenever they talk about reforming a sector. Ferchichi stressed the absurdity of accusing all judges of being corrupt as many are honest and stood up against the regime. Ferchichi said that Tunisia should avoid the Romanian scenario where the country found itself facing a judicial void due to the strict policy it followed when â€œCleansing the judiciaryâ€.
Fathi Mimouni, a member of the Association of Tunisian Judges asserted that the independence of the judiciary is not a post-revolutionary demand, as it dates back to pre Ben Ali era. However, the political powers in Tunisia suppressed efforts of judges to separate the judiciary from the executive branch of government, and intentionally strove to encumber the judiciary.
The law decree regulating the public authorities that was passed last December by the National Constituent Assembly included an article about the creation of a temporary independent committee to supersede the Supreme Council of Magistrates. The SCM, which is the body in charge of appointing, moving and disciplining Tunisian judges, is considered a major impediment to the independence of the judiciary as it had the President of the Republic as its president and the Minister of Justice as its vice president.
This obvious overlapping between two supposedly independent judicial and executive branches is unconstitutional, as the former Tunisian constitution theoretically granted the separation between the executive, judiciary and legislative powers. But in practice, the corrupt former regime expanded its power over the voice of law and order.
According to Ferchichi, apart from the SCM, which the regime took advantage of to put pressure on honest judges, another practice conflicting with the principle of the independence of the judiciary is the way the office of the General Prosecutor operates.
This body is crucial as it is responsible for receiving the cases, accepting them or withdrawing them, and then distributing them on the different courts. Â Surprisingly, it functions under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice, which represents the executive branch.
It is through the General Prosecutor office that the regime managed to intervene whenever it wished to influence the courtâ€™s decision.
Mimouni said that previous experience proved that the independence of the judiciary cannot be granted by a broad article in the constitution. Instead, vigorous institutions and mechanisms able protect the judicial power from any external pressures need to be put in place.
The judges are also urging the constituent Assembly to pass laws to create a Supreme Constitutional Court to decide on the constitutionality of some laws and also to limit of the jurisdiction of the Military Court.
SUNGARD, a leading US based global software and services company, present in Tunisia since 2008, confirmed today that it will continue to invest in Tunisia.
Harold Finders, executive director of the group, met with Tunisian Prime Minister, Hamadi Jebali, and told the press that SUNGARD intends to continue its Tunisian operations.
The official, who led the SUNGARD delegation at the the meeting, said the group’s presence in Tunisia exemplifies its desire to focus the development of its activities on three strategic geographical areas, namely, China, India and Tunisia.
The official noted that the main strategies for the development of the group activities in Tunisia are security, infrastructure and human resources.
The group, which opened its new headquarters in El Ghazala Technopole, Tunis, in April 2011, currently employs 500 people while itÂ initiallyÂ only employed 130.
Yesterday, the Tunisian telephone company Tunisiana won a bid organized by the Tunisian Ministry of Communication Technologies for a new telecommunications license.
With over 6 million subscribers, Tunisiana is the national leader in mobile telephony with 65% of the local market. Until now, however, it has not had a license to provide fixed telecommunications (landlines) or a high-speed 3rd-generation wireless network.Â Previously, only Tunisie Telecom and Orange had licenses for 3G.
In announcing the successful bid, Mongi Marzoug, Minister of Communication Technologies,Â stressed the need to boost competition in the telecommunications sector in Tunisia.Â He recalled the results of a study by the National Institute of Telecommunications, which highlighted the opportunities and positive outcomes related to the licensing of fixed telecommunications and 3G mobile telecommunications services.
â€œThe granting of this license will reduce the digital divide, by improving coverage of telecommunication services and access to these services,â€ said Marzoug.
Tunisiana has been seeking this license for a long time, and repurchased part of the FAIÂ Tunet (a Tunisian Internet provider) to become eligible.Â The development of regional services was one of the key requirements of the tender. Tunisiana has also signed Â an agreementÂ with the Chinese manufacturer Huawei, that will allow it to deployÂ the 3G network in the internal regions within the country.
Tunisiana’s success comes as no surprise to observers. When two other companies, Orange and Iliad, withdrew after failing to meet the requirements for the license, Tunisiana was left as the only eligible candidate.
Samir Feriani acquitted of major charges
The Primary Court of Tunis has acquittedÂ Tunisian whistleblower Samir Feriani of the charge ofÂ â€œspreading false information to destabilize the public order.â€
Feriani, who is a high ranking official in the Ministry of Interior, was thrown in prison last May after accusing the Ministry of Interior of corruption, in an article published in the Tunisian newspapers Al Khabeer and Lâ€™Audace.
The article was a letter to the Minister of Interior. In it, he exposed the dirty laundry of the Ministry, exposing violations that occurred under the Ben Ali regime and describing how those loyal to the old regime were destroying the archives of the Ministry of Interior to erase any proof against them.
Concerning a second, lesser charge of â€œaccusing aÂ public employee of violating lawÂ without proof,â€ Feriani was found guilty and was fined 200 Tunisian dinars. A third charge, that implied Feriani violated State security, was dropped by the Military Court of Tunis last September, 2011.
Feriani expressed his satisfaction with the courtâ€™s decision. â€œThis is what I call a fair trial. This simply proves that the judiciary is independent after the Revolution,â€ he told Tunisia Live.
Feriani added that he trusts the current Minister of Interior, Ali Al Arayadh, and expressed hope that he could recover his old job.
â€œI am not sure of anything but I think it is just a matter of procedures and I will get back to my normal life,â€ he said.
Feriani announced that his trial was just the beginning of a long process that would uncover corruption in the Ministry of the Interior. â€œThe upcoming trials of the martyrs and the wounded of the Revolution will involve more people. The name of the same person that I accused in my letter of being responsible for some of the infringements that were exercised against the protestors has recently been mentioned in some trials,” he said. He expressed confidence that justice would be served in this respect.
Feriani asserted that he does not regret a thing he did to help expose the truth. â€œAll I wanted was to reveal Ben Aliâ€™s criminal past,â€ he concluded.
Malian soldiers take over the offices of state radio and TV in a coup
Tunisians landed safely at Tunis-Carthage airport on the first flight to Tunis from the Malian capital of Bamako since the Malian coup, staged last week on March 22, 2012. Tunisair flights to Mali were suspended the day of the coup, while the airline monitored the situation.Â About 40 Tunisians, as well as other nationals fleeing Mali, were on the Tunisair flight.
Tunisiaâ€™s Foreign Affairs ministry announced that it was in constant contact with Tunisians in Mali, including Triki. The ministry also stated that it was working with Tunisair to ensure that as soon as flights resumed in Mali, an airplane would be sent to them.
Nadia Faleh is one of the Tunisian citizens who arrived today with her family at the Tunis airport. Faleh expressed her happiness after returning to Tunisia safely. â€œWhat we went through was scary, people were stealing and we were hearing gunshots, however, the Tunisian embassy staff in Mali were really helpful and we were in constant contact with them. Mr. Triki was also present. The situation was complicatedâ€¦ we could not tell who the government was nor who was in control. We were confused, everything was blurry,â€ she said.
Faleh hopes the best for the Malian people. â€œI only want what is best for their country, they are good people and we will return there as soon as things settle,â€ she explained.
Tarek Ben Salem, Tunisian ambassador to Mali since last August, described the situation in Mali as critical and completely lacking in security. â€œCircumstances there were hard and difficult; the situation was not stable, we were confused, we did not know what was happening in the country, people were looting for example, people robbed the Libyan embassy and other stores or cars,â€ he said.
He also added that what made the situation even more difficult was the complete absence of concrete information from official sources.
â€œTunisians were obliged to stay in a hotel together, there were 40 Tunisians. Some of them were there by coincidence, but we helped them and everything went well,â€ he added.
It was early Thursday morning, March 22, 2012, that Malian President Amadou Tomani Toure fled the Presidential Palace when the Malian military took control of the capital city, Bamako.
In a statement released on March 24, the Ministry of the Interior announced that Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali had appointed five new governors.
Habib Sithom, Abdelmonem Sahbani, Mahmoud Jaballah, Abdelkader Trabelsi, and Hamadi Mayara were appointed, respectively, as the heads of the governorates of Monastir, Zaghouan, Nabeul, Kef, and Medenine.
Their nomination sparked controversy, as all five of the new governors are presumed to beÂ members of the Islamist party Ennahdaâ€™s Executive Bureau, causing some to accuse the party of political opportunism.
Nooman Fehri, a Constituent Assembly member from the economically liberal Afek Tounes party, called the nominations unnecessary and dangerous, saying that they do not respect the administrationâ€™s neutrality. Fehri added that the reason the country did not fall into chaos following the revolution was the relative political neutrality of its employees.
After the revolution, all governors were replaced. At the time, the majority of currently existing political parties had not yet been created, or had not yet been legalized – so initially, noÂ governor belonged to an official political party.
â€œThe former governors were doing a good job; I believe they [the five new governors] were assigned for political reasons,â€ said Fehri.
Zoubair Chhoudi, an Ennahda representative, denied the rumor that Abdelmonem Sahbani is related to Samir Dilou and stated that the changes were necessary and had been made on the basis of their expertise and competence. Chhoudi avoided answering when asked if the five new governors were members of Ennahda, stating only that party affiliation was not taken into account during the decision-making process.
Hedi Mcheleya, head of the Monastir governorate officeâ€™s union, reported that approximately 500 people protested in front of the governorate earlier today, contesting the appointment of the new governor Habib Sethom. The protesters also asked governorate-level employees go on strike to denounce the decision of the prime minister.
â€œWe sent a letter to Prime Minister Jebali asking for clarifications. We donâ€™t understand, people here appreciate the work done by the former governor and I donâ€™t see the need to dismiss him [...] Things have been working well,â€ said Mcheleya.
Mcheleya stated his belief that the nomination is a possible attempt to stop the rise of the Bourguibist movement, supporters of the legacy of former President Habib Bourguiba. Former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi led a political meeting on March 24 in Monastir, which was organized by a group supporting Bourguiba’s legacy. The rally aimed to unite opposition parties, and gathered thousands of attendees.
Access to abortion services, legalized in 1973, is often touted as an example of Tunisia’s progressive approach to women’s rights. However, activists and organizations warn that use of such services is facing increasing social stigmatization.