Monthly Archives: March 2012

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 it initially only employed 130.

Source: TAP

According to the latest summary published by the UN High Commission for Refugees, the number of asylum seekers coming from Tunisia was 9 times higher in 2011 (7,900) than in 2010 (900).

The statistics show that asylum applications from Tunisia fell with each quarter, though the amount for the last quarter of 2011 (1,534) was still almost seven times above the average rate.

The report confirmed that Tunisians looking for refugee status still tend to head northward, and not to Asia or the Americas. Three quarters of last year’s asylum seekers went to Italy and Switzerland, and nearly all (7,786 out of 7,907) emigrated to Europe.

An asylum seeker is defined by the report as “an individual who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not been determined yet.” Thus, some of the Tunisians reported on the list may have already had their cases decided by now.

The numbers of asylum seekers throughout the world increased last year by almost 20%. Italy in particular received an enormous increase in immigrants looking for refugee status, something the report attributes to the so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings. Asylum claims in Italy went from 10,000 in 2010 to an estimated 34,100 in 2011, with Tunisia as the number one country of origin for applicants.

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. Previously, only Tunisie Telecom and Orange had licenses for 3G.

In announcing the successful bid, Mongi Marzoug, Minister of Communication Technologies, stressed the need to boost competition in the telecommunications sector in Tunisia. 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.

“The granting of this license will reduce the digital divide, by improving coverage of telecommunication services and access to these services,” said Marzoug.

Tunisiana has been seeking this license for a long time, and repurchased part of the FAI Tunet (a Tunisian Internet provider) to become eligible. The development of regional services was one of the key requirements of the tender. Tunisiana has also signed  an agreement with the Chinese manufacturer Huawei, that will allow it to deploy 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.


Source: TAP

Samir Feriani acquitted of major charges

The Primary Court of Tunis has acquitted Tunisian whistleblower Samir Feriani of the charge of “spreading false information to destabilize the public order.”

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 L’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 “accusing a public employee of violating law without proof,” 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 court’s decision. “This is what I call a fair trial. This simply proves that the judiciary is independent after the Revolution,” 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.

“I am not sure of anything but I think it is just a matter of procedures and I will get back to my normal life,” 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. “The 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. “All I wanted was to reveal Ben Ali’s criminal past,” he concluded.

Foued Laajimi, one of the wounded of the revolution said to have been attacked by National Guard agents

The wounded of the Tunisian Revolution, who staged a sit in at Tunisia’s transitional justice ministry, say they were attacked by a group of men bearing the insignia of Tunisia’s National Guard.

However, the spokesman for the ministry of the interior, Khaled Tarrouche, denied that the National Guard was present at the demonstration, saying the location, Bardo, was outside of the body’s jurisdiction.

According to several participants in the sit in, the confrontation took place as the group protested inside the gates of the Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice. While the police and military left the protesters in peace, a group of eight men wearing the green uniforms of the National Guard approached suddenly and attempted to evict the protesters by force, pushing Foued Laajimi, a young man who lost a leg during the revolution,  and causing him to fall. When others attempted to assist him they were also pushed and verbally assaulted.

The demonstrators say the intervention took them by surprise, as they had obtained the proper authorization for the protest and had up until then experienced no trouble with the police and military forces on site.

“When we requested permission from the ministry of the interior we didn’t expect this aggression. They gave us the license,” said Meriem Mnaouer, a lawyer who was one of the persons reportedly pushed while attempting to help Laajimi.

Khaled Tarrouche, the spokesman for the ministry of the interior, denied that National Guard agents entered the area, or indeed that any attack had taken place. Tarrouche stated that the only confrontation that occurred took place when a group of “intruders” attempted to join the authorized sit in taking place within the confines of the ministry.

Tarrouche was not able to explain why the protesters believed their aggressors to be agents of the National Guard.

“I don’t know, maybe their clothes. I can’t put myself in their place,” said Tarrouche.

Peace Corps veterans and tunisian participants gather in the Medina of Tunis

On March 26, 2012, American Peace Corps veterans reunited at the Tahar Haddad Cultural Center in Tunis. The discussion provided the opportunity for Tunisians to ask questions about the role of the Corps and its upcoming return to Tunisia after a 16-year hiatus.

The Peace Corps was created in 1960 by US President John F. Kennedy. It provides the opportunity for American men and women to “serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries” for 24 months, according to their website.

Tunisia was the first Arab country to ask for and receive Peace Corps volunteers. In the 34 years that the Peace Corps was active here, 2,382 volunteers came through Tunisia, until the suspension of the program in 1996. In October 2011, President Obama announced that the program would be relaunched, during interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi’s visit to the United States.

Lee Jennings, who was part of the very first group of Peace Corps volunteers to come to Tunisia in 1962, announced that approximately 20 to 30 new recruits would arrive in Tunisia at the end of August or the beginning of September. Approximately half would serve as “cultural fellows,” acting as assistants to Tunisian English language teachers, while the other half would “focus on women and the environment.”

“As you all know, the Code of Personal Status (CPS), passed right after the Independence, is still the only one in the Arab world that gives equal rights to women and men…but the current government has a lot of people in it who are not convinced that we need that,” he said.

Jennings was one of the participants of the forum who lives in Tunisia. After working in Sub-Saharan Africa for several years, he returned to Tunisia in 2000 to direct Amideast Tunisia. Other former Peace Corps volunteers were there on a reunion tour, revisiting the country they worked in decades ago. They partnered in various fields, like architecture, English teaching and community development. Stan Suski came to Tunisia in 1966. He hasn’t been back since 1978, and he was pleasantly surprised to find an old friend at the event yesterday. The two were able to catch up, and Stan told us how much Tunisia has changed since he was here. “Tunis has grown incredibly,” he said.

When the Peace Corps shut down in 1996, there were four programs: nursing, youth development, English teaching in universities, and an urban program to build infrastructure in rural areas. Mohamed Halouani, a former Peace Corps trainer, speculated that the Peace Corps program was suspended because, “Tunisia considered itself developed enough not to need the United States anymore.” It did, however, continue to receive other forms of American aid, according to Halouani.

Jennings expressed reservations about the return of Peace Corps volunteers to Tunisia in the current economic context. “Since one of the major issues after the revolution are the thousands and thousands of unemployed graduates, it would be a disaster if Peace Corps volunteers are seen as taking away the job opportunities that do exist…it has to be seen as a supplement, to build upon.”

When the existence of a hidden agenda was raised by one of the Tunisian participants, a Peace Corps veteran said, “I used to ask myself this all the time…we do have to remember the Peace Corps was a Cold War program. We could be good people, but we still could be used, by a country that has pretty strong military politics.” But, he stressed, the first Peace Corps volunteers were those who “wanted to do something other than war.”

Another Tunisian participant questioned the Peace Corps’ focus on English language instruction. “Why should the Peace Corps care about teaching English? Why does the Peace Corps not seriously think about things related to peace, and cooperate with Tunisian people?”

Tunisians question former Peace Corps volunteers

Several Peace Corps volunteers reacted to this, underlining that the Peace Corps works in many areas, not just English language – such as architecture, archeology, road-levelling, housing surveys, etc. They further pointed out that many of the volunteers speak “Tunsi” – the Tunisian dialect –  something that helps them adapt more quickly to the culture and interact with the people they work with.

After the revolution, the United States reinforced a number of its aid programs to Tunisia – the return of Peace Corps volunteers is just one of many initiatives. Shortly after January 14, 2011, USAID, the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), and the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) opened up shop in Tunisia. USAID had been present in Tunisia from 1957 to 1994 – two years before the departure of the Peace Corps.

For Mohamed Halouani, who spent time in Milwaukee as a camp counsellor, it’s all about “bridging the gap” between the Tunisian and the American people. He said that being a part of the Peace Corps experience was beneficial for both the Tunisians and Americans involved. “The Peace Corps has great impact,” he said, adding that people who go through the program will go on to become leaders and ambassadors, like Gordon Gray [current American ambassador to Tunisia], who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. The Peace Corps is a “two-way street,” a “win-win experience,” he said.

“I used to refer to myself as a Kennedy son … we are all children of Kennedy like we are the children of Bourguiba.”

This article was co-written by Megan Radford.

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 be members of the Islamist party Ennahda’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 administration’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, no governor belonged to an official political party.

“The former governors were doing a good job; I believe they [the five new governors] were assigned for political reasons,” said Fehri.

Kapitalis, a Tunisia-based online news journal, reported that Mahmoud Jaballah directed Ennahda’s office in Ariana and that Abdelmonem Sahbani is the son-in-law of Samir Dilou - a member of the Executive Bureau of Ennahda.

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 office’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.

“We sent a letter to Prime Minister Jebali asking for clarifications. We don’t understand, people here appreciate the work done by the former governor and I don’t see the need to dismiss him […] Things have been working well,” 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.

Wounded and families of the martyrs of Tunisia’s uprisings met with representatives of Tunisia’s transitional justice ministry following a sit in in front of the ministry’s offices today.

The protest, organized by the Association of Martyrs of the Revolution, the Tunisian Pirate Party, and the Tunisian Party, was held in part as a response to a report on national television a few days ago about the current situation of Tunisia’s wounded, who some feel have been neglected by the government.

Protesters called for the cost of their medical care to be covered by the government. They also called for the speedier resolution of trials of those involved in killings during the revolution.

“We want them to be judged, put in prison. It’s our first demand,” said the sister of one of the victims of the revolution who preferred not to be named.

Some of the wounded were missing limbs or presented other visible signs of physical trauma, and the wives and mothers of the dead carried portraits of their lost loved ones. Many accused Samir Dilou, the Minister of Transitional Justice and Human Rights, and of the government as a whole of turning a deaf ear to the suffering of Tunisia’s martyrs and wounded, calling attention to their situation when politically useful, but failing to make real progress to meet their actual needs.

Nejmeddine Naoui, a soft-spoken 24-year-old, has severe skin discoloration across his face and suffers intense pain due to a bullet still lodged in his skull that is pushing on a nerve. The bullet came from the gun of a member of Tunisia’s National Guard who fired on a crowd that had gathered to protest in Oued Ellil, a working class suburb of Tunis, two days before former president Ben Ali fled Tunisia.

According to Dr. Lilia Bouguira, a doctor who has taken up the cause of several wounded individuals whose cases she feels needs further attention, Naoui was examined by several doctors at several hospitals, but none felt qualified enough to remove the bullet as it was lodged in too delicate a part of the head.

Last month, it was announced that 17 of the most seriously wounded during the revolution would be sent abroad for treatment, 11 to Germany and 6 to Qatar. German doctors were in Tunis today to meet with the chosen patients, and Dr. Bouguira called on them to include Naoui and several others in their care.

After about two hours of protest, with demonstrators shaking the gates of the compound which houses the Ministry of Human Rights and Transitional Justice, officials from the institution agreed to meet with representatives of the martyrs and the wounded.

Abdel Hamid Ben Abdallah, a representative of the ministry, said that though he disagreed with the protesters, he recognized the legitimacy of their action.

“They have the right to sit in, to protest. We are not blaming them,” said Ben Abdallah. During the meeting with representatives of the protest, Ben Abdallah stated that the delay in treating the cases of the martyrs and wounded was not due to neglect, but simply due to the vast number of cases to be dealt with.

Ben Abdallah explained that further action would be taken on the martyr’s and wounded of the revolution, when the minister of human rights and transitional justice, Samir Dilou, returns to Tunisia. He is currently on an official visit to Germany.

Faten Bouraoui contributed reporting to this article.

Role of religion in Tunisia's constitution has been an ongoing debate

Yesterday, the Islamist party Ennahda declared on national evening television that it would keep intact Article 1 of the 1959 Tunisian Constitution.

Article 1 of Tunisia’s first constitution explicitly states that Tunisia is a free, sovereign, and independent state, whose “religion is Islam, language is Arabic, and regime is republic.”

Ennahda holds 89 – or over 40% – of the 217 seats in the National Constituent Assembly, elected on October 23, 2011. Since its election, the Constituent Assembly has been working on drafting a new constitution from scratch. On December 10, 2011, the law organizing public powers was passed, granting a provisional working constitution until the new constitution is passed and ratified.

The debate surrounding the role of religion is becoming increasingly divisive, and is seen as stalling the drafting of the new constitution.

Zoubair Chhoudi, spokesperson of Ennahda, confirmed that his party’s political bureau undertook the decision as a response to the increasing division the issue is causing. “We felt it incumbent upon us to undertake an action that will unite Tunisians – not further divide them. The recognition of Tunisia as an Arab-Muslim state is more than enough to reinforce the country’s identity.”

Chhoudi also recalled that, “This is a campaign promise that Ennahda made. There is no need to politicize identity issues – it is dangerous.”

When questioned on the possible ramifications of this decision on the party’s level of cohesion within the Constituent Assembly, Chhoudi asserted that, “The highest legislative body within Ennahda has made this decision, but there will always be different opinions. The movement to include Shariaa in the constitution is a national, cultural one that is bound to impact the internal workings of any party.”

Abderraouf Ayadi, secretary general of the center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR) party and a member of the Constituent Assembly, said that Ennahda’s decision converged well with the CPR’s platform. “We are in agreement with the decision. A constitution bypasses any transitional phase and is here to stay. As long as the identity of the country is Arab-Muslim, the article remains accurate and relevant.”

Ayadi also hailed the decision as one that could potentially prevent the abuse of religion for political gains. “Prophet Mohammed used politics for religion. Now we are afraid that some will use religion for politics – especially when the goals aren’t always clear,” he said.

This decision came in a very delicate political context, as an ongoing debate over the place of religion in post-revolutionary Tunisian society and government continues to evolve.

The past two weeks alone have seen several demonstrations, some calling for the implementation of Shariaa, law based on the Koran and other Muslim holy writings, in the constitution, and others calling for a civil state. On March 16, over 4,000 demonstrators descended on the National Constituent Assembly calling for Shariaa. On March 20, Independence Day, Avenue Bourguiba was a sea of red and white with up to 15,000 protesters calling for a civil state. On Avenue Bourguiba yesterday, March 25, Salafist protesters again gathered to call for Shariaa law as the principal and sole source of judicial inspiration that is recognized in the constitution.

It is arguable though whether maintaining the current structure of Article 1 will necessarily exclude the mention of Shariaa in other parts of the constitution.

Zied Krichen, journalist and editor-in-chief at the Tunisian daily Al Maghreb, described Article 1 of the 1956 Tunisian Constitution as descriptive, rather than prescriptive or normative. “In this article, it is admitted that the “ha” (possessive affix) in “dinuha” (religion) refers to Tunisia, and not the Tunisian State,” he explained.


Article co-written by Wafa Ben Hassine.

Salafist demonstrators wave Caliphate flag on top of Tunis clocktower

A group of several thousand Salafists and their supporters demonstrated in downtown Tunis today in support of the Koran, claiming that the Muslim holy book was under threat by more secular elements of Tunisian society. Demonstrators climbed the clock tower of Tunis to fly black caliphate flags from the top of the tower and chanted slogans such as “the people want a new caliphate.”

At the same time and on the same street, the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts held a celebration for the upcoming World Day of Theater (usually March 27th) in front of the Municipal Theater. As the Salafist protest came to a close, a number of Salafist demonstrators attacked the Theater celebration.

According to Yassine Ouni, a student from the Higher Institute for Drama, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for the confrontation because they gave permits for both events knowing there would be a conflict. “The Tunisian Association for the Drama Arts event and the Salafist demonstration was held at the same time. We want to hold the Interior Ministry accountable since it gave permission to the two movements on the same day and the Ministry knew there would be tension since Drama is sacred for all artists and religion is sacred for every citizen.”

Salafists gather in front of the Municipal Theater

The permit given to the dramatists was supposed to allow them to celebrate theater in the space between the municipal theater and the Africa Hotel while the Salafists had a permit to demonstrate by the Tunis clock tower. While the Salafist organizers agreed to separate the events at first, a group of  Salafists later came and damaged equipment, disrupted outdoor performances and threw eggs, empty bottles and sharp objects at those celebrating theater.

Fawzi Guara, one of the demonstrators at the Salafist organized event for supporting the Koran blamed the theater celebration organizers for the confrontation. “Some Tunisians are not respecting our religious sanctity, campaigns against our religion confirm that there are elements here who want to provoke us. They don’t respect our views.”

Members of the Tunisian Association for Drama Arts in front of the Municipal Theater

Guara admitted that the Tunisian Association for Theater had received permission to hold an event first, but he said the Koran was more important than theater. “We knew they got permission before us, but they should give priority to defending the Koran and our religion. Anarchy can happen at any time, and simply by calling themselves ‘Theater of Resistance’ they are provoking us, resistance to whom? Did we sell out our country?”

For Guara, his demonstration was necessary because he sees Islam as being under attack. “Today Tunisia is witnessing a historical day. Tunisians went to the street to show their disapproval against the desecration of the Koran in Ben Guerdene, against the six pointed star on the wall of the Al-Fateh Mosque.”

He added that opponents of Salafists have been making a big deal out one Salafists’ desecration of the Tunisian flag at Mannouba University, just to give them a bad name. “We do love our country and our flag but the priority is for our religion and what is sacred. Islam does not oppose civility. We are here today to express our love for the Koran, for the prophet, for our holy sites. Our slogans are in support of the Koran, defending that which is sacred and rejecting discord and strife between Tunisians,” Guara said.

Kouichi Shirayanagi contributed to this report