Security Measures Around French Embassy Frustrate Residents - Tunisia Live Security Measures Around French Embassy Frustrate Residents - Tunisia Live
Security Measures Around French Embassy Frustrate Residents

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Security Measures Around French Embassy Frustrate Residents

On the left, pedestrians walk in an almost single-file line between barbed wire and the buildings in front of the French Embassy

“The clouds are in Mali, and the rain is in Tunisia,” said merchant Mokhtar Zekri about the security blockades around the French Embassy.

Zekri is one of many shop owners in the downtown of the capital affected by the extreme security measures taken by the Tunisian government to protect the French Embassy. The embassy's surrounding area has experienced some protests against France’s military intervention in Mali in the past two weeks.

Barbed wire and policemen are commonplace all over the area. The streets immediately next to the embassy are closed to the circulation of vehicles. Pedestrians have to take care when walking through the sidewalks of these closed-off streets.  Oftentimes narrow, the sidewalks present a challenge to the many passersby, who risk tearing their clothes or injuring their arms on the barbed wire that flanks the sidewalks.

These extra security measures were taken the day after French hostages were kidnapped at a gas field in the south of neighboring Algeria.

At this point, being open or closed is of no difference, the owner of a vitrine store told Tunisia Live. The blockade is not only inconvenient in terms of the lack of parking space, but also feels threatening.

People reported being scared from walking near the embassy’s proximity at the sight of the police and security forces.

They are in no mood for shopping, Zekri added. Our rate of commerce went down at least 70%.

Some shop owners had to lay off personnel. The decrease in customers made paying off accumulating bills of rent, electricity, taxes as well as worker's paychecks nearly impossible.

I had to lay off two girls yesterday,  the vitrine store owner said.

A Men's Suites' shop cashier, Hanen expressed fears of a similar fate to Tunisia Live.

I have been working here since the opening of the shop 20 years ago, and the situation has never been worse, Hanen stated.

Pedestrians walk through the metro tracks parallel to the French Embassy

Enhanced security measurements prevent us from opening the shops.

Rosace Shoe Shop owner, Lasaad Bayouth, unlike other locals, is positive about the heightened security measures.

I would prefer that security close off the street completely, even from pedestrians, Bayouth told Tunisia Live. We need to take every preventative measure we can. I would rather that my colleagues and I be out of work for a week or two than the entire country be blamed for not taking proper security measures in case something happens like with the U.S. embassy.

Since the September 14 attacks, the U.S. embassy has not decreased its security measures. Shop owners in the nearby proximity of the French Embassy worry that the blockades will not be lifted anytime soon either. Most of them hope the Malian situation will be solved in the few next days – soon enough for them to recover their business. Otherwise, the merchants aim to protest.

France has already invaded Mali, and it is not going anywhere, Zekri stated. Will we be under siege forever?

Such frustrations are leading to anger, which some residents are directing towards the Tunisian government and French Embassy officials.

These intense security measures are yet another French invasion in Tunis. Why is it acceptable for the Tunisian government to block the streets at France’s command? a policeman, who asked to remain anonymous, told Tunisia Live.

The extra security may not even be necessary to safeguard the embassy.

We can protect the embassy and citizens by means other than these, he added.

Police guard the perimeter of the French Embassy

The situation has not only affected merchants and pedestrians. The traffic in Tunis’ main thoroughfare, Habib Bourguiba Avenue, is experiencing new bottlenecks that exasperate those passing through the area. Drivers take up to half-an-hour to traverse a distance that should take no longer than five minutes. Taxi drivers are reluctant to go through Habib Bourguiba Avenue.

Those heading to the commercial part of downtown for errands are forced to walk a large stretch of the main avenue due to taxis' refusal to get caught up in the traffic.

It is the taxi's job to drive the client wherever one asks him to, yet it seems to be a mission impossible under the current circumstances, Sana, a pedestrian awaiting a cab on the avenue, told Tunisia Live.

  • Adel

    Why on earth must the French Embassy remain in down town in Tunis and in the most economically and socially viable area of the Tunisian capital? Why can’t the French authorities follow the example of the British and remove themselves from the economics centre of Tunis and get themselves another plot of land nearby the American and British embassies on the way to La Marsa or Raouade? Times are changing and nobody wants to be constantly reminded of the colonial presence in the commercial centre of one ‘s own city. It’s time for the French to give the last peace of land back to its rightful owners: the traders, merchants and shopkeepers of Tunis.

  • 3sidah

    that’s the house of the resident general, the defacto ruler of Tunisia during the 75 years of colonization. The French being silly, chauvinistic, racist, xenophobic, ill-intentioned, longing for an empty inglorious past and wanting to show their fading strength, want it to be here.

    I say we have to force those bastard French to relocate. And I am not religious nor supporter of ennahdha….but building a mosque in there is the best answer.

    • Patrick Batchelder

      Yes, even though, in actuality, a “protectorate” and not a “colony” what French culture is left in Tunisia should be fazed out if Tunisians truly want to stand on their own. Like always, I would “follow the money” and my best guess is France is here to protect it’s investments and it’s wealthy people who have put their money into Tunisia.

      A start would be to stop teaching French in school and offer several different lanugages. Even if Tunisians go to school later in France they are treated with disrespect. Too, the British and French do not need “in perpetuity” the historical palaces of former Bey’s, they should be open as parks and museums for the Tunisian people. By having these grand embassies it only gives those countries perceived importance over other valued countries.

  • Patrick Batchelder

    Here in La Marsa the French Ambassador’s Residence had it’s wall increased in height last year about a meter. It has razor concertina wire on the top as of late. We who live near by call it “Fortress France.” Unfortunately it would never stop protesters with a tall ladder except for a few minutes. I can only assume that within the walls are far more sophisticated security and defense measures. Often I hear dogs barking too.

    Moving and building a secure modern residence in Tunis would be a far better idea and then returning the house and gardens to the Tunisian people where it belongs.

    Too, often as not, the soldiers guarding outside the grounds are very young and do not look particularly experienced or prepared for anything serious. They appear to be there only as a symbol.

    I often wonder if they would actually take action and shoot any of their own countryman if an uprising occurred. There are many questions to be answered before a tragedy happens.

  • Adel

    Time is up for all those post-colonial French civil servants (and their Francophone friends) who want to stick to oppressive means of keeping at all costs what is not theirs namely the antique building where colonial France had planted their embassy in the heart of Tunis. Of course, you are right to say that French language must be phased out of the educational system because all it has produced over the years now, is a bunch of semi-lingual schizophrenics that use French as a masker for their undeveloped Tunisian identity.
    Now, I would rather see the French cultural dominance by proxy and all that jazz disappear from our beautiful Tunisia. What we need is a radical Tunisian cultural revolution without bloodshed and devoid of any Francophonic influence, which would rid us of French expression of all kinds: no French newspapers, magazines, radio-programs, tv-series and no French curricula in schools.
    Let all French speaking Tunisians go back to school in order to master their own mother tongue (the Tunisian language) and learn to use it professionally.
    As a matter of survival, we need to cluster all foreign languages, French included, and insert them in the curriculum of secondary schools only and let all kids in the primary schools use solely Tunisian Arabic in order to assimilate the material covered by their teachers. Thus killing two birds with one stone: get rid of the French language and culture and help the young generation to consciously develop a solid monocultural identity of which we will all be proud.

  • 1st Seal

    “For as the lightning cometh out of the East, and shineth even unto the West, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.”

    (Matt. 24:27)

  • 3sidah

    “Tunisian Arabic”?!…you mean literary Arabic/classical Arabic…or Tunisian dialect? how are you going to teach a vernacular with no specific rules and with different pronunciation and grammar all over Tunisia…we have Arabic, that’s should be the language that all educated people should master.

  • Adel

    To 1st Seal:
    “….surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition..”
    Koran: 13: 11

    With regards to the linguistic condition of Tunisia, it goes without saying that Standard Arabic is and will be the lingua franca of the land and therefore the language of education and communication at all levels in the Tunisian society. BUT it will be of paramount importance to socialize children first in their mother tongue ( home language) throughout the entire primary school period. That’s to say all instruction and contents of the primary schools must be given in Tunisian Arabic (the spoken language) and gradually work towards what we call Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). No French until the first year of secondary education just like all other foreign languages.
    As a matter of course every spoken language ( Tunisian Arabic too) has an internal phonological and morphological system of f its own and if necessary men can always write it down by using a given alphabet… Where does the Arabic alphabet come from mr / ms 3sidah?

    • sberka

      of course you can write arabic…you can also write it in Latin characters and some numerals!!! But its grammar and pronunciation rules are not set up and wont be set up since different neighborhoods use different vernaculars – without mentioning towns, villages, regions…

      I understand your argument and I do not disagree with you. Arabic SHOULD become the de facto language- and hopefully the language of science on day. And I agree we have a bunch of Tunisians who cannot speak in any language, not in MSA, not in the Tunisian vernacular, let alone french.

      But, MSA should be introduced in kindergarten, not later in elementary school…the Syrian model for teaching arabic is the best in the arabic world as it produces excellent speakers/writers.

      Arabic characters come from Phoenician just like Greek/Latin characters.

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