Category Archives: Tunisia

The Arab Spring began in hope, but ended in desolation

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

arab-spring-graphic-2.jpgArab Spring was always a misleading phrase, suggesting that what we were seeing was a peaceful transition from authoritarianism to democracy similar to that from communism in Eastern Europe. The misnomer implied an over-simplified view of the political ingredients that produced the protests and uprisings of 2011 and over-optimistic expectations about their outcome.

Five years later it is clear that the result of the uprisings has been calamitous, leading to wars or increased repression in all but one of the six countries where the Arab Spring principally took place. Syria, Libya and Yemen are being torn apart by civil wars that show no sign of ending. In Egypt and Bahrain autocracy is far greater and civil liberties far less than they were prior to 2011. Only in Tunisia, which started off the surge towards radical change, do people have greater rights than they did before.

What went so disastrously wrong?

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Jihadists Deepen Collaboration in North Africa

Carlotta Gall reports for The New York Times:

A group of light armored vehicles skated over the moonscape of the Sahara, part of one of the largest detachments the French military has deployed here since colonial times. Its mission is growing ever more urgent: to cut smuggling routes used by jihadists who have turned this inhospitable terrain into a sprawling security challenge for African and international forces alike.

Many of the extremist groups are affiliates of Al Qaeda, which has had roots in North Africa since the 1990s. With the recent introduction of Islamic State franchises, the jihadist push has been marked by increasing, sometimes heated, competition.

But, analysts and military officials say, there is also deepening collaboration among groups using modern communications and a sophisticated system of roving trainers to share military tactics, media strategies and ways of transferring money.

Their threat has grown as Libya — with its ungoverned spaces, oil, ports, and proximity to Europe and the Middle East — becomes a budding hub of operations for both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State to reach deeper into Africa.

And as Africa’s jihadists come under the wing of distant and more powerful patrons, officials fear that they are extending their reach and stitching together their ambitions, turning once-local actors into pan-national threats.

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The Beachhead: Islamic State Uses Libya to Gain African Foothold

Christoph Reuter reports for SPIEGEL:

Map: Who controls what in Libya.The cinematic staging hinted very early on at the plan. As masked men with the Islamic State (IS) terrorist militia massacred 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach in February, the camera positions, lighting and editing were professional in a way that had only previously been seen in videos eminating from IS headquarters in Raqqa.

Libya has become by far the Syrian-Iraqi caliphate’s most important beachhead as it seeks to expand its footprint in North Africa, and there are numerous reasons for this development. Libya’s disintegration into competing factions and regions provides fertile soil for the jihadists’ creeping rise to power. More than 1,000 kilometers (612 miles) of coastline and uncontrolled borders in the south make for easy access to the country. Tunisians, who comprise the largest group of IS foreign fighters, established a broad network in Libya early on and often travel from here to the “caliphate.”

For months now, IS in Libya has been sticking eerily close to the blueprint it followed when conquering parts of Syria. First, IS units developed a wide network of spies and they are currently pursuing both long-term infiltration and conducting spectacular attacks as they expand the areas under their control. Some 2,000 IS fighters, including many Tunisians and other foreigners, are believed to be in the country.

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Russell Brand: Tunisia Minute Of Silence Is Propaganda To Justify More War and Surveillance

Major Strikes on Three Continents Spark Fears of Growing ISIS Reach

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

The first Friday of Ramadan was a bloody one indeed, with three major attacks on three continents, coming even as a major ISIS attack on the Kurdish city of Kobani was leaving nearly 200 civilians dead. A bombing claimed by an ISIS affiliate on a Shi’ite mosque in Kuwait killed 27, 39 more were killed in a strike by apparent ISIS gunmen at a Tunisia resort. Another attack, in Paris, left one man dead.

Of the three attacks, only the one in Kuwait has been conclusively linked to ISIS, and the suspect in the French strike was a Salafist, but killed his boss, so it may have been coincidental timing. Still, these attacks are fueling growing international fear about ISIS’ considerable reach.

ISIS has made considerable territorial gains over the past two years, carving out a “caliphate” across both Iraq and Syria, and holding roughly half of the entire area of Syria. They hold oil-rich territory, cities of millions, and are about to issue their own currency.’

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Arab Spring Success Story Tunisia Has NATO to Thank for Recent Woes

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

[…] So far Tunisians seem to be trying to keep the situation under relative control, but the nation’s heavy dependence on tourism, and the fact that the attack targeted tourists could seriously threaten their already shaky economy to provoke draconian effects by the government.

If the Arab Spring’s big success story was to indeed collapse, the real culprit is NATO, whose insinuation of itself into one of the Arab Spring’s biggest disasters, neighboring Libya, played a major role in turning that huge nation into a lawless trainwreck full of jihadist factions, including the one responsible for attacking the Tunis museum.’

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Tunisia’s security nightmare long predates the Arab Spring

Rory McCarthy writes for The Conversation:

[…] Jihadi Salafist groups have emerged in force in Tunisia since the Arab Spring, staging small-scale attacks on the military in a mountainous region near the Algerian border, a violent assault on the US embassy in Tunis in 2012 and then the high-profile assassinations of two opposition politicians, Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, in 2013. Most worryingly, up to 3,000 young Tunisians have left to fight against the Assad regime in Syria, the largest contingents from any single country. Many joined Islamic State, while others went to the ally of al-Qaeda, Jabaht al-Nusra.

It was easy to explain all this as a side effect of the fall of the Ben Ali regime, often described as an island of secularism in the Middle East. In the chaos that followed Ben Ali’s flight, so these groups rapidly took ground and flourished. In truth, however, radical Salafism had been re-emerging in Tunisia ever since the early 2000s.’

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Turmoil in Libya Strengthening Extremism in Tunisia: Interview with Mohamed-Salah Omri

Tunisia Elections Possible Model for Region

Paul Schemm reports for the Associated Press:

‘Tunisia’s orderly parliamentary elections are being hailed as a model of democracy for a region torn by strife and full of dictatorships. Regional rivalries, however, may put pressures on this fledgling democracy to move away from the dialogue and consensus that has made the country’s transition a success so far.

On Sunday, Tunisian voters punished the Islamist Ennahda Party that had run the country for two stormy years after the 2011 revolution and gave the most seats to Nida Tunis, a party of old regime officials, businessmen and leftists who banded together specifically to unseat the Islamists.

Yet with nearly a third of the seats in the 217-member parliament — just 16 less than Nida Tunis — Ennahda remains a significant force in the country. Any effort to exclude them, which would likely be encouraged by regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia, could undermine precisely what has made the transition work until now.’

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In Tunisia, old regime figures make a comeback

Tarek Amara reports for Reuters:

Tunisia cia wfb map.png‘At Tunis airport arrivals terminal last month, hundreds of Tunisians gathered waving flags to greet a special guest — not a sports legend or popstar, but a former minister from ousted President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s government.

‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬Three years after Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” forced the autocrat out and set the North African country on path to democracy, Ben Ali regime old guard are not only making a comeback but are poised again to win elected posts.

After approving a new constitution this year, in October Tunisia will hold its second parliamentary election since the revolt. In November, it will hold presidential elections that are seen as a test of its newly found democracy.’

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Tunisia’s Islamist Party Hires American PR Giant Burson-Marsteller

Editor’s Note: For more on Burson-Marsteller see here

Julian Pecquet reports for Al Monitor:

‘Tunisia’s Ennahda movement has hired public relations giant Burson-Marsteller to boost its image in the United States ahead of elections that could see the Islamist party return to power.

The public relations push by the Muslim Brotherhood-inspired group comes as the Barack Obama administration has declared war on Islamists in Iraq and all but signed off on the military coup that deposed its ideological brethren in Egypt. Ennahda, by contrast, is keen to maintain good relations with the United States, which has provided an economic lifeline to the struggling nation.

“They still have to live down the reputation of Islamists coming to power in the Middle East,” said David Ottoway, senior scholar with the Wilson Center’s Middle East program. “I think they’re anxious to show that there is a side of the Islamists that believes in democracy.”‘

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Washington to give Tunisia military aid to battle Islamists

Reuters reports:

‘The United States will give Tunisia $60 million worth of military aid to help it fight Islamist militants who are threatening the country’s nascent democracy, a senior American official said on Tuesday.

Speaking after talks with Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, General David Rodriguez, the head of U.S. Africa Command, said some of the money would go on equipment to detect improvised explosive devices, new boats and training.

Underscoring its concern about the security situation in the small North African state, Washington announced three weeks ago that it planned to sell Tunisia a dozen Black Hawk attack helicopters worth an estimated $700 million.’

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Tunisia ends state of emergency after 3 years

From AP:

Tunisia’s president on Thursday lifted the state of emergency that has been in place since the outbreak of a popular revolution three years ago, and a top military chief said soldiers stationed in some of the country’s most sensitive areas will return to their barracks. The decree from President Moncef Marzouki said the state of emergency ordered in January 2011 is lifted across the country immediately.

The state of emergency was imposed by longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and maintained after he was overthrown. It was repeatedly renewed. Lifting the state of emergency is a positive sign for Tunisian and foreign investors, Finance Minister Hakim Ben Hammouda said on Radio Mosaique. The end of a state of emergency could also help lure tourists back to the Mediterranean country. The thriving tourist industry was devastated after the revolution and is only slowly clawing its way back.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki acknowledged the positive message. “We welcome this positive development and will continue to support Tunisia as it moves forward with its democratic transition,” Psaki told reporters. At the start, the state of emergency included a curfew and a ban on meetings of more than three people, but it was relaxed over time. However it has continued to give the military and police special powers to intervene in unrest or security threats.

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NSA-Style: Tunisia Setting Up Counterterrorism Unit That Will Also Spy On Citizens

Tom Stevenson writes for the International Business Times:

A few weeks ago, in a coastal suburb of Tunis known as Raoued, the government of Tunisia set the stage for creating an NSA-style spy agency to monitor telecommunications and Internet activity, including by its own citizens. That day, the nation’s counterterrorism police fanned out through the normally quiet residential area as special forces armed with automatic weapons surrounded a large house, inside of which heavily armed militants were believed to be hiding. Onlookers were cordoned off at a distance.

The operation unfolded slowly over the course of 24 hours. When police finally issued orders by loudspeaker for those inside the building to give themselves up, there was silence. Then suddenly a firefight broke out, and by the time it was over, seven militants and one national guardsman were dead. The government would later proclaim the successful raid a victory for the people, made possible by its increasing ability to monitor terrorist groups and prevent attacks before they happen. Underlying those claims was a subtext that has often been cited by American intelligence agencies and the Obama administration in recent years: that monitoring the activities of private citizens is essential to counterrorism efforts.

In Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, that approach has a particular resonance, because the protests in 2011 were in part sparked by the authoritarian government’s spying on its own citizens. As Tunisia prepares to create an agency known as the Technical Agency for Telecommunications (abbreviated ATT), some are concerned that the country is headed back in the direction of where the trouble began.

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Tunisian B-Boys’ Biggest Battle: Keeping Youths From Extremism

Carlotta Gall writes for The New York Times:

[…] Far from the rich coastal towns and developed north of the country, Ben Aoun is a one-street agricultural settlement of 7,000 inhabitants, typical of the impoverished Tunisian south. Unemployment is high. The old market square stands almost deserted; a cafe and a motorbike repair shop are the only businesses open one afternoon. Yet in this small town, and across much of Tunisian society, there is an important battle going on for the minds of young people.

Ben Aoun lies just down the road from the town of Sidi Bouzid, where three years ago, the fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in a protest against poverty, government corruption and indifference. The riots that followed, led by the angry working-class youths of the area, brought down President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and incited the revolts of the Arab Spring.

The B-boys were in the thick of the protests. “There was no political party involved, no adults; it was all kids,” their leader, Nidhal Bouallagui, 23, recalled. “We went out to set fire to things,” he said. “We were not burning public things but just tires in the street to say: ‘Do not come here, we are fed up, we don’t want you here.’ We wanted everything to stop. We were saying: ‘Don’t work, don’t study, the country should stop until they find a solution for us.’ ”

Three years on, they say life has changed little, except that the police do not break up their dancing anymore and that government youth centers sometimes lend them a room to practice. Young people still feel neglected and alienated, and many are drifting into drugs and smuggling, or extremist religion and even militancy, some of those interviewed said.

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Tunisia central bank ‘optimistic’ after IMF agrees loan

From AFP:

Tunisia’s central bank expressed “optimism” Thursday after the IMF released a delayed $506 million loan to support the fragile economy following major steps this week to end months of political turmoil.

The loan, part of a two-year, $1.76 billion (1.3 billion euro) package agreed last year, was approved by the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday after the new caretaker government of technocrat Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa was sworn in.

The second tranche had been held up by the political instability that gripped Tunisia after the killing of two prominent opposition MPs last year, and also follows parliament’s adoption of a long-delayed new constitution on Sunday.

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Tunisia Fights Islamist Extremism Through Education

Mediterranean School of Business’ dean Mahmoud Triki talks to IBTimes UK in Tunisia (Photo: Alfred Joyner, IBTimes UK)From The IB Times:

Tunisia is feeling a wave of unrest ripple through its country as a spate of suicide bombings and attempted terrorist attacks has threatened to undo fragile stability created from the Arab Spring two years ago.

However, as IBTimes UK travelled through Tunisia, key business school leaders told us that the country is unlikely to succumb to another uprising, as seen in Egypt or Libya, because the country has focused on equal rights for women and educating its population.

“We are very optimistic about our future as we pride ourselves on having a population that has a strong education,” said Mahmoud Triki, dean of the private Mediterranean School of Business to IBTimes UK.

“The reason why our revolution was different to Egypt’s and Libya’s is because we have a very educated population and I believe that it not only provides jobs for the graduates but it also gives them confidence of a better quality future.”

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Tunisian interim prime minister refuses to dissolve government

From CNN:

Opposition protests are expected to take place in Tunisia on Tuesday following the interim prime minister’s decision not to dissolve the government.

Ali Larayedh on Saturday met with political party heads and leaders of the military and professional organizations.

Also in attendance were representatives from several labor unions, according to TAP, Tunisia’s state news agency.

The meeting “aimed to deepen dialogue around the security situation in light of the terrorist operations that hit Tunisia recently,” according to TAP.

Two opposition groups called for Tunisian citizens to “participate massively” in a Tuesday rally in Bardo. The rally will mark the six-month anniversary of the assassination of popular opposition leader Chokri Belaid.

Belaid helped lead Tunisia’s Popular Front, a coalition of a leftist political parties. He opposed the Islamist-led Nahda party, which swept into power following the revolution that toppled longtime President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.

In recent weeks, eight Tunisian soldiers were killed in an ambush and an opposition leader was shot and killed outside his home, which set off protests.

Turmoil has beset the North African country that had been seen as a poster child of stability after the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

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Tunisian opposition may set up rival ‘salvation government’

A protester waves the Tunisian flag as she marches on the streets beside the riot police in the capital of Tunis July 26, 2013. (REUTERS/Anis Mili)From Reuters:

Tunisia’s secular opposition said on Sunday it might set up an alternative “salvation government” to challenge the Islamist-led ruling coalition and show its anger at the assassinations of two leftist politicians in six months.

Opposition leaders, who have also been emboldened by the Egyptian army’s overthrow of an Islamist president this month, said they had no interest in reconciliation with the dominant Islamist Ennahda party.

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Tunisia: Second Opposition Leader Assassinated In Last Five Months

Belkis Brahmi outside the hospital in Ariana (25 July 2013)

From the New York Times:

With a brazen hail of bullets, gunmen assassinated a prominent opposition leader on Thursday as his family watched, inciting nationwide outrage and exposing a deepening political divide in Tunisia, the last bastion of relative stability among the Arab countries convulsed by revolutionary upheavals over the past two years.

The assassination of the opposition leader, Mohamed Brahmi, was the second time in five months that a leading liberal politician was fatally shot. Many suspected that Islamist extremists were responsible and warned that they threatened the kind of pluralistic democracy envisioned in Tunisia’s 2011 uprising, which inspired the Arab Spring revolutions.

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Morsi’s ouster spells trouble for region’s other Islamist movements ~ Washington Post

by The Washington Post

The ouster on Wednesday of Egypt’s elected Muslim Brotherhood government barely a year after it took office represents a significant setback for the Islamist movements that have proved the biggest beneficiaries so far of the Arab Spring revolts.

From Tunisia to war-torn Syria, anti-Islamist activists have begun expressing unhappiness with the religious parties empowered by freedoms the turmoil unleashed. That the backlash has crescendoed in Egypt — the Arab world’s political and cultural trendsetter and the birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood 80 years ago — is likely to resonate far beyond, perhaps most forcefully in Syria.

FULL ARTICLE @ THE WASHINGTON POST

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Tunisia’s Islamist PM says Egypt scenario unlikely to happen there ~ Reuters

by Tarek Amara
Reuters

A situation like the one unfolding in Egypt is unlikely to happen in Tunisia – the cradle of the Arab Spring – Prime Minister Ali Larayedh of the Islamist led-government in Tunis, said late on Monday.

“Our approach is characterized by consensus and partnership,” said Larayedh, who is also a senior leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.

“The possibility of an Egypt scenario is unlikely in Tunisia because I have great confidence in the awareness of Tunisians and their ability to measure the potential of their country,” Larayedh said in an interview on France 24.

FULL ARTICLE @ REUTERS