Tag Archives | Tunisia

Human and Economic Rights Inseparable

In some ways, Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street merchant whose business was confiscated by the Tunisian police, is like Rosa Parks.  Both were apolitical citizens living under oppressive conditions.  Both had enough of the humiliation and injustice that followed them since birth.

Both took one dramatic step against the local power structure.  Parks refused to move to the back of a segregated bus and unknowingly sparked the 1950s civil rights movement in the US.

Mr. Bouazizi set himself afire, a more dramatic protest against an Arab autocracy that ruled on behalf of its elite supporters and against the millions of Tunisians trying to make a living in a society stacked against them.

Comparing the two, of course, is somewhat ham-fisted.  A modern, developed, democratic country is far different from a post-colonial Norther African state that achieved formal independence from France a few decades ago.  Refusing to move to the back of a bus is not the same as self-immolation.  Yet the actions of both – as the most ordinary of citizens in their society – changed the worlds they lived in.

This week’s article in Foreign Policy by Hernando De Soto does justice to the martyrdom of Bouazizi.  It does justice to the Arab Spring.  The hundreds of millions of Arabs who rallied for democratic change over the last year weren’t inspired by politicians and elites but by the brave and desperate act of someone they didn’t even know, a no-body, just as Rosa Parks sparked an out pouring that no US politician could

This article demonstrates what’s at stake in American foreign policy.

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Surprise Twist in Tunisia Elections

Nobody seemed to take the Popular Petition Party seriously until they won 26 seats in the Tunisian Parliament.  Founded and funded by a London-based media executive whose TV station used to be critical of the Ben Ali regime and later collaborated with his regime on commercial deals, the Petition Party had strong showings in rural areas of Tunisia.

So when the Election Committee annulled the election of three Petition Party candidates, voters in Sidi Bouzid rose up in protest.  This is the city where a young man set himself on fire to protest corruption and sparked the Arab Spring.  A curfew has been imposed.

One of the expelled candidates had previously run as a candidate for the old ruling party, a violation of Tunisian electoral laws.   According to the Guardian, however, the Popular Petition Party has strong ties to Ben Ali’s defunct RCD Party.  Observers suspect that remnants of that party mobilized grassroots networks of rural supporters to gain a surprise victory.

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Tunisia: Winners Enter into Negotiations for Coalition

Inevitably, a history-changing event like the Tunisian elections will take some time to completely sort out.  However, I think it is worth quoting extensively from articles in the New York Times and Al Jazeera for their initial takes:


By Monday afternoon, Tunisian liberal parties said they were entering discussions to form a government led by their Islamist rival, Ennahda, after it swept to a plurality of about 40 percent in preliminary vote tallies. The acceptance of the results by rivals signaled the beginning of a partnership seldom seen in the Arab world, where Islamists’ few opportunities for victories at the voting booth have sometimes led to harsh crackdown or civil war…

“This proves that there is no Islamist exception, no Arab exception about democracy,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the new political party formed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. “We are as democratic as any country.”

Leaders of Ennahda noted that their party championed a greater commitment to the principles of Western-style liberal democracy than any other Islamist party in the region, and they said they hoped their example would help lead other Islamists in a similar liberal direction.

“We are the most progressive Islamic party in the region,” said Soumaya Ghannoushi, a British newspaper columnist and a scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. She is the daughter of Ennahda’s founder and acts as a party spokeswoman.

“Accepting each other, accepting pluralism, accepting diversity and trying to work together — this is the lesson Ennahda can give to other Islamic political movements,” Ms. Ghannoushi said.

In countries like Egypt, where Islamists are more ideologically divided, Ennahda’s victory was sure to embolden those who favor a more liberal approach, including some within the Egypt’s mainstream Muslim Brotherhood as well as breakaway groups like the New Center Party or a new party founded by former leaders of the Brotherhood Youth — groups already drawn toward the thought of Ennahda’s founder. But in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood also faces competition from new parties formed by ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, who seek an explicitly Islamic state that might enforce religious laws.


The leaders of two leftist parties, the Congress Party for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakol, said they were fighting for second place, while the leader of the centre-left Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) conceded defeat on Monday evening.

“Al-Nahda is certainly the majority, but there are two other democratic entities, Ettakatol and the CPR, who were weak at the start but now find themselves in the position to contribute to political life and usher a rational modernity in this Arab-Muslim country,” Khalil Zaouia, Ettakatol’s number two, said.

Late on Monday, the Reuters news agency, citing senior al-Nahda official Ali Larayd, reported that al-Nahda was considering forming a coalition with both Ettakol and the CPR…

Tunisia’s independent electoral body was created early in the year after Ben Ali was forced from power by a popular uprising.

In the space of a few months, it has written new electoral rules and created electoral lists from scratch, receiving high praise on Monday from a delegation sent by the National Democratic Institute, a US-based organisation that helped monitor Sunday’s vote.

“This election to me was hands down, the best, the most promising I’ve ever seen, including in the United States,” Jane Harman, president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center and former US congresswoman from California, said at a press conference in Tunis.

The elections in Tunisia will undoubtedly reverberate throughout every country put in play by the Arab Spring.  The Tunisian democratic movement has led the way in inspiring not only its own public to overthrow autocracy,   but every nation in the world to rethink its relationship to the Middle East, its neighbors and the global community.  An outsized legacy for such a small country.

Congratulations to the Tunisian people on their march toward true self-determination.

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Moderate Islamic and Secular Center Left Win in Tunisia

Although final results are not yet tallied, the center-left PDP party in Tunisia conceded ‘defeat’.  The moderate Islamic party, Ennahda, as expected, received a plurality of the votes.  Both are committed to a democratic Tunisia and strong supporters of the Arab Spring

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Vote to Victory in Tunisia

One of the many Tunisian polling sites where 90% of pre-registered voters cast their ballot.  A mere 11,000 candidates from 81 parties participated.  Both the moderate Islamic party al Nahda and a left leaning secular party seemed to be gathering the most votes.

The whole world is watching Tunisia today.  The fact that the vote comes only 10 months after Tunisia sparked the Arab Spring is remarkable.  The assembly elected Sunday will write a constitution and set up Parliamentary elections.  That is expected to take a year.

The mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller whose self-immolation last December set of the Tunisian revolt, said that the elections were a victory for dignity and freedom.

"Now I am happy that my son's death has given the chance to get beyond fear and injustice," Manoubia Bouazizi told the Reuters news agency. I'm an optimist, I wish success for my country."

(photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP)

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Tunisians Vote Sunday

“Even if this choice of opting for peaceful political engagement doesn’t bear fruit very quickly, we believe that in the longterm, it is good for the people and for the country.” -  Rachid Ghannouchi

Tunisians go to the polls this Sunday.  Voting by Tunisians overseas began Thursday.  Strict rules are in effect.  According to Al Jazeera:

Election day inside Tunisia is on Sunday, and the results are expected to be announced the following day.

The ISIE, the Tunisia electoral authority created earlier in the year to oversee the electoral process, has introduced strict rules to govern campaigning. Some, such as the ban on campaign advertising ahead of the official campaign period (October 1-21), were introduced only weeks ahead of the election.

This is the first democratic election coming out of the Arab Spring, as Tunisia was the spark that started a region-wide democratic uprising.  I can’t help to put a bit of subjectivity into this post.  I am excited.  I can’t wait for the results.   But Ghannouchi’s quote above is realistic.

Tunisia and Egypt almost made ousting autocrats ruling for 30 to  40 years look easy.  It’s not.  Egyptian democrats are right now confronting the Egyptian Military Council’s (SCAF) postponement of presidential elections until 2013 and the multiple delays on ending Mubarak’s emergency laws.

Nevertheless, one of Tunisia’s front runners has laid the gauntlet down”

In a meeting on Thursday, al-Nahda, the pro-democratic Islamist party headed by Rachid Ghannouchi that polled highly in the run-up to the election, warned that if the party suspected the election results were rigged, they would take to the streets. (Ed: the party is committed to non-violence and democratic rule.)

Tunisia’s democratic transition is being watched throughout the region, with many considering it a trial case for genuine democracy in the Arab world.

In other words, there is no turning back.  The Arab Spring successfully drew a line between the post-independence autocratic rulers in Northern Africa and the Middle East and a future of democratic sovereignty. Nevertheless, set-backs are inevitable.  The Tunisian elections are a test.  May they deliver the leadership and promise of the Arab Spring!

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The Gods at Play: Multinationals Circling Libya

British businesses are scrambling to return to Libya in anticipation of the end to the country’s civil war, but they are concerned that European and North American rivals are already stealing a march as a new race to turn a profit out of the war-torn nation begins.After five months of fighting in the world’s 12th-largest oil producer, industry figures are acutely aware that billions could be made in the coming years from rebuilding Libya. Immediate focus will fall on the country’s oil fields that are currently producing a 10th of the 1.6 million barrels a day that were exported pre-revolution.

There is also intense lobbying for the multibillion-pound reconstruction contracts that are likely to be offered once fighting ends. The Independent conducted a straw poll of more than 20 Western companies with previous business commitments in Libya. None would talk publicly about its plans but many admitted privately that they were keen to return once security allowed.  - The Independent, UK

According to the CIA, Libya ranks 18th in the world in oil production, behind other regional players Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Emirates, Algeria, Iraq and Iran.  The next largest producer that underwent upheaval in the Arab Spring is Egypt, ranked 29th.  It is no co-incidence that France and Britain urged Western help to the rebels.  Libya is not a major oil producer but what it does produce, Europe needs.

I am reminded of the scene from Jason and the Argonauts  in which the gods were gathered around a globe deciding the fates of mortals.  I can see Britain, France, Germany, the US, Italy and others debating:

US: Let’s leave Tunisia alone and see where it goes.

ALL:  Agreed!

(a few days later)

SAUDI ARABIA:  Ok, guys, now it’s spread to Egypt.  When are  you going to stop these kids from upsetting our plans.

FRANCE:  Hold on.  The group at Tahrir keeps growing even when the militias whipped their horses through the crowds.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Oh, come on!  The last thing we need is to alarm Israel!

US:  But the army isn’t shooting!  Doesn’t that mean Mubarak’s toast?

BRITAIN:  Being the ranking colonial power, we pass on this one.

US:  We’re talking to the military.  After all, we give them $3 billion/year in mostly military aid.  And those generals want to keep it! Yes they do!

ALL: So what are you saying?

US:  I don’t know about you guys but we’re cutting Mubarak loose.  It’s a risk but we’re getting emails demanding an English language Al Jazeera!  They’re more popular than CNN, for gods sake.

ALL (except Saudi Arabia):  We see what you mean.

SAUDI ARABIA:  Well, Bahrain is in our neighborhood and we’re sending in troops.


US:  Hey, they have a point.  Our 5th fleet is stationed there.  So, we’ll call for reform, you invade.

SAUDI ARABIA: Deal!  (high fives all around)

SAUDI ARABIA: (aside)  Give them the ‘democratic’ role and they always bite.

ALL:  What about Yemen?

US:     Let’s do nothing!

ALL:  Agreed!

ITALY:  Hey, we just heard Libya is being liberated by the non-violent opposition.

ALL:  Good!

ITALY:  But Qaddafi’s going to bomb them.

FRANCE:  It may not be a lot, but Libya has oil.

BRITAIN:  No shit!

ITALY, FRANCE, BRITAIN:  These guys are good.  Let’s give them some help.

NATO:  Brilliant!  They fight on the ground. We’ll bomb from the sky!  They take the casualties, the folks back home won’t complain!

GERMANY:  Are you c-r-a-z-y?  Leave us out.

FRANCE:  ooo-kkkkayyyy! But that means we get first dibs on the oil.  What about you, US?

US: Are you c-r-a-z-y?  We can’t bomb yet another Muslim country?

FRANCE:  Or can you?  What if the Arab League and UN endorse the bombing…..

US:  Well, maybe….

CLINTON: Sure tootin’!  We humanitarians need this conflict.  We know we can’t touch Syria (everyone laughs, as if the Syrians would oppose Bashar!).  And besides, it could give a new face to intervention, a humanitarian face!

FRANCE, GERMANY: Didn’t you try that with Iraq?

OBAMA:  Wait, she’s right!  As long as the rebels ask politely and the UN and even Arab League front their cause, how can we refuse to intervene?

ALL:  Agreed!




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Egypt is Faring as Expected

Lots of teeth-gnashing over Egypt these days.  Is the ‘revolution’ over?  Will the military use a democratic form to re-establish its own dictatorship? Is ‘democracy’ a sham?  Did hundreds of young people lose their lives for nothing?

No rights are handed to people on a silver platter.  If anybody thought police brutality was eternally buried, they haven’t studied history.

Daniel Brumberg has an insightful analysis at The Atlantic

Much like the frustrated drivers at that intersection, Egypt’s citizens — and those political leaders who speak in their name — seem unwilling to let the present incoherence defeat their unfolding revolution. If anything, it is the very absence of a full fully fixed system that provides some basis of hope. Egypt’s march will encounter strikes and confrontations like Friday’s battles in Tahrir Square between protesters and security forces. Whatever the aspiration of old regime elements to revive or recast their order, it seems more likely outcome that we will see a fitful lurching forward that will lead Egypt, though it may take ten or more years, well beyond the “liberalized autocracy” that defined its politics from 1974 to February 2011.

Juan Cole at Informed Comment:

The huge demonstrations show that the sentiments and spirit that animated the revolution last winter against Hosni Mubarak yet survive, and now challenge the Tantawi caretaker government. If you compare this moment to the changes in Tunisia, it is clear that the Tunisia elite is further ahead than the Egyptian one. They brought in a prime minister who is widely respected and was not close to the old regime and have already tried the former dictator, Zine El Dine Bin Ali, and convicted him in absentia. Similar processes in Egypt are taking so long that many Egyptians are infuriated with the transitional government in a way that most Tunisians are not.

Both these observers bring a direct knowledge of the area and a wisened perspective.

Since the beginning, I’ve called the popular actions in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world movements for democratic reform.  They are not revolutions.  These movements have not destroyed the old order in their respective societies.  They have turned out the more corrupt, vain and inept representatives of that order.  They’ve cleaned house.

They’ve also shaken the foundation of the old order.  Every sector and group is uprooted and in motion, vying for their respective agendas.  The military wants stability.  The protesters want faster action on their demands.  The old opposition parties and Muslim Brotherhood are mustering their troops for the turmoil ahead.

The movement will go forward, backwards and sideways.  That’s to be expected.  As Mr. Brumberg makes clear, however, the young protesters need to keep their eyes on the prize.  To secure their place in the new Egypt, they need to organize person by person, block by block in a way that will win them seats in the new Parliament.  This will prove far more difficult than pulling out a million people in Tahrir Square.


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