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Tunisia Crisis – The Crux of the Matter; How to Emerge from the Depths? A live interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince.

August 6, 2021
The Gate to the old city – Tunis. (November 2011. R. Prince photo)

Tunisia Crisis – The Crux of the Matter; How to Emerge from the Depths? A live interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Thursday, August 5, 2021. 8:30 pm Mountain States Time.

The current all round crisis in Tunisia has been in the making for as long as 40 years: the country’s failure to address the continually deepening socio-economic crisis which has fueled its other problems: constitutional gridlock, debt repayment, massive and unrestrained corruption, collapse of the country’s social net. Washington, Paris and the institutions they dominate (World Bank, IMF) are not neutral observers in these events but have done much to aggrevate Tunisia’s crisis. How to emerge from the depths?

YouTube Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9bGwDBLSqI

Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/RobPrince1106/videos/839755716899817

__________________________________________

(Ibrahim Kazerooni is an Imam at the Islamic Center of North America in Dearborn, Michigan. He received a joint Phd. in Religion and Social Change from the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and the Iliff School of Theology. He is originally from Najav, Iraq.)

(Rob Prince is a retired Senior Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. He is a former Peace Corps volunteer and staff member in Tunis and Sousse, Tunisia. Living in Colorado for the past 52 years, he is originally from New York City.)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. August 6, 2021 6:21 am

    Interrupted all the time.

    ________________________________

  2. kerim permalink
    August 6, 2021 10:02 am

    Rob,

    Thank you, as usual, for your contribution to the ongoing discussion about Tunisia’s Future .
    I’ve heard some interesting points of view in your video, but, there ’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever, that this is a Putsch, a premeditated attempt to deal the final blow to the last stronghold of the Arab Spring .

    Everyone can see and feel that this political decision by K.Saied was being sponsored and approved by totalitarian regimes who consider a “Democratic Tunisia” a threat to their existence .
    I never understood this empty argument for which these guys are waging wars, and spending massive amounts of cash . If they’re afraid of Tunisia becoming democratic, then why don’t they break their ties with other democratic countries, if they truly believe that Democracy represents a threat to them ?
    This is by the way, the main reason why I couldn’t agree with the opinion of Nawaat’s Chief Editor, with all due respect, because he’s completely oblivious to the major role the UAE has been playing, in the last decade, and more oblivious to its mingling in Libya, Syria and Yemen, and the enormous chaos and systemic destruction it has left behind .
    In that regard, I believe that Nawaat’s position is not very different from that of mainstream Talkshows, and other Government owned Media outlets . They all walk unanimous “behind the Leader” . The fear is still there ; the fear to be persecuted by the newcomer and loose their licenses .
    So, one of the characteristics of any Authoritarian regime, is immediate demand of Loyalty . That’s what the country is going to be prepared for, from now on . Loyalty is the keyword .
    Unless the President renounces to his whole plan asap, the situation is very much susceptible to spin out of control . One single incident may be sufficient to declare a more tightened state of Emergency, where the Army springs into action .
    Indeed, like Ibrahim said, this doom scenario had to occur on July 25th, after the calculation that Ennahdha supporters will be drawn to get into the fight, against those in favor of the new measures taken by Saied. But Ennahdha summoned their basis to go back home, and not to take the bait . And so the motive for the Putsch is no longer there, and upon which Saied and his Administration would present their case to the general public, based on the number of casualties, as result of the clashes that would’ve happened, in front of the Parliament, on July 25th .
    A civil war could have easily occurred, but, thank God it was averted just on time .
    I must add that I have no affinity with Ennahdha Party, and it’s not Ennahdha that worries me. I am rather worried about the unity of this country that threatens to split in two .

    • August 6, 2021 7:22 pm

      Kerim…
      As always good to hear from you… Here is what I’d like to hear your ideas…

      1. How should Saied deal with the parliamentary paralysis?
      2. How should he deal with the COVID-19 crisis (other than how he is dealing with it, activating the military, I presume”
      3. Any ideas of how to free Tunisian from the grips of the IMF-WB clutches it has been in so long.

      Best to you.

      Rob P.

  3. kerim permalink
    August 7, 2021 11:22 am

    Rob,

    I’ll try to gather facts, most importantly .

    Well, by taking the unwise step to suspend the Parliament, to sack the Government and to start a campaign of arrests of his critics, reporters, members of Parliament, Judges, the President is walking right into a minefield, because when you’re elected President, and you don’t have your own Party behind you to provide you with the right advice, but also to prevent you from committing such a flagrant breach of the very Constitution that you say you respect, you will sooner or later be at the mercy of the consequences of your decisions, particularly when you know you’re literally walking on thin ice, with a population badly hurt economically, and battered by the pandemie, through considerable lack of basic means to fight it, fractured politically and ideologically .

    In order to bring Law and Order, inside the Parliament, and to finish with the never ending quarrels, and uncalled for interruptions, and all kinds of exchanged insults between Members, the President could’ve spared us all this trouble . If he really cared, he could at least have allowed the Presidential Guard to take swift actions against the Destour Party who deliberately prevented tens and tens of sessions from being debated, during those two years. In fact, Saied remained idle, and refused to let the Presidential Guard do its work and intervene to reinstall order . Not even the Police Department, nor the National Guard were given the task to protect the Parliament . This sounds like he contributed in the creation of the overall chaos, that looked exactly like a Putsch in the making, which Middle East Eye mentioned two months ago in a publication, and which has now taken place on July 25th, the day Tunisia is supposed to celebrate the Day of the Republic . A strange coincidence, or perhaps on purpose, as if to declare the birth of the Third Republic (we’re now still in the Second one) .

    But, the scariest thing about Saied, is that he is slowly getting used to the technique of denial, despite his “trademark” among the general public, of being the honest man, with a clean slate . Nonetheless, he denied the claims of the published report of the Middle East Eye, without blinking an eye . But Denial doesn’t rhyme with honesty, as far as any self respected human being may argue .
    Two years ago, this retired Law teacher came out of nowhere (just like you’ve said in the video), he rolled the dice, and by sheer luck wins the Presidency, albeit with some 72% of the votes, but keep in mind that his opponent, responsible for having participated in bringing Essebsi and Nida to power back in 2014, was seen as a worse choice for the presidency . That led almost all Parties to instruct their basis to vote for Saied, including the Parties he’s now clashing with .
    Suddenly, he’s turning into an absolute Monarch, in the classical sense . That is to be the President, to be the chief of all armed forces, to be the chief of Government and to be acting as Tunisia’s Attorney General . How about that (!)
    And how about shutting down the Government, closing down the Parliament, sending in the Army with tanks to implement the presidential order of a total closure of the highest Legislative Power, elected by the People, and to keep the tanks parked in front of the building, until further notice .
    In my opinion, we’re witnessing the biggest plot ever, against the stability of this country . Success of the plotters will bring us back to square one, or maybe worse . If the plot fails miserably, there will be high tensions and anger towards K.Saied and those involved .
    Either way, Saied will face the consequences . He’s a Law Professor, he should’ve known . To be honest with you, he does not know what he’s doing, politically speaking . No surprise, he does not know about Politics, and that is the reason why he seems to be acting according to a time-table, presented to him by his sponsors in the Gulf. BTW the KSA, Egypt, and the UAE, were the first to welcome the news of July 25th . These countries do not even have Parliaments, and were so cheerful about what’s happening to us . With such friends / brothers, who needs enemies ?

    We’ve elected someone with no experience in any field of Politics, he has not yet presented his long-awaited-Plan to address the social-economic issues . And ever since he’s sworn in, he’s been somehow behaving like he is being compromised . His “Sponsors” seem to know his weak spots, and know exactly how to approach him . He never gave an interview to local Media . When he finally agreed to talk to the three reporters of NY Times, last week, they were told not to ask any questions . Instead the President was lecturing them about US Constitution, and didn’t even give the Translator a chance to translate , in real time, while he speaks . It was an embarrassment .

    As for the Covid crisis, confusion is all over the place . No one knows where the frights of vaccines are kept, while the President insisted on giving the Army the priority to deal with the stock (various vaccines, oxygen, PPE, test devices etc..) , and to Carry out the vaccination of the population. It is a signal the President wants to give, to prove on purpose, that he doesn’t trust this Government, or its Ministry of Public Health . Mind you, the Government he just sacked, was a Government of his own choice ! He is the one who appointed Mechichi as his Prime Minister, in the first place, then stubbornly refuses to take the blame . Anyway .

    You have asked about the IMF and the heavy burden it has caused, with regard to all aspects of life, in Tunisian Society as a whole .
    There are two main ills, in Tunisian Economy . Namely Corruption, sustained by Mismanagement, and vice-versa .
    Obviously, the previous Regime & the Trabelsi Clan, founded a perfect system of self enrichment, outside the rule of Law, and that became a “culture” and to some extent, became a way of life too . Just like you’ve said, in your video, that you can’t achieve anything here without paying a bribe . It’s a bitter truth, but rooting out this scourge, is purely a Government’s task .
    Then if we take a closer look, we would clearly learn that the Nida Government had made things worse, by increasing the national debt from 40% of the national income, in 2014 to 75% today . Prime Minister Chahed, not only he borrowed many Billions, but he went on recruiting more than 200.000 new civil servants . That was irresponsible, by all means . Chahed , as you may recall, was appointed by President Essebsi, back then (2014-2019) . But this is just one aspect of the deterioration of our Financial system . Can you believe that we’re importing phosphate, while we own the world’s second largest phosphate mines? Why? The answer is Mismanagement .

    The Alternative on the short term, would be to install a Government asap, without having this President, appointing whom he wants, based on loyalty to him, alone . The President knows we’re in a mess, one of a kind . And he knows very well that he cannot turn the tide, in the middle of this Covid plague . If he still wants to be the President of all Tunisians, he ought to carefully follow the Constitution, and what it exactly says .
    FYI, article 80 to which the President is referring, doesn’t give the President any authority to dissolve the Parliament, and/ or, to sack the Government . On the contrary, article 80 says that, in case of calamities, the president can act, although with the clear notion that ” both of the Legislative and Executive Bodies, must always be kept in permanent session” .
    But the President is in a state of denial, and likes us to believe that article 80 gives him all the powers to overrule whatever the article is actually stating, which is totally mind buggling .

    We have to understand, that the state of Emergency he has called for, didn’t look like an acute danger is facing the country, strictly according to article 80, but it was a very selective excuse to claim more powers . ( Remember how Trump pushed so hard to demand more powers, and oftentimes succeeded, except when he, on a false premise, tried to flip the election results)

    In reality, all Tunisians know Saied’s hidden plan . He has the intention of canceling the system of Political Parties altogether . He is not satisfied with the current Constitution, and his famous quote “the Constitution has been eaten by the donkey”, speaks for itself, without realizing that, only because of this Constitution that he became president . The core idea behind all this, is his wish to introduce a new form of government , whereby committees will be put in every small community, countrywide, and people can choose whom they trust, to represent them . The Committees then report to a higher committee, after which a selection of representatives will be made . Those selected will act as “mediators” between the citizens and the highest Authority, which is the President himself . Does it ring any bells ?
    It’s a plagiarism on Kaddafi’s Green Book . Nevertheless, with one major difference though. Kaddafi had oil, and lots of it . Our president has none . This rather twisted plan, would put him right on a boat to nowhere .
    We’ll see how far can he go, and if luck will be on his side, or maybe not on his side, this time. All remains to be seen . But I am fairly skeptical .

    • August 7, 2021 11:30 am

      Thanks Kerim… will study this and get back to you. Kaddafi’s green book? How interesting

  4. kerim permalink
    September 15, 2021 12:10 pm

    Rob,

    Fifty-one days and fifty-two nights have passed, since the country is being put on hold, and we haven’t moved an inch forward, yet. No Government formed, no Parliament back at work, no Prime Minister, no hint on what’s next. We’re left in total darkness, and our Media plays deaf & dumb to the real issues, clearly with bad intent.

    Honestly, this dude is gone weird and hasn’t got a clue on where to go from here. On Saturday september 18th, there will be organized demonstrations against his final decision of throwing the Constitution in the garbage can. The situation might escalate, if thugs infiltrate and cause mayhem. Bloodshed cannot be completely ruled out.
    Saied’s fate is definitely on the balance. All depends on the Army, because without it, Saied can kiss it goodbye, I assure you.

    To be continued…

    • September 15, 2021 12:14 pm

      Kerim… will read up on the past few months… admit to having lost the thread. Thanks for update

  5. kerim permalink
    April 1, 2022 6:33 am

    Rob,

    I guess you didn’t have time to comment on the last developments in Tunisia . Please feel free to do so whenever you think it’s time to reflect your own view on the matter .
    While I’m at it, here’s my impression .

    French press had called Saied a “strangler” . And rightly so . I would even go further to consider him more of a bull elephant, in musth, smashing and destroying everything around him, systematically, and there’s no way to stop a raging bull in musth .

    In short, it is safe to say that this man is victim of his personal obsessions, and proved time and time he’s unfit for office . Therefore he simply has to go, the sooner the better for us as a country, depending so badly on the IMF for financial relief, and just because of Saied’s erratic behavior that Tunisia won’t get a dime from the IMF, as long as Saied doesn’t comply with the conditions . But Saied still doesn’t get the message . He would unlikely come to his senses, won’t admit his failures and won’t change course : Meet the self proclaimed new emperor who rules by decree, and is ready to face anyone who contests his “Absolute” authority ! Who’s next ?

    Yes, he’s relying on the Army generals, but these generals will certainly answer for their action and face charges, once Saied leaves office . He has got only two years of his mandate left . His reelection in 2024 is out of the question .
    Meanwhile, we’re hurtling towards a deep recession, with dire consequences for a number of years to come .
    On the other hand, we have elected this deranged character, so we deserve to be bullied and humiliated, in the way that he’s been doing all along, since he took office . What the heck is his problem ? How can a retired Law teacher shred the Constitution in pieces, dissolve state institutions like the supreme court council, and numerous other institutes, or shut down the parliament, block the formation of the High constitutional court ? Yesterday he threatened to deploy armed forces, if social unrest would widely occur . The situation has become unbearable on all levels, prices skyrocketing, shortage of basic needs, like wheat, sugar, cooking oil, medicine etc…But the emperor sits high and dry in his palace . He doesn’t give a darn about empty stocks and high prices, nor is he willing to do something about it . That’s where we are right now.

  6. kerim permalink
    April 3, 2022 5:19 am

    Rob,

    Here’s a copy of the Joint Letter, sent to president Biden, urging him to help restore democracy in Tunisia, and published by POMED ORG, on march 3d .

    ” The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
    President of the United States of America
    The White House
    1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
    Washington, DC 20500

    Dear Mr. President:

    During the Summit for Democracy you convened in December, you rightly noted: “As we continue to work at home to bring the United States closer to what we call a ‘more perfect union,’ we’re doubling down on our engagement with and support of democracies around the world.” This principle is driving your efforts to lead the free world in defending Ukrainian democracy against Russian aggression. Yet Ukraine is not the only country facing grave threats to its democracy, which is why we now write to urge your administration to significantly increase U.S. efforts to help Tunisia reverse its rapid slide back into authoritarianism.
    Since President Kaïs Saïed’s power grab on July 25, 2021, he has effectively imposed one-man rule on Tunisia, securing unchecked control over the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He has unconstitutionally frozen parliament, shut down the independent National Anti-Corruption Authority, dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, sidelined the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE), and disregarded the country’s prized 2014 democratic constitution. In December, in response to domestic and international pressure, Saïed finally announced a political “roadmap” for the period ahead. The roadmap, however, lacked important detail and was produced unilaterally, without transparency or input from other Tunisian political and civic actors. Far from being a path back to democracy, the roadmap extends Saïed’s unchecked power through at least the end of this year. Saïed’s other anti-democratic actions include prosecuting citizens—some in military trials—for criticizing the government, using police brutality against peaceful protesters, and drafting a restrictive new NGO law.
    While many Tunisians initially welcomed Saïed’s power grab in the hope that he would resolve the country’s economic malaise and increasing political dysfunction, that support has steadily decreased as months have passed. Saïed has failed to provide a serious plan to address the economic crisis, and he has refused to work with Tunisia’s political parties or civil society (including the Nobel Peace Prize-winning National Dialogue Quartet) to overcome Tunisia’s challenges. A January 2022 poll indicates that pessimism about the country’s future has nearly doubled since July.
    After the 2011 revolution, the U.S.-Tunisia relationship flourished, driven by the recognition that a democratic Tunisia is in the interest of the United States. As you outlined in your speech during the Summit, democracy is the best way to “unleash human potential and defend human dignity and solve big problems.” Democratic countries make better diplomatic and trading partners, and they are more effective at resolving crises and providing security and stability. It is this understanding that led the United States to invest in Tunisia’s democratic transition, designating the country a Major Non-NATO Ally, strengthening security cooperation, providing billions in loan guarantees, increasing bilateral foreign aid tenfold, supporting Tunisian and U.S.-based NGOs, and growing bilateral trade over the past decade, including a 45 percent increase in foreign direct investment from the United States. Saïed’s reversal of Tunisia’s hard-won democratic gains threatens the foundations of the strong post-2011 U.S.-Tunisia relationship. They also pose serious risks to Tunisia’s stability, as Tunisia’s democratic transition had helped it become an important bulwark against terrorism and insecurity in North Africa.
    Unfortunately, we fear that the absence of a strong U.S. reaction to Saïed’s assault on democracy may have encouraged him to press forward on his destructive path. We now urge your administration, in this Year of Action on democracy, to press President Saïed to take concrete steps to return Tunisia to democratic governance. As an incentive, we recommend that your administration back additional economic support for Tunisia only upon the completion of those steps. They should include the quick return of a freely elected legislative body; the reinstatement and empowerment of independent bodies including the Supreme Judicial Council and the National Anti-Corruption Authority; and the protection of political pluralism and freedom of association, speech, and the media. This conditionality should apply to all forms of additional assistance, including new bilateral aid and loan guarantees, the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact, and support for loans from international financial institutions.
    Such an approach of offering incentives for progress—particularly if done in close coordination with other democratic allies and international financial institutions—would demonstrate support for the Tunisian people while encouraging urgently needed moves to protect democracy. We also encourage your administration to work with Congress to condition U.S. security assistance on the Tunisian government’s ending trials of civilians in military courts and ensuring full accountability for instances of police brutality. Saving Tunisia’s democracy is ultimately up to Tunisians, but the United States should do whatever it can to help, both to protect U.S. interests and to uphold democratic values.”

    Sincerely,*

    Ambassador Jake Walles, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, 2012–2015, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Ambassador Robin Raphel, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, 1998–2000
    Ambassador John T. McCarthy, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, 1991–1994
    Ambassador Cameron Hume, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Algeria, 1997–2000
    Ambassador Michael McFaul, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Russia, 2012–2014
    Ambassador William Taylor, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, 2006–2009
    Ambassador James B. Cunningham, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, 2012–2014
    Ambassador Kurt Volker, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to NATO, 2008–2009
    Ambassador Stephen Seche, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Yemen, 2007–2010
    Ambassador Patrick Theros, Ret.
    U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, 1995–1998
    J. Brian Atwood
    Administrator, United States Agency for International Development, 1993–1999
    Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Ret.
    Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria
    Elliott Abrams
    Council on Foreign Relations
    Anne-Marie Slaughter
    New America
    Michele Dunne
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Jim Kolbe
    U.S. Congressman, 1985–2007
    Carl Gershman
    Former President, National Endowment for Democracy
    Kenneth Wollack
    Chairman, National Endowment for Democracy
    Larry Diamond
    Stanford University
    Thomas Carothers
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Nicole Bibbins Sedaca
    Freedom House
    Stephen McInerney
    Project on Middle East Democracy
    Elisa Massimino
    Georgetown University Law Center
    Stephen Grand
    Network for Dialogue
    Amy Hawthorne
    Project on Middle East Democracy
    Eric Bjornlund
    Democracy International
    Tom Hill
    Former Senior Professional Staff, House Committee on Foreign Affairs
    Daniel Brumberg
    Georgetown University Democracy and Governance program
    Sarah Yerkes
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Charles Dunne
    Arab Center Washington DC
    Monica Marks
    New York University Abu Dhabi
    Shadi Hamid
    Brookings Institution
    Mohamed Soltan
    The Freedom Initiative
    Ramy Yaacoub
    Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
    Andrew Albertson
    Foreign Policy for America
    Kate Seelye
    Middle East Institute
    Nancy Okail
    Center for International Policy
    Seth Binder
    Project on Middle East Democracy
    Mai El-Sadany
    Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
    Intissar Fakir
    Middle East Institute
    Sharan Grewal
    College of William & Mary
    Peter Mandaville
    George Mason University
    Steven Heydemann
    Smith College
    Mieczysław P. Boduszyński
    Pomona College
    Nader Hashemi
    University of Denver
    Juan Cole
    University of Michigan
    Stephen J. King
    Georgetown University
    John P. Entelis
    Fordham University
    I. William Zartman
    School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University
    John L. Esposito
    Georgetown University

    * Institutional affiliations are provided for the purpose of identification only.

  7. kerim permalink
    April 7, 2022 4:25 am

    Rob,

    The following two links add more accurate information on the situation, in a time where Saied’s men control the press, and filter out the news ( Nawaat’s camera crew were arrested, despite having their press-badges, and a permission to do their work) .

    https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/04/bidens-budget-proposal-would-slash-military-aid-tunisia

    https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/04/tunisias-future-darkens-dissolution-parliament

  8. kerim permalink
    May 7, 2022 1:24 pm

    Rob,

    If there’s anything we can be sure of right now, is that we’re about to enter a new phase, pregnant with violence and counter violence, we may have never witnessed before . Just watch closely, and brace for impact . Tunisia is being hijacked by a crazy lunatic, unable to unite a country in complete disarray .
    This weirdo is now calling on his mob to go out in big numbers, and burn down political parties locations, anywhere they find them .
    But we will call his bluff and we will impeach him, according to the Constitution . We will make sure he gets the Capital-Punishment . Such a sneaky arsonist should be put in front of a fire squad, or else he might kill us all, before we can get to him . Take my word for it .

    • May 8, 2022 8:43 am

      Kerim… thanks for keeping me updated… Need to refresh myself on what is going on… have lost the thread temporarily… If you come across something – anything – in French or English that you think gives a nice summary of what is happening in Tunisia, please send along. Not surprised with your take – not at all

  9. kerim permalink
    May 9, 2022 4:20 pm

    Rob,

    Freedom of Press here, has been dealt a major blow since Dr. Jeckyll took office . However, international Press was able to publish, every now and then, credible reports, describing what’s going on in Tunisia .

    -The Washington Post printed the following article, a couple of months ago :

    Opinion: Tunisia’s democracy is disappearing before our eyes.

    By Josh Rogin
    Columnist
    February 3, 2022 at 6:16 p.m. EST

    While we are distracted by the looming war in Europe, the “genocide Olympics” in China and the never-ending pandemic, the last hope for a successful Arab democracy in the Middle East is fading. Tunisia, the only real success story from the Arab Spring, is slipping into the autocratic abyss — and the United States is nowhere to be seen.
    Last July, When President Kais Saied sacked the prime minister, dissolved the parliament and turned the military on his political opponents, the international community generally expressed cautious optimism that Saied would quickly hand back the power he had just grabbed. Despite warnings that he was perpetrating a “self-coup,” the Biden administration decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
    Nearly seven months later, there’s no room left for such wishful thinking. Saied has extended his 30-day state of emergency repeatedly. He took over control of the courts, which sentenced former president Moncef Marzouki to four years in prison in December. He had plainclothes police arrest a former justice minister, part of his clampdown on the main opposition party Ennahdha and all other political opposition.
    Amnesty International recently reported that the Tunisian military, controlled by Saied, now routinely tries, convicts and punishes civilians, including political activists and journalists, as part of the president’s crackdown on dissent and free speech. Saied’s self-appointed ministers ordered police forces to shut down the government’s anti-corruption authority. Saied has effectively consolidated total power over the government and dismantled Tunisia’s messy but functioning system based on political inclusion and checks and balances.
    When Saied rolled out his new “political Roadmap” in December, the State Department made encouraging noises. Left out were the details that the president plans to personally choose the officials who will write the new constitution, which will lay out the ground rules for elections scheduled for December. If he’s not yet a dictator with total power over the government, he’s well on his way.
    “Tunisia was the place where the Arab Spring started and stood as proof that democracy could succeed, even in a country with a significant Islamist constituency,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who traveled to Tunisia and met with Saied in September, told me. “And now we’re left scrambling with a quasi-dictator and real uncertainty as to which way this country is heading.”
    Murphy said it’s time to signal to Saied and the rest of his country that the U.S. relationship with Tunisia will suffer greatly if the president doesn’t change course. Saied’s moves were enormously popular among Tunisians last year, but that popularity is fading steadily as citizens realize that Saied’s drastic moves are not resulting in the end of their economic crisis, as he had promised. This gives the United States some leverage and an opportunity, Murphy said.
    A Multibillion-dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund and a $500 million infrastructure grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation to Tunisia are both stalled. The State Department is holding back some military support funds, and Congress is threatening to reduce or cancel U.S. economic assistance to Tunisia unless conditions improve.
    “People love him because he’s promised not just to root out corruption, but to turn around the economy,” Murphy said. “He can’t do that without the West.”
    Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Joe Wilson (RS.C.), support sanctions on Tunisian officials who participate in the crackdowns. “Unfortunately, the administration has not taken this issue seriously, even in some cases praising Saied, despite claiming to support a pro-democracy agenda,” Wilson told me. Sanctions might turn Saied even more against Washington rather than persuade him to abandon his march toward autocracy. But the U.S. government’s response in Tunisia is not just about Tunisia.
    There’s growing belief throughout the Middle East that the Biden administration wasn’t serious when it came into office promising to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy agenda and preaching about the struggle between democracies and autocracies. President Biden’s team has largely looked the other way as Arab autocrats in places such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates disregard all international concerns about their own human rights abuses.
    “We are seeing an approach that privileges security concerns so far above and beyond human rights, they’re not even in the same room anymore,” said Sarah Holewinski, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Unfortunately it looks an awful lot like rolling out the red carpet to dictators and giving human rights a seat somewhere in the overflow room.”
    Tunisia is an important security partner. But history shows that autocratic dictatorships over the long term breed more instability and extremism, and therefore make much worse security partners than even messy democracies.
    There’s understandable fatigue in Washington and reluctance for yet another run at pushing democratic values in Middle Eastern countries. But if we don’t do it, we’re abandoning the aspirations of millions and consigning the region to deeper chaos and an endless cycle of violence that will eventually blow back onto our shores.

    -Senator Chis Murphy wrote in CT viewpoints :
    Tunisia’s president Saied is not keeping his word.
    CT viewpoints
    28-9-2021

    Recently, I read an op-ed by Connecticut’s Haddiyyah Ali, who rightfully called on me and Sen. Richard Blumenthal to help protect democracy in Tunisia. Her concerns are valid, and it is encouraging to know she and other young people in Connecticut are paying such close attention to global affairs.
    As your U.S. Senator, I have the privilege of representing our state both in Washington D.C. and abroad through my role on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a member of the Committee, I recently led a Congressional delegation to Tunisia where I had the opportunity to speak directly to the president of Tunisia, President Kais Saied. I want to share what happened during the trip, and thank Haddiyyah for her concern.
    Over the past ten years, Tunisia had emerged as a bright spot in the Middle East and North Africa. While Tunisians are understandably frustrated that economic progress has been slow, Tunisia’s democratic transition has served as an inspiration for nascent democracy movements in the region. But on July 25 of this year, President Saied declared a national emergency, sent the military to lock the doors of Parliament, and named himself the sole ruler of the country until a new government could be formed.
    I am deeply concerned about these developments, so I was eager to take advantage of the opportunity to represent the United States and travel to Tunisia this month to meet with President Saied and make clear the importance of unwinding this crisis. A threat to democracy anywhere is a threat to democracy everywhere, and as such, it is important that the U.S. remain engaged when this precious system of government is undermined.
    In our meeting, I urged President Saied to swiftly end the state of emergency and I pressed him to outline his plan for returning the country to a representative democracy. I told him that concern was growing for Tunisia in Connecticut and across the United States, and that specifics on how he’d restore democracy would help allay those concerns from Tunisia’s partners, like the United States.
    I made it clear that the United States’ interest is to protect and advance a healthy democracy and economy for the Tunisian people. We do not favor any one party over another and have zero interest in pushing any one specific reform agenda. Those questions are for Tunisians to decide. But continuing the United States’ close relationship with Tunisia is tied to Tunisia’s sustained commitment to democracy.
    President Saied was quick to declare that his intention was not to overthrow democratic government and he stated unequivocally that his plan was to name a new Prime Minister and government, and begin the process of amending the county’s constitution to put in place a more effective, responsive government structure. However, he did not provide a timeline or any important details, and this week, President Saied did the opposite of what he promised our delegation by declaring his intention to rule by decree and suspending parts of the constitution.
    These steps contradict President Saied’s commitment to the Tunisian people to protect and support their democratic rights, and are not the way to solve the very real problems Tunisia is facing. We must continue to support the Tunisian people with aid, but until democracy is restored, we must reconsider our security assistance package to Tunisia.
    (U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat, is a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.)

    -Senator Murphy wrote on his webpage, last February :

    “It’s becoming impossible to believe President Saied’s claims that he is committed to transitioning his country back to democracy,” said Murphy. “His latest move to obliterate the Supreme Judicial Council suggests Tunisia continues its plunge into authoritarianism. President Saied has pledged to turn around his country’s economy and root out corruption – admirable goals that the Tunisian people have long demanded. But he cannot successfully do that without the international community’s financial support, and we need to make clear that support is linked to a democratic course correction.”

    -French Mondafrique commented on Tunisia, via the following link :
    https://mondafrique.com/le-president-tunisien-kais-saied-etrangleur-ottoman/

  10. kerim permalink
    May 10, 2022 3:56 pm

    Rob,

    The Washington Post’s most recent article :

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/05/09/tunisia-democracy-backsliding-saied-washington-imf/

  11. kerim permalink
    May 14, 2022 11:57 pm

    Rob,

    You may want to take a look at some reports, published by MEE (Middle East Eye), as you may find enough answers to many issues you’re looking for . Just go to the very bottom of the page, click on “Countries”, then click on “Tunisia”. The reports are pretty accurate, when it comes to facts and fact-checking .

  12. kerim permalink
    May 28, 2022 1:23 pm

    Rob,

    French newspaper Le Monde talks about the isolation of Tunisia under Saied, in the following link : https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2022/05/26/en-tunisie-l-isolement-du-president-kais-saied-s-accroit_6127791_3212.html

    • May 28, 2022 9:19 pm

      am starting to read this stuff, and think about it… wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t goosed me a bit

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