March 20, 1956 – National Independence
In the past month during which Tunisia celebrated its fifty-eighth year of independence from France, political parties have crowded public space and consciousness—an ebullient Ennahda rally on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Hamadi Jebali in news headlines, and rumors that Tunisia-Libya border tensions have been exacerbated by political party backing. A Nawaat article criticizing the omnipresence of Ennahda on capital streets on March 20 reflects widespread suspicions of the party’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and concerns about the latter’s infiltration of the Tunsian political landscape. «During this unpatriotic event, Tunisian flags were rare, drowned among the plethora of Ennahda emblems, portraits of Morsi and the symbol «Rabâa» representative of Egyptian Islamists…We are witnessing the negation of the State and an explicitly established connection to the Muslim Brotherhood.»
Hamadi Jebali’s Resignation
Reflecting on the unfolding of party politics since 2011, the same Nawaat contributor rather foretellingly recalled Hamadi Jebali’s famous allusion to a sixth caliphate in Tunisia the very same day that the former Prime Minister announced his resignation from his position as Secretary General of the Ennahda Party.
Since Monday, Hamadi Jebali has Tunisians perplexed and/or abuzz with hypotheses. In less than a week, national media has been flooded with theories and rumors and questions about Jebali’s resignation from the Ennahda Party in which he has played a leading role since the early eighties. «In his statement issued to the public on March 24, 2014, Hamadi Jebali does not address the reasons for his resignation but qualifies them as ‘personal and objective.’ Nevertheless, he offers no explanation and leaves free reign to the most diverse interpretations.» Among some of the more common interpretations is that Jebali intends to create his own political party and run for president. An article on Business News describes his resignation as having been inevitable though unanticipated on Ennahda’s part, that his deviation from the party stems from the time of Chokri Belaid’s death in 2013 after which then Prime Minister Jebali began contemplating the formation of a technocratic government, a vision that was not shared by his party. In any case, his resignation has far from been accepted by the public as ‘personal and objective’.
The timing of this decision is not coincidental and the defection of one of the symbols of the Islamist movement, just before internal referendum, is not innocent. We must admit that this is an unprecedented exercise…The gesture of his resignation is even more elegant in light of his rank and history with the party.Marouen Achouri, Business News.com.tn
«Events at Ben Guerdane: Political Parties May Have Financed Riots»
Among the list of MosaiqueFm articles that cover current events in the governate of Medenine is an update published on March 18 entitled «Events at Ben Guerdane: Political Parties May Have Financed Riots.» According to the brief report, several from among twenty-two individuals arrested during riots in the city of Ben Guerdane claimed before the judge to have «received money from political parties to perpetuate chaos and acts of vandalism during protests that called for regional development and the reopening of the border crossing point at Ras Jedir.» Whatever influence political parties may have had in regional social unrest is in any case a small piece of the eventful history and complexity of tensions at the Tunisia-Libya border.
Medenine, Ben Guerdane, Ras Jedir
The opening of the Tunisia-Libya border at Ras Jedir in 1987 has given rise to illegal immigration and the smuggling of contraband which have been source of fluctuating tensions within the region. To the west of the border is Barqa (also known as Cyrenaica), the Libyan state said to produce approximately half of the country’s oil, and twenty-five kilometers to the east is the Tunisian city of Ben Guerdane in the governate of Medenine, which has recently and yet again become a source of understated tensions.
The border crossing at Ras Jedir has remained closed since early March when tradesman in Ben Guerdane led a march and violent demonstrations in protest. According to MosaiqueFm, demonstrators burned tires and harassed customs agents and security forces responded by dispersing crowds with tear gas. In a trip to the country’s southern region, Jomâa met with governate security forces to discuss the current situation and attended a Council on Regional Development meeting to plan for the formation of a three-part committee to resume local development projects.
Not a New Popular Revolution, Not the First Protest Movement of Its Kind in the Region
Over the past several weeks, lawyer Mabrouk Kourchid has discussed the «alarming situation» at the Tunisian-Libyan border in its historical context, explaining that social tensions are not uncommon to the region where the local populations depend largely on cross-border trade. Kourchid attributes the rise of recent conflicts and unrest to the absence regulation and law enforcement on the Libyan side of the border since the fall of Ghadafi, which has left border control, particularly at Ras Jedir, in the hands of tribal groups who are undescerning of the commercial interests of Tunisian and Libyan traders. Kourchid warns that disrupting the circulation of goods between the two countries will precipate economic insecurity and by default incite fear, mistrust, and violence. The lawyer also noted that whereas relatively auspicious Tunisian-Libyan relations were sustained under Ben Ali, «occult forces have acted to deliberately to destroy these relations.»
A solemn article in Tunisie Numerique, «Serious What is Brewing in the South of Tunisia,» warns against Tunisians’ general ignorance about the growing power of what are likely the same ‘occult forces’ which Kourchid has mentioned, and conveys the gravity of the situation at the border:
It is important to recognize that the Tunisian citizen is tired of everything he hears, everything he sees, everything he learns each day, to the point that he has become immobile, fixed, defeated, reactionless. Nevertheless, that which is unfolding in Tunisia’s south, and more precisely in the governates of Tataouine and Medenine, is of extreme severity.
Demonstrations and clashes between dissidents and security forces have escalated in recent weeks, resulting in what the author qualifies as predictable («the rest of the scenario is thenceforth known by heart») violence resulting in the death of one man, and foresees the inevitability of one of two outcomes: either the army intervenes, abandoning its position at the borders to maintain a presence in the cities, or Islamist militias step into the picture, taking advantage of chaos to assume power in the border region. In either case, the author makes clear that the driving force and expectant beneficiary of the conflict is Ansar al Sharia intent on using the local population’s discontentment about the exploitation of the region’s resources (the notable absence of local return and investment) to incite the formation of an independant, «Islamic Emirate,» along the lines of the «State of Barqa» that would unite the Tunisian and Libyan border populations. What in sum the article evokes on the topic of the country’s southernmost conflicts is no more and no less than a holy war that is precipitating in the absence of due public attention and deliberate military action.