Human Rights Watch has recently criticized the inaction of Tunisian authorities in the attempt to bring home the children of Tunisian ISIS fighters. The NGO says that 200 Tunisian children are currently being held in prisons and camps in Libya, Syria and Iraq. In an interview with Amna Guellali, Human Rights Watch director for Tunisia, we touch on an HRW study concerning the situation of these children today.
أمام جمهور متعدّد الجنسيّات بدأت الوزيرة السّابقة تتحدّث عن وسائل و سبل النّجاح في عالم مركّب و متغيّر مستعرضة مجموعة من التّجارب لتصل إلى تجربتها في تونس و تتحوّل فجأة إلى ضحيّة عانت من التّهديدا التي وُجّهت لأبنائها.
Informal commerce is not limited to one category of merchandise, one geographic region, one demographic; trafficked items include weapons, food products, and gasoline and circulate the country via markets in Ben Guerdane, Kasserine, Sfax, Tunis; smugglers range from merchants of little means to prominent businessmen who are comparatively economically resilient and more likely to withstand trade restrictions imposed at the borders. For many smugglers of lesser means, survival depends upon their ability to navigate a political vision and legal framework which serve neither to sustain nor protect them.
In Tunisia’s capital, days before the November 23 presidential elections, the three candidates whose faces appear most frequently across media outlets and whose names are mentioned most often in conversation are Beji Caid Essebsi, Moncef Marzouki, and Hamma Hammami.
Polemical public figures who provoke protests upon their arrival or an outpouring of public response to their ideologies and work are as telling of the values and issues precious to Tunisian public opinion as they are of the controversial figures themselves.
Secularists defeated Islamists is the verdict most commonly reported in international news outlets; Victory and defeat are relative, Tunisian journalists estimate. The politicization of the secularist-Islamist conflict throughout the Ben Ali’s tenure and the increased occurrences of religious violence after the revolution reflect a true conflict that is by no means the defining feature of the country’s democratic transition nor the 2014 elections. The ISIE’s final tally last week represents «a surprising defeat for the Islamist Nahda party» only for those who do not read beyond the titles of foreign news reports that refrain from examining the intricacies of and history behind party politics over the past four years.
At the beginning of the month, Journalist Farhat Othman criticized the Italian Interior Minister’s visit to Tunisia, observing that an offering of patrol boats, in the guise of support against terrorism and contraband, could only be intended for support against clandestine immigration since it consists of «patrol vessels mandanted by the cooperation agreement linking Tunisia and Italy since 2011 after the massive wave of Tunisians to Italy.» As if to provide a caricature of European politicans obsessed by preserving EU security, Nicolas Sarkozy addressed a cheering crowd of supporters in Nice earlier this week, calling for the «refounding» of the Schengen Area and «a real immigration policy to put an end to social tourism in our country.»
Without taking for granted the various advantages that international attention can certainly bring to this particularly precarious period in Tunisia’s history, one must nonetheless remain avidly critical and discerning of foreign actors and interests. It would appear vital not only to do a bit of background and historical research relating to institutions such as NDI, IRI, The Carter Center, the European Union, etc. etc., but also to engage with delegations to ask questions, to understand objectives and to notice what-is-being-said in correlation/contrast with what-is-being-done.
In Tunisia, public opinion has often questioned the authenticity of foreign initiatives to facilitate the country’s transition to democracy, based largely on skepticism of, for instance, the US’ silence/complicity in (a lack of truly democratic) political processes that kept Ben Ali in power for over two decades. Shortly after the President’s fled the country in January 2011, questions posed during a press conference at the US Embassy in Tunis on 21 February expressed as much; one Tunisian journalist explicitly asked, «How can we trust you?»
Ennahdha’s lack of transparency around its agreement with Burson-Mersteller gives rise to inevitable suspicion that the transaction, contrary to encouraging «free and fair elections in Tunisia» might in fact undermine them. Ambiguity around the financial aspect of the deal (“Fees and expenses to be determined at a later date,” reads the official registration document) is a particular concern after political parties’ financial mismanagement in past elections.
A Google Web search on «l’eau + Kairouan» produces a disconcerting variety of reports on the magnificent Aghlabid basins, the conqueror Okba’s recovery of a lost golden cup («When picking the cup up, water sprang from the ground») and the stoppage of running water to the Haffouz delegation of Kairouan, so that one is left confusedly marveling at the graceful aesthetic and functional design of the region’s ancient water source and wondering how residents of such parched lands have survived the summer months without the potable running water to which they are accustomed.
In this newest publication, World Bank economists Antonio Nucifora and Bob Rijkers reiterate this background of corruption, characterized by «limited competition and active state intervention» and of which enduring vestiges are manifest in «three dualisms, namely the onshore-offshore division, the dichotomy between the coast and the interior, and the segmentation of the labor market»– to explain the present economic crisis that is its legacy.
Even if it is for the lack of up-to-date and relevant data produced and diffused by Tunisian government institutions, that Tunisian media draws from foreign mainstream reports without questioning the validity of the data, analysis, or sources used–reporting through the grapevine, as it were–is a practice that diminishes rather than enhances the quality of dialogue on current issues. Noteworthy, for example, is the number of news agencies that have referenced the recent CNN International study and imprecisely or incorrectly attributed it to the Washington-based non-profit Pew Research Center.
What Euchi demonstrates in The Disappointment of the Revolution is the falling short of an effective transitional justice process, a degredation of standards since 2011 that has witnessed the successive criminalization of former regime officials to their pardoning, to the concession of their right to engage in politics. Those who were initially seen as “enemies” of the state have gradually come to be recognized as political equals, now rivals now allies as per the momentary needs of political parties vying for electoral ground.
As per Ridha Bouzouada’s claim that Circle Oil had justified reporting an important discovery as «nothing but a simulation based on drilling work,» L’Economiste Maghrébin has asked whether or not the Irish oil company might not have contrived the results of its drill findings to boost its numbers on the London Stock Exchange. Affiliated Tunisian institions and, by extension, Tunisian media, generally sparing in their (public) treatment of issues concerning foreign investment in the energies and hydrocarbon sectors, may in this case be spudding a more valuable “pontential large discovery” than that which has been so vastly and insouciantly associated with Circle Oil’s operations in Tunisian oilfields.
Defining the core of Nawaat’s collaborations with Privacy International, Sami Ben Gharbia points to the present legal battle that encompasses the Technical Telecommunications Agency mandated by decree and the (leaked) draft law concerning cybercrime, both of which must be addressed by «deconstructing the legal discourse of these threats and coming up with a proposal that will respect human rights.»
Two recent reports—Bardolet’s May 2014 overview for Dii and Cessat’s June 2014 analysis for GIZ—evaluate the present framework that governs renewable energies in Tunisia and recommend reforms conducive to opening the sector to foreign investment and collaboration. Both studies conclude that current regulatory measures pertaining to—particularly STEG’s—energy management are rigid, restrictive, exclusive and elusive, and that the imminent incorporation of provisions for «business models» as Bardolet discusses, or «foreign private operators» in the words of Cessat, of renewable energy projects is advisable.
The economic and development potential associated with Tunisia’s natural wealth are a pull for foreign investors in the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons, desalination of sea water for consumption, the preparation and maintenance of natural heritage sites for tourism, and perhaps most recently, the production and exportation of solar energy.