Tunisia

Tunisia: one step forward, one step back

Tunisia's parliament, the Assembly of People's Representatives, voted Sept. 14 to overturn a 1973 Ministry of Justice directive prohibiting marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man—a victory for the country's transition to secular rule. But one day earlier, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to approve a controversial amnesty law pardoning thousands implicated in corruption and embezzlement of public funds under the former regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The opposition bloc (led by the Popular Front) boycotted the vote in protest against the insistence of the ruling coalition (made up of Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda) on passing the law in an extraordinary session. Hundreds protested outside the parliament building as the vote was held. Amnesty will only be granted to those who did not personally profut off of the corruption, or to those who pay back the money with penalties. Nonetheless, protesters condemned the law as a betrayal of country's 2011 revolution. Amna Guellali of Human Rights Watch said the amnesty law coiuld be a "final blow" in Tunisia's democratic transition, and called the back-to-back votes a case of "one step forward, one step back." (HRW, Jurist, Jurist, Sept. 15; Middle East Online, Sept. 14; HRW, May 23)

Appeals court: military judge biased in 9-11 case

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled (PDF) Aug. 16 that Judge Scott Silliman should have recused himself in a case concerning multiple defendants who were charged with aiding in the 9-11 attacks. The petitioner, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, argued that Silliman was biased in the matter and cited a 2010 comment in which Silliman called Mohammad and his co-defendants the major conspirators in th attacks. The court found that because Silliman "expressed an opinion that Petitioner is guilty of the very crimes of which he is accused," he manifested an "apparent bias" and thus should have recused himself. The court granted the petition seeking recusal of Silliman and vacated a decision (PDF) by the US Court of Military Commission to reinstate charges for "attacking civilians and destroying property in violation of the law of war" against Mohammad and his co-defendants.

Tunisian revolutionaries betray Syrian revolution?

The democratic transition in Tunisia since the 2011 overthrow of long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali has been the one real success story of the Arab Revolution, and the Tunisian uprising was also the first that served to spark the subsequent wave. So the Tunisian pro-democracy forces have international responsibilities, seen as keepers of the flame. When the Syrian revolution started in March 2011 (by school-children who painted anti-regime slogans on a wall), it was directly inspired by the successes in Tunisia and Egypt. But while Egypt has slipped back into dictatorship, Tunisia continues to consolidate its new democracy. Holding special responsibilities are Tunisia's progressive-left forces—and in particular, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT). A leading force in the 2011 uprising, the UGTT was also a pillar of the Tunisia Quartet, which in 2015 won the Nobel Peace Prize for its effort to broker dialogue between various factions and save the country from following Syria, Libya and Yemen into civil war, or following Egypt into a new dictatorship. So it is distressing to read that the UGTT (or its leadership, at least) appears to be following the misguided Western "left" into sympathy for the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.

Thousands protest Tunisia corruption amnesty bill

Thousands of Tunisians on May 13 protested a bill that would grant amnesty to officials facing charges of corruption committed under the previous regime. Under the amnesty bill officials who had money seized from them following the overthrow of president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali would be pardoned and have their funds returned. Proponents of the bill say it would help reconcile political divisions in the country but it has been met with massive public disapproval.

Tunisia: DJ gets prison for offending public morality

A Tunisian court sentenced British DJ Dax J to a year in prison on April 6 for "public indecency" and "offending public morality" after the artist played a remix of the Muslim call to prayer in a nightclub. The nightclub was subsequently shut down and charges were filed against the club's owner and the organizer of the event where Dax J was playing. These charges were subsequently dropped, but the prosecution appealed the dropped charges claiming the owner and organizer still maintain liability. Tunisia's religious affairs ministry commented on the charges and conviction saying: "Mocking the opinions and religious principles of Tunisians is absolutely unacceptable."

More mysterious air-strikes in Libya

The latest in an ongoing wave of unclaimed air-strikes in Libya on Feb. 9 hit al-Jufra air base in the interior of the country, which is in the hands of local militia forces. Two were reported killed and several injured, as well as extensive damage to the base. The targeted militias were identified as the Tagrift Brigade and the Saraya Defend Benghazi group. These militias have been targeted before by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, military chief of Libya's unrecognized eastern-based government. (Anadolu Agency, Libya Observer, Feb. 9)

UN reports record high migrant deaths in 2016

The UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) reported Jan. 6 that 2016 had more recorded migrant deaths than any previous year. According to preliminary figures, 363,348 migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe arrived successfully while 5,079 died at sea. At least 300 more fatalities are expected to factor in, as the figures do not yet reflect more recent events off Spain, Morocco and Tunisia. The IOM suspects there are additional unreported deaths in areas between North Africa and Spain where there was less reliable data collection. The IOM expressed its dismay over the current migrant situation, expressing the need to find "creative means to permit safe, legal and secure migration." The IOM also began training rescuers in Libya to strengthen migrant lifesaving efforts.

Tunisian fellahin resist land-grab

The farmers and agricultural workers of Tunisia's Jemna oasis have issued an urgent call for solidarity in defense of their communal property against a government-backed land-grab. The Jemna oasis historically belonged to the local farmers, until it was expropriated by French settlers and then by the Tunisian state after independence. İn the aftermath of the 2011 Revolution, the farmers successfully fought to recover title to the lands, organizing production collectively in a "solidarity-based micro-economy." The Tunisian state is now trying to re-expropriate the oasis to turn it over to local or foreign cronies, in what the farmers call a "counter-revolutionary attempt to maintain the capitalist order." Most recently, the government declared the Association for the Protection of Jemna Oasis to be an illegal