Tunisia: progressive forces still under attack

The Tunisia Quartet civil activist group was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Oct. 9 for its pivotal role in channeling the country's revolution in a secular and democratic direction. The Quartet was formed in the summer of 2013, composed of four civil society groups—the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT); the Tunisian League of Human Rights; the Bar Association; and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts. It led what is called the National Dialogue, bringing together the country's fiercely adversarial political parties to forge a new democratic process. The groups opened the dialogue process amid an alarming political crisis, marked by political assassinations and turmoil. As other Arab countries were descending into civil war, Tunisia came back form the brink, adopting a secular constitution, thanks to a "vibrant civil society with demands for respect for basic human rights," in the words of the Nobel Prize Committee. (HRW, Oct. 9)

But one day before the Nobel Committee announcement, Ridha Sharf el-Din, a prominent  member of parliament for the ruling center-left Nidaa Tounes party, survived an assassination attempt, targeted by a lone gunman as he drove toward the coastal city of Sousse. His car was left riddled with bullet holes, although he escaped without injury.

The attack was the first apparent assassination plot to target a major politician in more than a year, but recalls the assassinations of leftist secular politicians in 2013. Those killings led to mass protests that eventually brought down the Ennahda Party, the Islamist formation that had come to power following the 2011 revolution. (Middle East Eye, Oct. 8)

  1. ISIS claims Tunisia attack

    The Islamic State said it was behind a deadly attack on a bus carrying presidential guards in the Tunisian capital Tunis. In a message on social media it said a suicide bomber carried out the Nov. 24 attack, which killed 13 people. (BBC News)

  2. Tunisia Pirate Party adopts cannabis leaf logo

    The Pirate Party of Tunisia has chosen to use the marijuana leaf as its identifying logo on the country’s ballot. It is running on a platform of secular democracy, individual liberties and cannabis decriminalization. See full story at Global Ganja Report

  3. Tunisian social media campaign for gay rights

    A number of Tunisian celebrities and civil society figures took to social media to demand the overturn of Article 230 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality. They posed holding signs painted in the colors of the Rainbow Flag with phrase (in Arabic): "Article 230, until when?" Among participants are actors Sawsen Maalej, Jalila Baccar, Salma Baccar, and Raouf Ben Amor. (Your Middle East, Jan. 13)

  4. Unemployed workers clash with police in Tunisia

    Protests over youth unemployment have spread to several towns and cities in Tunisia, leading to the death of a police officer in clashes Jan. 21. Solidarity rallies were held in cities including Tunis, Sidi Bouzid and Gafsa on Thursday, with several reports of suicide attempts as frustration over the lack of jobs boiled over. The protests started in Kasserine on Jan. 16 after the death of an unemployed man who was electrocuted on top of a power pole near the governor's office. Ridha Yahyaoui, 28, was protesting because his name was removed from a list of hires for coveted public sector jobs. (Al Jazeera, BBC News)

  5. Tunisia implements anti-torture mechanism

    UN experts commended Tunisia April 15 on implementation of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), a torture prevention body, and recommended that officials ensure that the delegates are "well-resourced and able to function in the shortest time possible." Tunisia has been taking steps toward creating the commission since 2011 when the nation ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Hans-Jörg Bannwart, lead expert on the UN mission to Tunisia said, "[t]his engagement and commitment from all parties involved in this process is hugely encouraging." Tunisia is the first nation in North Africa and the Middle East region to implement an NPM. (Jurist)