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October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed’s plan to hold parliamentary elections in December continued to face opposition, including boycott calls, and govt reached preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund amid ever-worsening economic and fiscal crisis.

Opposition protests gathered thousands and more parties announced election boycott. Three political parties including Al Massar (Social Democratic Path) 3 Oct announced they will join group of at least 13 other parties boycotting parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 Oct. Thousands 15 Oct joined opposition coalition National Salvation Front protest in Tunis demanding Saïed’s resignation and accountability for economic crisis; anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party same day held parallel anti-govt demonstration. Meanwhile, Saïed 7 Oct said he may amend electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections to avoid attempts by would-be candidates to buy sponsorship – each candidate must gather 400 signatures of registered voters. Electoral commission President Farouk Bouasker 20 Oct ruled out any amendment, citing lack of time.

Tensions persisted within interior ministry. Military court in Sfax city 6 Oct ordered arrest of police trade union sec gen, Nabil Ayari, following clashes between police unionists and other security forces in Sept; Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has been in conflict with police unionists since August over control of security apparatus.

Govt and IMF reached preliminary agreement for loan conditioned on painful reforms. Govt around 15 Oct reached preliminary agreement with International Monetary Fund (IMF) over $1.9bn rescue package; approval by IMF’s executive board conditioned on reforms, including decrease of energy subsidies and privatisation of some state-owned companies by year’s end. Meanwhile, economic and fiscal crisis hit new low as gas stations around 8 Oct began running out of fuel, sparking long queues at petrol stations.

September 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Amid shrinking space for dissent, President Saïed unilaterally changed electoral rules ahead of Dec polls and tensions rose between interior ministry and police unions.

Opposition parties announced boycott of upcoming elections as Saïed issued new electoral law. Main opposition coalition National Salvation Front (which comprises Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party), and anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party, 7 Sept separately announced boycott of legislative elections scheduled for 17 Dec, citing Saïed’s plan to unilaterally draft new electoral law. Saïed 15 Sept issued new electoral law, reducing political parties’ role by making voters choose individual candidates rather than party lists. Five left-wing parties 19 Sept also announced election boycott, denouncing Saïed’s “coup against the [2014] constitution”. African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights 22 Sept ruled Saïed’s 2021 decision to suspend parts of 2014 constitution violated African human rights charter, ordered return to constitutional democracy within two years.

Crackdown on dissent persisted, tensions ran high between interior ministry and police unionists. Saïed 16 Sept issued decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online, with prison sentences of up to ten years; international NGO Reporters without Borders 20 Sept said decree “threatens press freedom” and aims to “create a climate of fear”. Police 19, 21 Sept questioned An-Nahda leaders Rached Ghannouchi and Ali Larayedh over terrorism allegations; Ghannouchi decried move as “attempt … to eliminate a political opponent”. Clashes 1-2 Sept erupted as security forces violently removed sit-in tents installed in Tunis airport by police unionists to protest Saïed and Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine’s alleged plan to bring together all police unions into single structure; about 200 police officers 28 Sept protested in Sfax city to demand release of eight police unionists detained 23 Sept for alleged involvement in clashes.

Amid economic crisis, govt and social partners agreed on public sector wages. After annual inflation rate reached 8.6% in Aug, govt and main workers’ union (UGTT) 15 Sept agreed on 3.5% increase in public sector wages; move could facilitate International Monetary Fund rescue program. Hundreds 25 Sept protested in Tunis against shortages of some foodstuffs, especially sugar and milk, caused by country’s inability to pay for imports.

August 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

New constitution giving President Saïed nearly unchecked powers came into force, and administrative court dealt blow to Saïed’s moves to control judiciary. After administrative court early to mid-Aug dismissed all three appeals against results of 25 July constitutional referendum, electoral commission 16 Aug announced final results, saying 31% of electorate took part in referendum with 94.6% of them voting yes. Saïed next day ratified new constitution, which expands presidential powers, and pledged in televised speech to establish constitutional court and to issue new electoral law ahead of legislative elections set for Dec; electoral commission 18 Aug said electoral law must be promulgated by mid-Sept for elections to be held on time. Opposition coalition National Salvation Front 18 Aug rejected new constitution, deeming it and all laws and institutions that emerge from it as illegal; also reiterated its call for “rescue government” to lead country into early presidential and legislative elections. Meanwhile, administrative court 9 Aug suspended dismissal of 49 of the 57 judges whom Saïed had unilaterally fired in June, citing “lack of legal and factual grounds” for dismissal. Govt in following days worked to block implementation of court’s ruling, claiming on 14 and 20 Aug that all 57 judges face criminal charges. Crackdown on dissent continued. Authorities 3 Aug arrested member of dissolved parliament, Rached Khiari, on charges including “insulting the army” and “conspiring against state security”; Khiari went into hiding in 2021 after accusing Saïed of receiving U.S. funding during his 2019 presidential campaign. Military court 16 Aug sentenced journalist Salah Attia to three months in prison on charges including “accusing a public official of illegal acts without proof” and “denigrating the army”. Govt and country’s main workers’ (UGTT) and employers’ (UTICA) unions 15 Aug started talks over economic reforms required by International Monetary Fund for rescue program. Morocco 26 Aug recalled ambassador to Tunisia hours after Saïed met with Western Sahara independence movement leader, Brahim Ghali, in capital Tunis (see Western Sahara).

July 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Voters in low turnout constitutional referendum overwhelmingly backed new constitution granting President Saïed almost unchecked powers. Over 94% of voters in 25 July referendum supported new constitution allowing president to appoint govt without parliamentary approval and making him virtually impossible to remove from office; turnout officially at 30.5%, but main opposition alliance National Salvation Front 26 July accused electoral board of “inflating” turnout figures. Opposition parties and civil society groups earlier in month harshly criticised draft constitution published by Saïed in late June, prompting him to make cosmetic adjustments 8 July. Notably, journalists’ union and NGOs Tunisian League for Human Rights and Al-Bawsala 7 July denounced lack of checks and balances on president’s powers. Chair of constitution-drafting commission appointed by president, Sadok Belaïd, also came out publicly against project: Belaïd 3 July said Saïed had ignored commission’s proposals and imposed his own project. Influential Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) 2 July expressed reservations, but gave members freedom to approve or reject project amid lack of internal consensus. Hundreds of protesters 23 July gathered against referendum in capital Tunis. Meanwhile, authorities 5 July froze Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi’s and former PM Hamadi Jebali’s assets and bank accounts as part of investigation on terrorism and money laundering. Official negotiations between International Monetary Fund and Tunisia on economic aid program launched 4 July, but UGTT continued to signal its opposition to austerity measures and liberalisation reforms that deal would likely entail. Saïed 4-5 July visited Algeria in bid to ease tensions with neighbouring country after Algerian President Tebboune in May made series of statements seen as hostile to Tunisia. Following trip, Algiers 14 July announced it would supply Tunisia with more electricity, next day reopened shared border after two-year closure.

June 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political tensions continued to run high as President Saïed conducted mass dismissal of judges, moved forward with constitutional reform project and pursued economic reform despite protests. President Saïed 1 June revoked 57 judges on various charges, including “disrupting investigations” into terrorism cases and “corruption”. Powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) 3 June denounced justice ministry’s “terrorism campaign” against judiciary, and Tunisian Judges Association 6 June launched week-long strike, later extended it three times into July. Saïed 4 June started national dialogue on new constitution; UGTT and main political parties, including Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, boycotted initiative. Different political forces 18-19 June organised protests against Saïed’s “coup” and constitutional referendum due 25 July, drawing thousands into streets of capital Tunis. Head of constitution drafting committee Sadok Belaïd 20 June submitted draft constitution to Saïed for approval; Saïed 30 June published draft constitution enshrining strong presidential system. Meanwhile, UGTT 16 June staged public sector nationwide strike, bringing country to a standstill, to protest Saïed’s economic policies as govt seeks to secure major loan from International Monetary Fund; 27 June called for new nationwide strike without giving date. Repression of dissent continued. Military court of Tunis 13 June issued arrest warrant against journalist Saleh Attia on charges of “harming the army” and “inciting Tunisians to violence” after he criticised govt in interview with Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera. Police 23 June arrested former PM Hamadi Jebali on money-laundering charges; judge 27 June ordered his release. Authorities around 27 June reportedly charged 33 people including head of An-Nahda and speaker of dissolved parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, with belonging to terrorist organisation in relation to 2013 killings of two prominent politicians.

May 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed pushed ahead with plan to draft new constitution despite mounting opposition, while economy remained in doldrums. Saïed 9 May appointed all seven members of new Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE), including three he chose directly. ISIE 13 May presented to Saïed draft electoral calendar leading up to constitutional referendum scheduled for 25 July. Saïed around 20 May issued decree creating consultative commission tasked with drafting new constitution, and establishing National Dialogue Committee to lead consultations with some stakeholders. Several politicians in following days denounced moves, with MP Hichem Ajbouni saying drafting commission lacked inclusiveness, while powerful labor union UGTT 6 and 23 May confirmed boycott of national dialogue which “marginalises the active national political and social forces”. Pro- and anti-Saïed protests continued. A few hundreds 8 May gathered in capital Tunis in support of Saïed’s “course correction”, said “traitors should be accountable”. In largest demonstration in several months, thousands 15 May gathered in Tunis at initiative of civil society platform Citizens Against the Coup and new opposition alliance National Salvation Front to protest Saïed’s tightening grip on power. In audio recordings leaked late April-early May, voice alleged to be that of former chief of Presidential Cabinet, Nadia Akacha, described Saïed as “mentally unstable”; Akacha immediately dismissed leaks as fakes and prosecutors 4 May announced investigation to determine recordings’ authenticity. Economy remained in disarray, with value of Tunisian bonds collapsing on international financial market in May. Amid rising inflation, milk producers and other farmers 7-10 May protested in rural areas to demand increase in prices of agricultural products (which are determined by govt), claiming they no longer cover production costs. UGTT 16 May said Algeria currently considering cutting gas supplies to Tunisia if latter has not paid its gas debt by late July; 23 May called for national strike over wages and economic crisis.

April 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed declared new voting system and seized control of election commission, threatening electoral level playing field and entrenching one-man rule. Saïed 6 April unilaterally declared new voting system ahead of Dec elections: voting to take place in two rounds and electorate to vote for individuals rather than lists. Presidential decree reforming election commission issued 22 April: Saïed to select three of existing nine members to serve in new seven-member panel along with three judges (chosen by judiciary, which Saïed has also taken over) and information technology specialist. U.S. State Dept 26 April expressed “deep concern” over Saïed’s move to restructure election authority. Meanwhile, anti-terrorism police 1 April summoned several members of now-dissolved Parliament – including Parliament Speaker (and Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party President) Rached Ghannouchi – for questioning after they voted in late-March online session to cancel all measures decreed by Saïed since July power grab; MPs reportedly under investigation for “seeking to change the form of government”. Saïed early April held consultations with powerful labour union UGTT, employers’ association UTICA, National Bar Association and NGO Human Rights League in preparation for long-awaited national dialogue aimed at “building the new Republic”; UGTT Sec Gen Nourredine Taboubi 13 April said union would only participate in inclusive dialogue after Saïed ruled out talks with political opposition. Hundreds 10 April joined protest organised by An-Nahda and civil society platform “Citizens Against the Coup” in capital Tunis, denounced Saïed’s power grab and demanded return to constitutional path. In bid to form united front against Saïed and re-establish constitutional and democratic processes, opposition Al-Amal party leader Nejib Chebbi 26 April launched “National Salvation Front” alliance of five political parties, including An-Nahda, and five civil society organisations. Military court 8 April sentenced journalist Amer Ayyad and politician Abdellatif Aloui to four and three months in prison, respectively, for criticising Saïed during TV program in Oct 2021. Govt 30 April said authorities arrested ten suspects for planning terrorist attacks against security forces.

March 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political crisis escalated as President Saïed dissolved parliament after suspended lawmakers defied him in plenary session. In most direct challenge to Saïed since his July 2021 power grab, suspended parliament 30 March held online plenary session, voted to repeal presidential decrees suspending their chamber and giving Saïed near-total power; Saïed hours later announced dissolution of parliament, denouncing move as “coup attempt”; also accused lawmakers of conspiracy against state security and ordered investigations into them. Earlier in month, thousands 13 March joined opposition Free Destourian Party (FDP) protest in capital Tunis to call for early legislative elections; thousands 20 March rallied around Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party and “Citizens against the Coup” civil society platform in Tunis to commemorate independence anniversary and protest Saïed’s power grab. Saïed’s online consultation on constitutional reform failed to mobilise massively: only about 500,000 people participated by closing date of 20 March. Saïed next day praised initiative as “success”, said results of consultation will feed into constitutional revision. Military courts continued to target civilians, notably sending Abderrazak Kilani, lawyer of An-Nahda Deputy President Nourredine Bhiri, to pre-trial detention 2 March for “disturbing public order” and “insulting public officials” following verbal altercation with police officers in Jan. After dissolution of top judicial watchdog in Feb, temporary Supreme Judicial Council sworn in 7 March; nine of 21 members directly appointed by Saïed. Amid price increases and shortages of basic goods, Saïed 10 March declared “war” on food speculators; several traders and retailers arrested in following days; NGO Amnesty International 25 March said new anti-speculation law, which went into effect 21 March, threatens free speech by criminalising spread of “false or incorrect news”. Fitch Ratings agency mid-March downgraded Tunisia’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating to “CCC” from “B-”. Meanwhile, firefight 20 March erupted between suspected jihadists and police in Kairouan region (centre), leaving no casualties.

February 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed dissolved top judicial watchdog, tightening his grip on judiciary. Saïed 6 Feb announced dissolution of Supreme Council of the Judiciary, body tasked with ensuring judicial independence, accusing it of “bias”, “corruption” and delaying politically sensitive investigations; police next day blocked Council’s access in capital Tunis. In response, Association of Tunisian Judges 9 Feb launched two-day strike; some 1,000 judges and lawyers 10 Feb protested decision in Tunis. Move also drew international condemnation. G7 and EU member states’ ambassadors in Tunisia 8 Feb said decision tampers with “functioning of the judicial system and respect for its independence”; UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet same day condemned “clear violation of Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law”. Saïed 12 Feb issued decree formally dissolving Supreme Council, setting up provisional judicial council de facto under his control; also granted himself power to dismiss judges, block their promotion or nomination. Some 2,000 people 13 Feb protested decree in Tunis as part of march organised by Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party. Saïed 24 Feb said he will outlaw foreign funding for civil society organisations, citing need to stop foreign interference. A dozen NGOs and rights groups next day jointly denounced “desire to monopolise power”, said move would “undermine human rights and freedoms”. Military court 18 Feb sentenced member of suspended parliament Yassine Avari in absentia to ten-month imprisonment on charges of insulting president and army after Ayari decried Saïed’s move to freeze parliament in July 2021 as coup. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 Feb accused authorities of using 2015-established state of emergency to place individuals in “secret detention”, warned practice on the rise under Saïed; Saïed 18 Feb extended state of emergency until year’s end.

January 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Opposition to President Saïed continued to intensify amid growing concern over human rights. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Jan criticised Saïed’s newly released political roadmap, which sets legislative elections for Dec, said it “does not break with individual rule and exclusion”, and called on authorities to resume “social dialogue”. Civil society activists from “Citizens against the coup” initiative 23 Dec-12 Jan went on hunger strike to protest “total removal of liberties”. UN Human Rights Office 11 Jan voiced “serious concern” about deteriorating human rights situation, urged authorities to promptly release or formally charge Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda Deputy President (and former Justice Minister) Noureddine Bhiri and another man arrested late Dec on terrorism allegations; Bhiri hospitalised 2 Jan after starting hunger strike. On occasion of 11th anniversary of former President Ben Ali’s departure, hundreds 14 Jan demon-strated against Saïed’s power grab in capital Tunis despite gathering ban; police cracked down on protest using sticks, water cannons and tear gas, leaving several people injured; An-Nahda 19 Jan said party member Ridha Bouziane had died in hospital from injuries sustained during protest, but court same day said man’s body bore no visible signs of violence. Saïed 15 Jan launched online public consultation on reforms aimed at informing drafting of new constitution; over 30 civil society groups around 24 Jan criticised process, called for inclusive dialogue instead. Saïed 19 Jan suspended salaries and privileges of independent body High Judicial Council members citing need to combat corruption in judiciary; Association of Young Magistrates 25 Jan denounced “smear campaign” against judicial independence. Chief of Presidential Cabinet Nadia Akacha 24 Jan resigned citing “fundamental differences in opinion” over country’s interests. Interior ministry 28 Jan said police 10 Jan arrested woman coming from Syria for allegedly planning terrorist attack in Tunisia.

December 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed extended suspension of parliament by one year, sparking renewed opposition. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Dec called for early elections, said Saïed’s “excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap” since July power grab posing threat to “democratic gains”. Diplomatic mission heads of G7 countries and EU 10 Dec jointly called for “swift return to functioning democratic institutions” and respect of “fundamental freedoms”. Saïed 13 Dec extended state of exception and suspension of parliament for one year, and announced timeline for transition: electronic public consultation on constitutional and political reforms to begin 1 Jan; national committee to sum up proposals and submit project for revision of 2014 constitution by 22 March; constitutional referendum to take place 25 July, and legislative elections 17 Dec. Almost all political forces expressed opposition. UGTT next day hit back by claiming Saïed had asked union to accept austerity plan that includes 10% pay cut and subsequent five-year salary freeze for civil servants, and end to state subsidies for basic items; also threatened strikes in coming weeks. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi 16 Dec rejected “unconstitutional and illegal” extension of parliament freeze, reiterated call for “immediate cancellation of exceptional measures”. On anniversary of 2010-2011 uprising that toppled then-President Ben Ali, around 200 pro- and 2,000 anti-Saïed demonstrators 17 Dec held separate protests in capital Tunis; no security incidents reported. Meanwhile, An-Nahda activist 9 Dec self-immolated inside party’s headquarters in Tunis, killing himself and causing fire that seriously wounded two others. Court in Tunis 22 Dec sentenced in absentia former President Marzouki to four years in prison on charges of “undermining the external security of the state”; Marzouki in Oct had pressed France, where he lives, to oppose Saïed’s rule. An-Nahda 31 Dec said plainclothes security officers had same day captured party’s deputy president and former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri in Tunis and taken him to undisclosed destination, condemned “dangerous precedent”.

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