Tunisia Weekly: U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Tunisia, Pledges Support

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U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits Tunisia, Pledges Support

PM Chahed Plans for Upcoming U.S. Visit

Government Cuts Fuel Subsidies

Assets of Former Presidential Candidate Slim Riahi Frozen

HRW Report Condemns Police Retaliation

Foreign Affairs

U.S. Members of Congress Visit Tunisia, Demonstrating Support: On July 4, President Beji Caid Essebsi received a delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives led by Chairman of House Appropriations Committee Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). Frelinghuysen spoke of the historic relations between Tunisia and the United States, highlighting the interest taken by the U.S. Congress in the success of Tunisia‘s democratic transition. The Chairman also stressed cooperation to fight against terrorism, U.S. support for cultural and academic exchanges, and increased bilateral visits. He highlighted the determination of the U.S. delegation to maintain aid for Tunisia at the same level as previous years. This expression of support follows the release of the State Department’s Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Request, which proposes a significant reduction in bilateral assistance to Tunisia
Prime Minister Chahed also received the delegation on July 4. The parties discussed ways to strengthen co-operation between Tunisia and the United States, particularly in the security, economic, and financial fields. According to Mosaique FM, the U.S. delegation praised the efforts of the Tunisian government in the fight against corruption.

Prime Minister Chahed Plans for Upcoming U.S. Visit: The Tunisian Prime Minister will pay an official visit to Washington from July 9-12, following the invitation of President Donald Trump’s Administration, where he will have meetings with senior U.S. officials regarding the political, economic, and security situation in Tunisia. Chahed gave [Fr] a speech on the occasion of the 241st anniversary of the independence of the United States, stating that his imminent visit to Washington will be an opportunity to enrich cooperation and strategic partnership. Chahed thanked the United States for its support through the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Tunisia Elected Member of African Union Human Rights Commission: On July 3, Tunisia was elected a member of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights of the African Union (AU) for a six-year term. According to a Foreign Ministry press release, “This success will strengthen Tunisia‘s presence in the AU’s structures and institutions, including the African Commission on International Law and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.” This step follows Tunisia’s election to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID).

Also on July 3, President Essebsi met with Mehdi Ben Gharbia, the Minister of Relations with Constitutional Institutions, Civil Society, and Human Rights, who presented him with Tunisia’s third human rights report. The report recommends the formalization of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Constitution and the creation of independent constitutional authorities.

Human Rights Watch Report Condemns Victim Retaliation: On July 4, Human Rights Watch (HRW) cautioned that police increasingly are using charges of “insulting the police” to retaliate against citizens. “Tunisians who complain or question police conduct may find themselves facing retaliatory charges of insulting the police,” HRW said in statement calling for reform of these practices. “Tunisian authorities are using the accusation of insulting the police to intimidate citizens who dare to complain about police behavior,” said Amna Guellali, HRW Senior Tunisia and Algeria Researcher.

Tunisia Calls for Cooperation in Libya Crisis: Foreign Minister Jhinaoui held conversations on the situation in Libya at the 29th Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the African Union, held in Addis Ababa. On July 2, Jehinaoui called[Fr] for the creation of a coalition to aid Libya and assist in returning calm and stability to the country. During a meeting with Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, Jhinaoui suggested a tripartite initiative (Tunisia-Algeria-Egypt) to aid Libya. On July 3, President Beji Caid Essebsi echoed the importance of combining the efforts of all sides for a comprehensive political settlement of the Libyan crisis.

Domestic News

Government Cuts Fuel Subsidies: The government announced a cut to fuel subsidies on July 3, raising the price of petrol by 6.7 percent. This step is a condition of Tunisia‘s International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan of approximately $364 million, which was released [Fr] on June 12. This loan is contingent [Fr] upon the implementation of economic and regional development reforms.

The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) announced that the increase in fuel prices is excessive and not economically justified. UGTT claimed [Fr] that Tunisia‘s economic crisis is due not only to the drop in value of the national currency, the Dinar, but also to measures that serve only foreign interests. The subsidy cut is controversial. The president of theTunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries, Abdelmajid Ezzarreported [Fr] that the fuel tariffs will hurt the competitiveness of fishermen due to the increased fuel prices for their boats.Protests against the subsidy cuts broke out in Tunis on July 4. Three hundred people demonstrated in front of UGTT headquarters and the protests turned violent when the protesters threw stones at the police, who retaliated by firing tear gas; two police officers were injured.

Assetss of Former Presidential Candidate Frozen: On June 28, judicial officials announced the freeze [Fr] of the assets of Slim Riahi, President of the Free Patriotic Union Party (UPL) and former presidential candidate, for alleged links to corruption. Sofiene Selliti, spokesman for the Tunisian Court of First Instance, announced [Fr] that the freeze followed a 2012 lawsuit against Riahi for his alleged involvement in money laundering. Riahi responded [Fr] on Nessma TV, claiming that he was a victim of “political blackmail” and declaring that the government’s anti-corruption war was selective. He suggested that the authorities had frozen his assets because of his disputes with political authorities following his successful 2014 election campaign, after which UPL became the third largest legislative group. Riahi further noted, “We live in a country of gangs and I will not give up.” On July 4, he claimed that a lawyer belonging to the Machrou Tounes political party was behind the asset freeze, adding that UPL will take the necessary steps to confirm this allegation.

Suspect Arrested in Attack on German Tourists: The Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Tourism announced [Fr] that a mentally disabled man had stabbed two German tourists, a father and daughter, in Nabeul on June 30. The perpetrator was arrested the same day. The father has been released [Fr] from the hospital, but his daughter remains for further treatment. The Tourism Ministry asserted that the attack has no connection with terrorist activity and Tourism Minister Salma Elloumi urged [Fr] the public not to take incident out of context. The attack occurred as tourism is once again increasing [Fr] after a period of stagnation following the June 2015 terror attack in Sousse [Fr]. Before this attack, tourism accounted for seven percent of Tunisia‘s GDP.

Funding of the Ennadha Party Questioned: On July 4, secularist Partie Destourien Libre (The Free Destour Party) called [Fr] for an investigation into the foreign funding of political parties, especially the Ennadha Party, who they claim [Fr/Ar] is being funded by Qatar. Party President Abir Moussi claimed that the request is not intended to harm the image of the parties but to investigate the manner in which several politicians have profited from corruption. The Party also called for an audit of possible funding sent to networks of youth and foreign fighters in conflict zones. Imed Khemiri, spokesman for Ennadha, called [Fr] the accusations “desperate.”

Groups Condemn Anti-corruption Authority Bill: On July 4, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed announced a bill for a new Anti-corruption Authority, as defined by Article 130 of the Constitution. In a statement, watchdog organizations Al Bawsala and IWatch condemned the bill, claiming it “does not respond to the demands of the war on corruption” and “does not give the new anti-corruption institution the needed investigative powers.” The groups also condemned the “double discourse of the executive and parliament.”

Meanwhile, Chahed’s “war on corruption” continues. President of the Confiscation Commission  Mounir Ferchichi announced [Fr] the seizure of property belonging to seven people, including merchants, businessmen, and a customs officer with ties to the Ben Ali and Trabelsi families. This commission is charged with confiscating illicit and illegally obtained property. Four of the accused, Samir Ben RachedChokri Berriri, and brothers Slah Eddine  and Kamel Chemli, were arrested [Fr] June 30 under the state of emergency and remain under house arrest on charges of smuggling and currency trafficking.
In related news, a July 1 communique [Fr] from the members of the National Council of the Association of Tunisian Magistrates requested access to corruption files concerning recent judicial measures taken against several businessmen.

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