Tunisia Weekly Update: MPs Unanimously Pass Law Opposing Violence Against Women

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MPs Unanimously Pass Law Opposing Violence Against Women

Consideration of Administrative Reconciliation Act Delayed

Parliament Fails to Fill Election Commission Vacancies

Interview with Ennahda’s Ghannouchi Sparks Debate

Domestic News

MPs Unanimously Pass Law Opposing Violence Against Women: On July 26, the Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP) unanimously approved [Fr] the Law on Eliminating Violence Against Women. The new law imposes tougher penalties against those accused of rape, physical and verbal aggression, and discrimination against women. The law will also establish a hotline for at-risk women and a specialized research group to investigate [Fr] violent crimes against females. On July 28, Minister of Women, Family, and Children Néziha Labidi announced that with the adoption of the law, “Tunisia joins the list of the 19 countries that have enacted a comprehensive law against violence against women,” adding that “this also marks Tunisia as the first Arab and African country to have enacted such a law.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) applauded [Fr] the law’s passage, calling it a “decisive, positive step,” while calling on the Tunisian authorities to provide sufficient funds and political backing to ensure its enforcement. The Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) announced [Fr] that the law represents a “second revolution for women.”

Parliament Delays Consideration of the Administrative Reconciliation Act: On July 28, Mongi Harbaoui, deputy chairman of the ARP, announced [Fr] that Parliament postponed consideration of the controversial Administrative Reconciliation Act until after the summer recess, which ends on October 1. Harbaoui said that the vote, originally scheduled [Fr] for July 28, was due to the absence of an advisory opinion on the draft legislation from the Superior Magistrate’s Council.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Manich Msameh collective, an anti-corruption advocacy [Fr] group, are continuing their protests against the law, having staged [Fr] a sit-in on July 21. On July 26, Manich Msameh called upon the Tunisian people to join their protest “to oppose the most recent attempt of those in power to pass the economic reconciliation draft law,” which the group considers “unconstitutional and unpopular.” On July 28, a group of Manich Msemah activists staged [Fr] another sit-in outside the Parliament building.

Parliament Fails to Fill Election Commission Vacancies: The Assembly of People’s Representatives (ARP) failed to fill three vacancies on the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) before it adjourned for recess [Fr] until October 1. (In May, ISIE President Chafik Sarsar and two other members announced their resignations, citing a “heavy environment” brought on by new commission members. The three officially vacated their positions on July 24.) Tunisia’s first local elections since the 2011 revolution are scheduled for December 17.

Slots on the nine-member ISIE are reserved for individuals with certain expertise or backgrounds, and the three vacancies currently open are designated for an administrative magistrate, a judicial magistrate, and a university professor. The ARP must elect each member with a two-thirds majority. The positions of President and Vice President are selected by the ARP from among the nine members.

On July 28, in its first attempt to fill the three vacancies, the ARP was unable to reach consensus on the nominees. One candidate for the judicial magistrate, Chadli Sayadifell [Fr] two votes short of approval, receiving 143 of the 145 required votes.

In the next session on July 29, ARP spokesman Mohamed Ennaceur announced [Fr] that MPs had selected [Fr] Farouk Ben Abderrazek Ben Askar to fill the judicial magistrate position. The ARP did not fill the administrative magistrate position, as none of the three candidates received [Fr] sufficient votes (candidates require a two-thirds majority of MPs). Candidates Mahed Ben Abdelkader and Najla Brahem won [Fr] 65 and 96 votes, respectively, while Slim Briki received only two votes. MPs from the Nidaa Tounes [Fr] Party and the al-Horra bloc withdrew from the plenary session in protest. The ARP has not voted yet on the third position, the university professor slot.

Despite these setbacks, ISIE Deputy Chairman Anouar Ben Hsan announced [Fr] that the municipal elections would not be delayed, and that the commission can function with the vacancies. On July 31, the ISIE announced that candidates seeking office in the December local elections must submit their candidacy applications between September 19 and 26.

Interview with Ennahda’s Ghannouchi Sparks Debate: In an interview [Fr/Ar] with Nessma TV on August 2, Ennahda leader  Rached Ghannouchi criticized the current Tunisian administration for its lack of progress in fighting the economic crisis. He called for a National Socio-Economic Dialogue between all political parties and national organizations, including the country’s powerful labor unions, to confront Tunisia’s economic strife.

Ghannouchi also called [Fr] on Prime Minister Youssef Chahed not to participate in the 2019 presidential elections, urging [Fr] him “to deal only with the management of Tunisia’s current affairs to improve economic indicators,” and to avoid taking “advantage of current achievements for electoral purposes.” This led some to wonder [Fr] if Ghannouchi would present himself as a candidate for president, though Mosaique FM reported [Ar] on August 2 that his potential candidacy has not been considered by the party.

He also used the interview to emphasize the virtues and inclusivity of Ennahda. The leader claimed that “we belong neither to political Islam nor to radicalism. We are democratic Muslims and an integral part of the Tunisian society.”

Ghannouchi also commented upon the recent developments in the ARP. He reaffirmed [Fr] Ennahda’s “commitment to stand by the government in its war on corruption,” but emphasized the limitations of the government’s powers. He stated [Fr], “We urge the government to rest within the constraints of the law in its war on corruption, and only to freeze people’s assets according to the law and through court decisions subject to appeal.” He also expressed his belief that “the [economic reconciliation] bill will pass.”

War on Corruption Continues Despite Parliamentary Disputes: On July 31, security forces dismantled [Fr] a pharmaceutical smuggling network that had been stealing from a clinic affiliated with the National Social Security Fund (CNSS). The operation, part of the government’s “War on Corruption,” led to the arrest [Fr] of 20 officials on charges of abuse of power and public property. The war on corruption continues to face controversy, particularly due to the recently approved “Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Authority” bill. On July 26, Ahmed Seddik, the chairman of the Popular Front Party, announced that some 40 MPs signed a petition denouncing the draft law as “unconstitutional and contrary to international conventions and treaties.”

Foreign Affairs

UGTT Delegation Visits Syria, Minister Denies Ties Were Severed: On July 31, a delegation of 20 leaders from the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) met [Fr] with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as part of an official visit to Syria. The mission [Fr], which included former Secretary General Houcine Abassi and current Deputy Secretaries-GeneralAli Mbarki and Sami Tahri, sought to strengthen bilateral cooperation. Representatives of UGTT expressed [Fr] their respect for “the sacrifices of the Syrian army and the strength of the Syrian people.” Mbarki affirmed [Fr] Tunisia’s support for Syria, stating that “Tunisia will always be by Syria’s side to support it in its war against terrorism.”

On July 30, Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui announced [Fr] that “diplomatic relations with Syria have never been broken,” explaining that former President Moncef Marzouki had announced the rupture of relations with Syria without actually formalizing the breaking of ties as stipulated by the Vienna Convention. Jhinaoui explained [Fr] that Tunisia has “a diplomatic mission that operates today in Damascus and that is in daily contact with the Syrian administration… But we do not have diplomatic relations at the level of the ambassadors.” Jhinaoui’s announcement follows the ARP’s July 19 rejection [Fr] of a motion to re-establish diplomatic ties with Syria signed by the Al Horra Party, the Popular Front Party, the UPL, and the Afek Tounes Party.

Joint Tunisian-Saudi Commission Signs Eight Agreements: On July 25, President Beji Caid Essebsi received Saudi Minister of Trade and Investment Majed Ben Abdullah Al-Qasabi for a meeting of the Tunisian-Saudi Joint Commission from July 26-28, the first meeting in ten years. Al-Qasabi affirmed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to foster economic and trade relations with Tunisia. On July 27, Al-Qasabi met [Fr] with Mohamed Fadhel Abdelkefi, the Tunisian Minister of Development, Investment, and International Cooperation. As a result of these meetings, the Tunisian and Saudi governments signed eight partnership agreements and memoranda of understanding (MoU). The agreements included [Fr] an $85 million grant agreement to finance the Saudi Fund for Development project to construct the Salmane ben Abdelaziz University Hospital in Kairouan; an $85 million loan agreement to finance a social housing project; and an MoU for a $200 million export program. Minister Abdelkefi stressed that the signing of these agreements “is the culmination of several months of joint work between the two countries, initiated by the Tunisia 2020 Conference” held in November 2016.

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