Tunisia Weekly Update: Prime Minister Says War on Corruption is “State Policy”

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Prime Minister: War on Corruption is “State Policy”

Protests Cause Economic Blowback

Tunisia Urges Resolution to Qatar Crisis

New French Foreign Minister Makes Tunisia First Visit Outside Europe

Domestic News

Prime Minister: War on Corruption is “State Policy:” The government’s war against corruption, catalyzed by the arrest of four businessmen in May, has intensified, with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed stating, “It’s not [just a campaign] – it is state policy.” He emphasized that “no one will be protected in this war against corruption.” President Beji Caid Essebsi met with several parties, including Machrou Tounes and Afek Tounes, to ensure their “total support” in the “war on corruption.” Former Secretary General of the Republican Party Maya Jribi has also announced her party’s support, stating that “certain parties close to those in power” should not be spared.

Following last week’s backlash from the Nidaa Tounes Party, Parliamentary President Mohamed Ennaceur announced [Fr] on June 1 that the campaign is not targeting any  MPs. But he called upon MPs to complete asset declarations, in accordance with Article 11 of the Constitution. Some MPs have continued to demand the removal of parliamentary immunity. Bochra Belhaj Hmida, an MP of the National Bloc, attested [Fr], “Any MP denying the waiver of his immunity is involved [in corruption].”

Salem Labyedh, deputy of the Democratic Bloc, linked recent anti-corruption operations to changes in the regional balance in Libya. He stated that Tunisia‘s anti-corruption policies were part of its attempt to stem the tide of terrorism, corruption, and smuggling originating both internally and from connections with Libya. He was recorded saying, “All these important regional data (of Libya) can be interpreted to explain what is happening in Tunisia.” Labyedh highlighted the relationship of prominent businessman Chafik Jarraya with several Libyan parties, including Abdelhakim Belhaj, a Libyan politician and military leader. “Chafik Jarraya has not denied his relationship with Libya,” Labyedh said.

Protests Cause Economic Blowback: The sit-ins at the gas and oil fields of Tataouine and Kibali have continued into their second month and marred production. The Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Renewable Energies announced [Fr] that the interruption of Tataouine’s production has cost the state roughly 20 million dinars (approximately $8 million) a month. The oil and gas fields of Tataouine and Kebili contribute 46 percent of national oil production and 27 percent of national gas production. Imed Hammami, the Minister of Vocational Training and Employment, warned [Fr], “We may need to pay 400 million dinars (approximately $164 million) to the oil companies in the form of late fines” to cover the delay in the fields’ production.The government’s dialogue with protesters in Tataouine may resume, following the recent swearing in of new governor Adel Ouerghi. Ouerghi replaces Mohamed Ali Barhoumi, whose resignation halted negotiations until the nomination of a new governor. However, Minister Hammami announced on June 6 that no further offers would be made to sit-in participants after they rejected a proposed employment deal.

In addition, following instances of violence and vandalism, representatives of police unions in Tataouine have called for a new law to criminalize assaults on law enforcement. They claim such legislation would allow police to work more effectively and safely.

Four Imprisoned for Not Respecting the Ramadan Fast: On May 31, security officers arrested four Tunisians in Bizerte for eating and smoking in a public garden during the month of Ramadan. On June 1, a judge in Bizerte  sentenced [Fr] them to a month in prison for what he called “a public outrage [Fr] to decency.”

There is no law in Tunisia that specifically prohibits eating or drinking in public during Ramadan. A collective of NGOs demanded that the authorities  “respect their constitutional duty to guarantee freedom of conscience.” They have called for demonstrations on June 11 to defend those who do not fast during Ramadan and to demand respect for individual freedoms.

Tunisian Forces Kill Islamic State leader: On May 29 near the Algerian Border, security forces reportedly killed a senior leader of the Islamic State, who allegedly had been plotting Ramadan attacks against Tunisians. Sofiene Sliti, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, identified him as a Tunisian national named Houssem Tlithi – a fugitive from the law since 2014 for whom eleven arrest warrants had been generated. Tlithi had been hiding in the Mount Salloum region near Mount Chambi. The National Guard reportedly killed Tlithi, wounded another fighter, and seized weapons, including materials for a suicide bomb.

Foreign Affairs

Tunisian Officials Urge Dialogue to Resolve Qatar Crisis: The crisis spurred by Saudi Arabia’s decision on June 5 to break relations with Qatar, followed by a similar move by the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, and other Arab states, sparked a Tunisian appeal for calm, originating from Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui. Members of Parliament overwhelmingly supported international cooperation and negotiation to resolve the crisis. Jhinaoui added that Tunisia is hoping for a compromise to preserve regional security and stability. For its part, Ennahda advocated [Fr] for a restoration of dialogue between Qatar and its neighbors and expressed concern about the corrosion of inter-Arab relations. A representative of the Popular Front said that Qatar is targeted by foreign propaganda, and the crisis is the result of this campaign.

New French Foreign Minister Makes Tunisia First Visit Outside Europe: Foreign Minister Jhinaoui met on June 5 with his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Tunis. Le Drian stated that the meeting was a political act that President Emmanuel Macron wanted, to mark the “priority place that France grants to Tunisia.” On this, his first trip outside Europe, Le Drian emphasized that France supported Tunisia’s “considerable and respectable” fight for democracy, in addition to commending the anti-corruption campaign. The ministers announced the creation of a high-level French-Tunisian Cooperation Council, which would hold a Political Dialogue Council by the end of 2017. This council would bring together the two countries’ ministers of foreign affairs, economy, and education. The two ministers also discussed the importance of continuing the conversion of Tunisia’s debts into economic and social development projects. Le Drian also met with President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Minister Jhinaoui also met his Palestinian counterpart Riyad Al-Malki on June 5, signing two cooperation agreements in preparation for an upcoming visit of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to Tunisia.

Libyan-Tunisian Border Reopens: Last week, Libyan border guards again shut down the Dhehbia-Wazzin border crossing due to the ongoing protests in Tataouine. The passage had been open [Fr] since May 29, after a week of non-access.

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