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1370FW: Tunisia Weekly Update: Detailed Elections Calendar Released; NCA Passes Loan Guarantee Agreement with U.S.

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  • J. P. Jones
    Jul 3, 2014



      Subject: Tunisia Weekly Update: Detailed Elections Calendar Released; NCA Passes Loan Guarantee Agreement with U.S.
      From: todd.ruffner@...
      To: jpjones33@...
      Date: Wed, 2 Jul 2014 19:30:59 +0000

      Tunisia Weekly Update: Detailed Elections Calendar Released; NCA Passes Loan Guarantee Agreement with U.S.
      Tunisia Weekly Update: Detailed Elections Calendar Released; Registration Begins in a Trickle; NCA passes loan guarantee agreement with U.S.
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      Detailed Elections Calendar Released; Registration Slowly Begins

      Official Statements

      NCA Passes Loan Guarantee Agreement with U.S.: The National Constituent Assembly passed a Tunisia-U.S. loan guarantee agreement, signed on June 3, which will “allow Tunisia to access up to $500 million (about 825 million dinars MTD) in affordable financing from international capital markets,” according to state media. Under the agreement, the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) will be tasked with issue operation in the American financial market. Secretary of State for Development and International Cooperation Noureddine Zekri stated that “the debt ratio will remain lower than 50 percent (49.1 percent) from now to late 2014 and could decrease as of 2017.”

      U.S. Expands Tunisian Academic Exchange Program: U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Jacob Walles announced an expansion of the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program, which “builds the workforce capacity of a diverse group of youth leaders” from Tunisia through year-long academic study, professional internship, and community service in the U.S. An additional 88 students will benefit from the program in its second cohort of undergraduate scholars.

      Marzouki Meets U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs: President Moncef Marzouki met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield to discuss Tunisia's participation in the U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit to be held in August. Their meeting also “focused on bilateral relations and ways to promote partnership between the two countries at all levels.”


      Domestic Politics

      Detailed Elections Calendar Released; Registration Slowly Begins: The elections commission released [Fr] a detailed election calendar [Fr], which includes a voter registration period from June 23 to July 22, a three-week campaign period for each election, and deadlines for preliminary and final results for both elections. Voter registration began with 10,000 voters registered [Fr] in the first three days. However, the NGO Mourakiboun is “concerned about the low turnout” and also reported “initial difficulties” in the registration process including “registration centers opening late, a lack of signage, and problems with the registration forms for voters based abroad.” An elections official added [Ar] that poor administrative capacities and a lack of transportation are also hindering registration. President Moncef Marzouki took to the airwaves to encourage [Fr] voter registration. The Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) announced [Fr] that registration will be available in local ISIE offices, mobile offices, supermarkets, and major transit stations, as well as via SMS [Fr]. The ISIE Vice Chairman is “optimistic [Ar] about the turnout in the coming days with work to intensify campaigns,” adding that the registration term may be extended if it does not achieve the targeted number of registered voters. Meanwhile, a group of twelve civil society organizations established the Civil Coalition for Elections, which will “monitor all stages of the election process – registration, voting, campaigning – and train observers.” Additionally, observers and journalists may now be accredited by ISIE up to a week before the elections.

      Leading Politicians Announce Presidential Bids: After Ennahda’s call last week for a consensus candidate, some party leaders have entered into dialogue over a potential candidate, while others have put themselves forward to compete for the presidency in the November 23 election [Fr]. Mustafa Ben Jaafar, interim head of the NCA, said it “would be an honor” to be chosen as the consensus candidate, and also commented that Ennahda’s move demonstrates the party “has learned a lesson from managing public affairs.” The Secretary General of Nidaa Tounes, Taieb Baccouchederided the move as a “political maneuver.” Abderraouf Ayadi, who is the head of the Wafa Movement, will [Fr] be the party’s candidate for president. In contrast, Hamadi Jebali, Secretary-General of Ennahda, has “decided [Fr] to resign from all his functions within Ennahda to be able to run for president as an independent.” The North Africa Post reported that more than 10 candidates are expected to vie for the post, listing among them Moncef Marzouki, Abderraouf Ayadi, and Mohamed Hamdi. To join the race, candidates must have the endorsement of 10 NCA members and 40 heads of municipalities, or 10,000 registered voters. A poll [Fr] predicted Baccouche of Nidaa Tounes in the lead with 23.2 percent of the vote and Jebali, formerly of Ennahda, in second with 14.4 percent of the vote, while predicting an inversion for the legislative election, with Ennahda at 38 percent and Nidaa Tounes at 33 percent of the vote.

      Politicians and Commentators Hypothesize Popular Front can Challenge Leading Parties: Former Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh blamed [Fr] Ennahda’s lack of experience, sluggishness, and lack of opposition for any failures in the democratic transition. He also said [Fr] that “three poles characterize the political landscape,” Ennahda, Nidaa Tounes, and the Popular Front, dispelling the notion of a bipolar landscape between the first two parties. Abdelmajid Mselmi similarly argued [Fr] that the “Arab Nationalist and radical leftist” Popular Front has “legitimate ambitions,” has “rapidly assimilated the lessons of the crushing electoral defeat” of 2012, and is equipped with “influential parliamentary force” to “defend the cause of the working class.” After Hamadi Jebali declared [Fr] his resignation from the Secretary-Generalship of Ennahda in March, he re-confirmed [Fr] on national radio that his decision “is final.” In preparation for elections, four far-left parties or groups merged to form the National Front, and the Worker’s Party confirmed Hamma Hammami (also a leader of the Popular Front) as Secretary-General. Additionally, President Moncef Marzouki announced to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission that “Tunisia’s transition is progressing smoothly.” Meanwhile, Beji Caid Essebsi, President of Nidaa Tounes, received [Fr] a letter from Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi thanking him for the congratulations he had received from Essebsi upon his inauguration and reaffirming his commitment to “meet the aspirations of of his people.”

      Tunisian Diplomats Released by Libyan Militant Captors: “Two Tunisian diplomats held for months by gunmen in Libya flew home Monday to an airport [and were welcomed] by the president and other top officials,” according to AP. Though “it is not clear what deal led to their release,” sources in the Interior Ministry “insisted that no Libyan ‘terrorists’ have been released from Tunisian prisons as part of any deal.” However, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mongi Hamdi said [Fr] Tunisia “could deliver some Libyan detainees to [the Libyan] authorities in accordance with conventions signed between the two countries.” Reuters explained, “with Libya's government weak and its armed forces still in formation, armed groups have targeted foreign diplomats for abduction this year to pressure for the release of Libyan militants held in jails overseas.” A diplomat at the head of the mission was kidnapped in March “just two days after gunmen also took the Jordanian ambassador,” while another, a senior adviser, was kidnapped in April. In other counter-terrorism news, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Tunisian forces captured "dangerous terrorist leader” Wael Boussaidi, while the country hosted a regional security summit. Additionally, after a man identifying as Tunisian posted a video showing his role in the execution of Iraqi border guards, Human Rights Watch called for Tunisian authorities to “promptly investigate allegations that Tunisian combatants have committed war crimes in Iraq and Syria.”

      Marzouki Insists on Trade with Sub-Saharan Africa: President Moncef Marzouki, following a four-country tour of Africa, met with the Mauritanian president, a meeting during which “the two presidents underlined the need to further promote Maghrebi action and energize the structures of the Arab Maghreb Union,” according to state media. He also expressed his “desire to strengthen cooperation between Tunisia and Burkina Faso” in a meeting with the Burkinabe president. During an interview, Marzouki insisted [Fr] that "we are now paying the price for 20 years of neglect for Africa," calling for Libyan business-people to “overcome [their] ingrained image and prejudices” and engage with sub-Saharan African markets. Marzouki led the charge for more economic interaction by signing 35 cooperative agreements in his visits to Mali, Niger, Chad, and Gabon, as well as by having his government push to remove [Fr] visa requirements to “promising” African nations and establish [Fr] new embassies. The president’s spokesman said [Ar] Marzouki stressed strategic cooperation between Tunisia and Sub-Saharan countries in combating terrorism. Additionally, Tunisia strengthened economic and political ties with Portugal.

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      Economy

      Grain Harvest is Up from 2012: Tunisia projects a 3.26 million ton grain harvest, up from a drought-ridden 1.2 million tons in 2013 and the 2.2 million ton harvest in 2012, however the country will still import 1.6 million tons of grain. The president of the national chamber of bakers called [Fr] for a rise in the price of baguettes, which has not changed since 2010. 

      Central Bank Voices Concerns: The Tunisian Central Bank (BCT)’s Executive Board articulated “its concern about the further widening of the current account deficit,” which rose 0.7 percent of GDP between 2013 and 2014 due to the “continuing deterioration of foreign trade deficit.” The BCT board decided, in order “to contain the effects of rising inflation and its impact on the deterioration of the purchasing power of citizens,” to raise the key interest rate by 25 basis points to 4.75 percent.

      Study Shows Consumption Patterns in Cities have Changed: “The modes of consumption of Tunisians residing in large cities have radically changed [Fr] over the course of the last two decades, according to a study published by the National Institute of Consumption” of 1,022 families in urban Tunisia. The study found that increasing numbers of urban Tunisians own washing machines, computers, and electronic tablets. Additionally, two-thirds of families often shop with small traders, while half have shopped retail. The author of the study predicted some negative impacts of the new pace and style of consumption, including an increase in obesity rates and higher household debt.

      Renewable Energy’s Promise Grows; Oil Production has Fallen since 2010: The president of the University Network of Renewable Energy demonstrated, at a conference on “Energy Transition in Tunisia,”  that a renewable energy plan for 2014-2030 could generate 29.3 billion dinars in profit (17.4 billion USD). Meanwhile, the ministry overseeing oil production announced that production has declined from 70 million barrels per day in 2010 to 58 million in 2014. Oil prices will rise 6.3 percent due to subsidy cuts aimed at reducing budget deficits, a move that Reuters called “politically sensitive.” An op-ed in Web Manager Center argued [Fr] that it is “imperative to develop a new energy model” because rising demand and falling supply caused gas prices to increase five-fold over the past decade while renewable energy remains a “limited” part of the energy sector.

      Loans Extended to Tunisia by IMF and Japan: The IMF is set to disburse the 2.7 billion dollar fifth installment of a stand-by loan at the end of July 2014. The Minister of Economy and Finance Hakim Ben Hammouda declared that “Tunisia will face major challenges in the years 2015 and 2016 if it does not record a growth rate of between 6 and 7 percent.” Japan also extended [Fr] loans to Tunisia, to the order of 730 million dinars (435 million USD) for a power plant and a flood prevention project. Meanwhile, Muhammad Zulfikar Rakhmat explained that “as the Middle East and North Africa grow in importance to Beijing, China looks likely to exert more effort in strengthening its ties with Tunisia.” Additionally, Wided Bouchamaoui, President of the Tunisian Union for Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA), with Giorgio Squinz, President of the Italian Industry Confederation, announced [Fr] a 2015 Tunisian-Italian economic forum.


      Analysis and Commentary

      Commentators Debate the Future of the Tunisian Left: Describing the “limits of the liberal-libertarian left,” Seif Sudani argues that “national policy interests fewer and fewer Tunisians, [who are] tired of an economically and socially libertarian liberal left [that] has failed to embody the social demands of the revolution.” Rachid Barnat wrote that, “facing the Islamist peril, the progressives must unite again,” deriding Ennahda as supporting “regressive Islamization” and noting that Nidaa Tounes seeks to “go into battle alone” when instead he believes secular groups should be uniting against a common political enemy. Meanwhile, Alain Gresh, commented [Fr] on the small but important role of foreign politics in Tunisia’s transition. He writes that, because Tunisia is “relatively marginal,” it could avoid the negative attention of Gulf leaders that Egypt could not.

      Cole Argues for Present and Future Successes of Young Arab Activists: Juan Cole, professor at University of Michigan, argued in a piece entitled “The Arab millennials will be back” that the “20-somethings” who led the Arab uprisings “have only begun the work of transforming the region.” Citing the example of “a young dissident playwright, Vaclav Havel,” who played a role in the Prague Spring of 1968, and only decades later became the first president of the Czech Republic in 1993, Cole argues that for young Arab activists, “most of their truest accomplishments will come at least a couple of decades later.” He noted that youth activists, even as they are jailed across the region, still played a pivotal role in liberalizing the constitution and setting the framework for elections throughout 2013. In particular, he cites these achievements of these activists as rejecting “family dynasties” in Arab leadership, ending the “age of presidents-for-life,” and popularizing “a more multicultural vision of how society should work.”

      Tunisians Debate Merits of a “Turn to Africa,” EU Economic Relations: In support of President Moncef Marzouki’s Africa tour, Imen Nouira wrote that, since Tunisia “must achieve 6 percent or 7 percent of growth to solve its [economic] problems,” it should “turn towards Africa,” because Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing approximately five percent growth per year, while European trading partners achieve only about one percent annual growth. Leaders argued [Fr] that such a turn to Africa as Marzouki is pursuing, including forging economic agreements and abolishing visa requirements, could be “dead on arrival” and “ineffective” without “diplomatic missions in place to support our business people.” On Tunisian-EU relations, Ahmed Ben Mustapha said [Fr] that “Tunisia must resist the dictates of the EU,” because rapid opening to EU markets has caused “a persistent economic crisis unprecedented since 2008, which has helped to aggravate and deepen the cyclical and structural problems of the Tunisian economy as well as caused a growing deficit in public finances, trade balance, and balance of payments.”


      Media
       

       
      The recent documentary La mémoire noire : témoignage contre l'oubli [Fr] (The Black Memory: Testimony Against Forgetting) showcases the testimony of four victims of "a methodical and excruciating torture by the persecuting machine of the Bourguiba regime." A review [Fr] said the style "borders on poetry without falling into a gritty realism" while recounting the horrors faced by journalist Hashemi Troudi, opposition candidate to Ben Ali Ezzedine Hazgui, leader of an opposition movement Fethi Ben Haj Yahia, and human rights advocate Simone Lellouche.
       

      -- Leah Muskin-Pierret (For comments, questions, or feedback, please email  leah.muskinpierret@...)
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