We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
Tunisia

Tag Archives | Tunisia

The Discourse of the ‘Arab Spring’ has been Misused

|
A Libyan rebel resting after a battle during Libya's uprising

A Libyan rebel resting after a battle during Libya’s uprising

A reductionist discourse is one that selectively tailors its reading of subject matters in such a way as to only yield desired outcomes, leaving little or no room for other inquiries, no matter how appropriate or relevant. The so-called Arab Spring, although now far removed from its initial meanings and aspirations, has become just that: a breeding ground for choosy narratives solely aimed at advancing political agendas which are deeply entrenched with regional and international involvement.

When a despairing Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi lit himself on fire on December 17, 2010, he had ignited more than a mere revolution in his country. His excruciating death had given birth to a notion that the psychological expanses between despair and hope, death and rebirth and between submissiveness and revolutions are ultimately connected. His act, regardless of what adjective one may use to describe it, was the very key that Tunisians used to unlock their ample reserve of collective power. Then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s decision to step down on January 14, 2011, was in a sense a rational assessment on his part if one is to consider the impossibility of confronting a nation that had in its grasp a true popular revolution.

Egypt also revolted less than two weeks later. And it was then that Tunisia’s near-ideal revolutionary model became prey for numerous, often selective readings and ultimately for utter exploitation. The Egyptian January 25 revolution was the first Arab link between Tunisia and the upheavals that travelled throughout Arab nations. Some were quick to ascribe the phenomenon with all sorts of historical, ideological and even religious factors thereby making links whenever convenient and overlooking others however apt. The Aljazeera Arabic website still has a map of all Arab countries, with ones experiencing revolutionary influx marked in red.

Continue Reading →

From Rwanda to Mali: France’s Chequered History in Africa

|
French armored vehicles patrol a road as they take part in operation Serval to assist Malian troops to push back an islamist rebel advance, North of Bamako, Mali. Arnaud Roine/EPA

Why the French intervention in Mali?

French armored vehicles patrol a road as they take part in operation Serval to assist Malian troops to push back an islamist rebel advance, North of Bamako, Mali. Arnaud Roine/EPA

Last week, French daily Le Monde asked this question of André Bourgeot, specialist on Sub-Saharan Africa with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research. Bourgeot gave two main reasons, the first of which was that without intervention, Islamist troops that had already conquered the north of the country were likely to take over the international airport at Sévaré, blocking access for any international military intervention, and opening the way to take over the capital, Bamako.

The second reason? Because they were asked to. Interim president Dioncounda Traoré appealed to his French counterpart François Hollande to help prevent an Islamist takeover of his country. The French action is conducted within the framework set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2085 of 10 December 2012, on the situation in Mali. A special meeting of the Security Council further supported the action, calling on all member states of the UN to provide support to Mali.

Continue Reading →

The U.S. Aided Mohamed Morsi’s Rise to Power in Egypt

|
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Source: European Union

“Morsi has usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh, a major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

– Mohammed ElBaradei

The Obama Administration supported the Arab Spring uprisings, which led to regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Tunisia Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was deposed and found a new home in Saudi Arabia. In Egypt Hosni Mubarak was deposed and imprisoned. In Libya Islamists hunted down and killed Muammar Gaddafi. However in the aftermath of the regime changes, neither of the countries has seen stability or a better quality of life for their people.

What is certain, the U.S. lost a diplomat and three other Americans in the U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. In a PBS interview on January 8, 2013, Nancy Youssef of McClatchy Newspapers stated there were over seventy Islamists involved in the attack, including Islamists from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey, and Jordan. Only one perpetrator, Ali Harzi a Tunisian, was apprehended and released last week by the Tunisian authorities for lack of evidence. She noted “The authorities said that they had strong suspicions that he was involved in the attack”, but the FBI and Libyan authorities were not allowed to question Harzi. An interrogation might have led to valuable information and possible arrests of more Islamists.

The deposed dictators had their detractors, but there was also a more peaceful and secure environment affecting daily life, I was told. The uprisings were spurred on by unemployment, food shortages, and human rights abuses, which the U.S. saw as an opportunity for regime change, to introduce democratic institutions. Ousting Hosni Mubarak, our U.S. ally for over thirty years, did not bring democracy to Egypt. Mohamed Morsi, a conservative Islamist, wants to take the country in a narrow religious direction, where rule under Islamic law is eminent. In an Islamic state the people will suffer more than before with social injustices, and poverty conditions spiraling out of control. The suppression of the press and limited freedom of speech has only added to the image of a police state.

Continue Reading →

Mali is a Victim of Inconsistent U.S. Foreign Policy

|
Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Source: Foreign Policy

On December 20, 2012 President Obama suspended Mali from any benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program - due to its coup in 2012.

Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Source: Foreign Policy

At the same time President Obama approved South Sudan’s eligibility under the program—a country in conflict with its neighbor Sudan. The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was established by Congress in May 2000 to create jobs in sub-Saharan Africa—to help reduce poverty—and build trade capacity with the United States. To qualify under the AGOA, countries needed to show improvements in democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency, and a commitment to work standards that exclude the use of child labor. The AGOA includes over 6,000 items that can be exported to the U.S. duty free and quantity free. The program currently supports over 300,000 jobs (indirectly benefiting 10 million people) in sub-Saharan Africa.

The AGOA legislation’s ‘third-country fabric’ provision was set to expire on September 30, 2012. Congress failed to approve the renewal of this important provision prior to holding the AGOA Forum in Washington on June 14-15, 2012, which was attended by over forty African ministerial delegations. The textile issue, a top priority on the forum’s agenda, was stuck in a senate committee for over a year. The SB 2007 had attracted unrelated amendments, by several senators, which only added to the problem for its extension. The lack of passage cost Africa thousands of jobs; the bilateral forum was viewed by the African delegates as a failure, with economic relations being undermined. The Obama administration needed to press for the Bill’s timely passage, so we would not perceived as neglecting trade relations with Africa.

Continue Reading →

Mali the Epicenter for AQIM Terrorists

|
Fighters with Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Source: Al Jazeera

Youssoufou Bamba, the Côte d’ Ivoire representative to the United Nations, has stated, “The clock is ticking and every day that passes brings more suffering to the population trapped in the areas controlled by the terrorists,” noting they are carrying out all kinds of criminal activities in northern Mali, “Inaction is no longer an option.”

Fighters with Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Source: Al Jazeera

In meeting with Mali’s Ambassador Al-Maamoun Keita on November 15, 2012, he was confident that UNSC Resolution 2071, passed on October 12, 2012, would finally allow the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops assist the Malian military to subdue the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and affiliates embedded in northern Mali. The Resolution noted the UN’s “readiness to respond to Mali’s request for an international military force, pending receipt of the Secretary-General’s report and recommendations on the situation,” with approval to take place within forty-five days. On November 16, 2012 a Reuters article noted, “Any foreign-backed offensive to retake control of northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked Islamists will take at least six months to prepare, a delay that runs counter to the expectations of many Malians.”

The need for immediate action has not been supported by Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Susan Rice, both having stated they want the presidential election process and negotiations with the Islamists to take priority. Reuters noted that diplomats expressed time was needed so discussions can be held with the Ansar Dine Islamists, the outgrowth of the Tuareg separatist movement. In my discussions with several Tuareg elders, on September 10, 2012 in the Mintao Refugee Camp in Djibo, Burkina Faso, they stated that Ansar Dine affiliated with AQIM were responsible for many of the atrocities against the people, forcing almost 500,000 to flee the country. They also destroyed 13th century artifacts, libraries and mausoleums; severely damaged the 15th Century Sidi Yahya mosque in Timbuktu.

Continue Reading →

Will the Rest of Africa Be the Next Phase of the ‘Arab’ Awakening?

|
Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

“The African spring has arrived. Down with the dictators! This time for Africa!” – Anonymous Africa

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

As the Syrian conflict descends into an abyss, Libya has become a land of battles between security forces and jihadists, and Egypt is struggling to adjust to its evolving version of ‘democracy.’ Little seems predictable — in the short or longer term — in the countries that have to date experienced the Arab Awakening. Little has turned out as had been hoped — by these countries’ people, regional governments, or the larger global community — and optimists about the future are rare.

Now that the genie has been let out of its bottle, there is of course no turning back. It remains to be seen whether events to date will prove to be watershed moments in the Middle East and North Africa’s political history, or simply a transferal of autocratic power from one despotic political force to another. One has to wonder what the real prospects for long-term success are among the heterogeneous countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A realist would have to say that there is a chance that some of the countries that have experimented with democracy to date will end up looking more like Iran than Turkey.

Continue Reading →

Benghazi Attack: AQIM Terrorists had their roots in Mali

|
Hillary Clinton in Washington

On July 5, 2012 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2056, to deal with the instability in northern Mali. Tuareg fighters returning from Libya brought with them a large cache of arms.

Hillary Clinton in Washington

Affiliating with AQIM and Ansar Dine Islamists they have taken control of the northern towns of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao. To stop their advance the UN should have supported military action, but instead wanted more studies on the justification, before giving approval for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) troops to intervene in Mali. Ninety days have since passed, and the situation in Mali has only become more acute.

The AQIM movement was the outgrowth of several dissident groups in Algeria trying to overthrow their government. In 2003 they moved their operations to northern Mali. The AQIM trained recruits and became affiliated with al-Qaeda linked Islamists who infiltrated the region. U.S. intelligence sources knew in 2003 that the region was becoming a breeding ground for terrorists. The U.S. launched “Flintlock 2005” as part of the “Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative” training program, which included Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal. A follow-up military training program “Operation Flintlock 2007” in Mali was undertaken by Special Operations Forces, with troops from the neighboring countries.

Continue Reading →

Protests across the Muslim World: A Deeper Meaning?

|
Protest in Qatar over the YouTube video, "Innocence of Muslims". Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

Protest in Qatar over the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims”. Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

Over the last couple of weeks thousands across the Muslim world from Tunisia to Jakarta, have staged protests, burned US flags outside of embassies and murdered an American diplomat over a video portraying slanderous and offensive content toward the prophet Mohammed and the religion of Islam. The protests spiraled out of control when the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other American citizens were killed by an unruly mob in Benghazi, Libya last week. Slowly more and more angered Muslims joined the fray across the world with some of the largest gatherings since the Arab Spring.

The film is itself laughable, displaying poor acting, cheap special effects and insinuations that are pure farce. However, no one can ignore the enormous ripple effect that it has spread across the Muslim world. Anti-US sentiments are now spilling over, as flags are regularly being torched in the streets of countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia.

Although the message of the video is clearly offensive, the naivety that this is the belief of the common US citizen, or that it represents the position of the US government and therefore their embassies should be the target of the violence is absurd. One independent filmmaker does not represent the feelings of an entire nation composed of over 300 million citizens, and it’s not unreasonable for many Muslims to know this already.

Continue Reading →

American Influence on the Development of Democracy in the Islamic World

|
The spread of Islam across the world cannot be written off as a regressive element of society but as a developing agent of civilization

The spread of Islam across the world cannot be written off as a regressive element of society but as a developing agent of civilization

In American foreign policy regarding the Middle East, a trend has developed into a paramount issue. The concern over what is the role of Islam in national governments. The past decade spent in Iraq and Afghanistan has made this even more obvious. The rise in “Islamophobia” in America following September 11 has only reinforced this misconception. In the wake of the “Arab Spring” in 2011, there exists an opportunity for a watershed moment in working towards stability in the Middle East but the possibility of which is diminished by this tendency.

The larger part of this issue concerns America’s crusade to spread democracy in the region. The problem is that one of the founding principles of Western democracy is the separation of church and state. The reasoning behind this it to protect ethnic and religious minorities rights against the rule of any single majority. However, the hysteria that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center has entrenched the misconception in the America populace that governments whose laws are partially based on the Islamic religion are fundamentally uncivilized and instable. This mistake continues to result in policy decisions that are not only haphazard to America interests, but also global security.

At the heart of this dilemma is the modern conception of civilization. The idea of television, the internet, cell phones, and pop culture has become anonymous with the American perception of civilization. Many Americans fail to understand that the West has not always been the civilized place they call home. A millennium ago when Europe was still in the thralls of Dark Ages, the Middle East was the host of intellectually and technological innovation.  The Renaissance would not have been made possible if Islamic scholars had not preserved and developed Greek and Roman knowledge. Far from being an agent of barbarism, Islam preserved civilization when Europe was caught in the dissolution of the Roman Empire for a thousand years.

Continue Reading →

Counter-Revolutionary States: The Case of the United States

|
President Gerald Ford with Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī the former Shah of Iran

Many adversarial relationships exist in politics. On the domestic level, political parties frequently compete with each other to gain control of coveted offices.

President Gerald Ford with Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī the former Shah of Iran

A contest, which transpires on the international level during periods of international revolution, is counter-revolutionary and revolutionary states spreading opposing doctrines. One way that counter-revolutionary and revolutionary states spread these doctrines is by invading nations that are considered to be in need of political change.

The most recent example of this form of doctrinal proliferation is the series of American invasions that were conducted at the beginning of this century. The leaders who embark on these ideological interventions obviously think they are worthwhile (Hans Morgenthau). However, the leaders, who witness them, do not share this sentiment. These individuals do not possess a fondness for ideological interventions because they violate “the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other states” (David Armstrong).

Continue Reading →

Tunisia and Egypt One Year On

|
Protest march against Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

January 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the inception of Egypt’s revolution against the dictatorship of the Mubarak regime, eleven days after the success of the Tunisian revolution, when its former president Ben Ali fled the country.

Protest march against Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

Within weeks of the brisk success of these two revolutions (28 days for Tunisia and 18 days in the case of Egypt), the Arab peoples across the region launched their own simultaneous revolts to rid themselves of their decades-long dictatorships, especially in Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. So what is the current status of the Arab Spring? And what are the likely scenarios? In late October, nearly ninety percent of Tunisians cast their votes in historic democratic elections. With an impressive victory, the Islamist Ennahdha party received the largest share of votes (42 per cent). It not only displayed the discipline of a political party with sophisticated machinery, but it also demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the public, as half of its elected officials were women, thus shattering the myth of being an anti-women party by virtue of its religious affiliation.

Furthermore, it was able to form a coalition with the leftist-leaning and nationalist-liberal parties. The three blocs claimed the top three positions in government, with the General Secretary of Ennahdha, Hamadi Jebali becoming the head of government or Prime Minister, while the other two junior partners occupying the seats of head of state and speaker of parliament, respectively.

Continue Reading →

A Review of Foreign Policy Association’s After the Arab Spring

|
Mona Abaza
Mona Abaza

Mona Abaza

I had the opportunity to watch, After the Arab Spring, a joint project between Foreign Policy Association and PBS, before it airs next month on PBS stations. It’s available on YouTube if you have some free time. After the Arab Spring begins with a perfunctory introduction of how the status quo in Arab and North African states was “upended” by the largely peaceful Arab Spring, which has stagnated among promises of elections and reforms. A discussion hosted by Ralph Begleiter of the University of Delaware included two analysts, Shadi Hamid, Director of Research of the Brookings Doha Center, and Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist. The discussion focused on what impact the Arab Spring will have on American foreign policy.

While largely sympathetic to the Obama administration, Shadi’s and Mona’s criticisms were not particularly illuminating in that they argued that the U.S. was slow to respond to the Arab Spring as it unfolded in North Africa and the Middle East, choosing instead to support the status quo. In discussing the impact on U.S. foreign policy, Shadi Hamid’s argument is that the U.S. will not be able to proactively support democracy in the region, essentially failing to “get ahead of the curve” and “proactively support democracy in the region.” Instead, the U.S. will choose to seek stability over democracy, which could have a destabilizing affect.

Continue Reading →

Can Political Islam Co-exist with Modernity?

|
Muslims praying

Muslims praying

Thanks in no small part to the Arab Spring, now commonly referred to as the Arab Winter – observers and politicians in the liberal leaning west and elsewhere are wary as parties with an Islamic ideological bent ascend to the political pulpits throughout the Middle East and North Africa. From an empirical perceptive, their suspicions are justified. Firstly, little is known of Islamists’ capacities as seasoned, mature, responsible, and effective leaders. Secondly, their discourse, at least in the last two or three decades, has been non-pluralistic in tenor and outlook at best, and inimical to liberalism and democracy at worst.

There is a statement attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Dr. Mohamed Badie that was featured in many Egyptian newspapers on January 2, 2012, in which he stated: “The imposition of the Caliphate was and still remains the benchmark of the union since inception. The time has come to formulate and set up a Muslim state that lives and breaths through Islamic Sharia law; the Arab Spring has paved the way for the actualization of such a lofty goal.” The statement, if it indicates anything, is that Islamists remain tethered to their old paradigms—namely the ultraconservative view which negates modern ideals in favor of “inerrancy” of Scriptural text.

In this sense, unless Islamists’ undertake overarching paradigm shifts, the tumultuous bustles in the Middle East may disrupt current global alignments. From the time Islamist groups appeared in Muslim countries, anti-modernity interspersed with scriptural text have been the bread and the butter of their rhetoric. Of course, there are several mechanisms, theoretical and practical, responsible for Islamists’ modern repudiation sentiments, however, in this analysis, I confine myself to relating a few theoretical ones which I deem chiefly relevant to the phenomena at hand.

Continue Reading →

Back to Tahrir Square

|
Egyptian security outside Egypt’s Parliament. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

When Omar Suleiman announced on state television last February 11 the transfer of power from Hosni Mubarak to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), millions of Egyptians began celebrating in the streets the culmination of their revolution that rid them of their dictator.

Egyptian security outside Egypt’s Parliament. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

The demonstrators’ chant then was “the people and the army are one.” Indeed, the role of SCAF in refusing to crack down on protestors and forcing the resignation of Mubarak proved decisive in the three-week revolt. Nine months later, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are back in Tahrir Square and streets across the country. Ironically, their chant is now “The police and the army are one,” in a clear rejection of the violent tactics employed by the police against the demonstrators. In three days of confrontation since November 20 at least forty people were killed and more than 2,000 injured at the hands of the security forces. But this time the Egyptian youth will not pack up and go home. They are determined to reclaim their revolution and force the transfer of power from the military to a real civilian government. But how did we get from there to here?

Shortly after Mubarak was deposed, SCAF promised to stay in power no longer than six months. It subsequently called for a popular referendum on March 19 that called for parliamentary elections, followed by writing a new constitution, and then presidential elections. Championed by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other Islamic factions, the public approved the referendum with an overwhelming majority of 77 per cent, although secular parties wanted to first draft the constitution for the fear that Islamic parties would have an edge over them after the elections.

Continue Reading →

Ruthlessly Pursuing Middle East Grand Strategy

|
Free Syrian Army fighter in central Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Free Syrian Army fighter in central Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Popular uprisings that began with peaceful protests in Tunisia and Algeria nearly a year ago, and spread across the Arab world, have created a new reality, not only in countries to experience political awakening, but far beyond. More worryingly for Washington, the Arab Spring created fresh uncertainties and pressures for United States policy. With the first anniversary of those momentous events approaching, there is growing resentment among many Arabs who feel that their revolutions have been hijacked by forces not originally anticipated. Demonstrations in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Kuwait in the last few days are acute symptoms of the prevailing mood in the region.

Two opposing trends are at work. The pressure from below succeeded in overthrowing the regimes in Algeria and Tunisia and President Hosni Mubarak, though not the ruling military order, in Egypt. But the pressure from above has been decisive in the overthrow and lynching of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi after NATO’s intervention. It also continues to sustain Bahrain’s minority Sunni ruling class, thanks to the entry of Saudi troops and Western military assistance.

In Syria, Bashar al-Assad is much more resilient, despite every conceivable attempt by the United States and its Arab and European allies. I say “every conceivable attempt” because the prospect of the United Nations Security Council approving a Libya-type full-scale Western-led intervention in Syria is much less likely. The Russians and the Chinese would not play ball with America, Britain and France.

Continue Reading →