Category: Tunisia

Tunisia’s Political Confidence Crisis

Tunisian FlagIt’s been just over two years since the Tunisian revolution that overthrew Ben Ali took place, almost a year and a half since the election of the constituent assembly, and the country just got its fourth temporary government.

The economy, security, and the whole country in general aren’t in good shape at all, to say the least. And there’s nothing so far that suggests things are going to get any better anytime soon. To be fair, this can’t all be blamed solely on the governments the country has had over the past period, but on the other hand, those governments only seem to make things worse somehow.

The constituent assembly is behind schedule in getting the new constitution ready, and the elections have been pushed back too. The latest announcements mention the end of April as the target date to get the draft of the new constitution ready, and the end of June or early July as the date it could get adopted on the first reading; If that happens, legislative and presidential elections could maybe happen end of October.
However if the constitution only gets adopted through a second reading or a referendum, that would push back the date for the elections even further.

From all the bickering that’s been going on within the constituent assembly, I think it might be safe to assume that it’s pretty improbable the constitution will sail through easily and get adopted on the first reading. If we’re optimistic, it might go through on the second reading, assuming the constituent assembly want to save face and not further demonstrate how utterly useless they’ve been, and if not then referendum it is.
I won’t go into the possible scenario where the constitution gets shot down by the people through the referendum, so I don’t sound too pessimistic.

Anyway, election-wise, we could be looking at December or January of next year for the elections to happen; People will be asked to go out and vote for who they want to run the country, who they want to see in parliament and who they’d like as president.
And that’s where a big problem arises, do the Tunisian people really trust anyone for those responsibilities at this point?

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Tunisia: The Land Of A 1001 Political Parties

It’s been just a bit over 55 years since Tunisia got its independence from France; 55 years through which the country and its people, almost three generations of Tunisians, knew only 2 presidents, 1 political party and no options whatsoever.

Sure, there were a handful of other political parties in the country, some recognized as legal opposition and others banned and illegal; it didn’t matter what their status was though, other than occasionally hearing their names around play-election time, the average Tunisian on the streets had no idea who they were or what they stood for; after all, why bother when they had no chance, and were either willingly or unwillingly nothing more than puppets in a game of “let’s act like we’re a democracy”, that would end with the mighty “chosen one” winning yet another mandate.

And even though it seemed like things would go on forever that way defying all laws of nature and logic, it all started crumbling down and falling apart suddenly and to everyone’s surprise. The date of January 14th 2011 earned a place in history books, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the country.

Following that, and in full post-revolutionary spirit, raising the banner of freedom and political pluralism, the doors were thrown wide open for all existing political parties to be recognized, and well for everyone and anyone who would like to take a go at it to register their new fresh political party too. The more the merrier, or something like that.

Political parties started popping up like fungi all over the place, putting in applications and getting legalized in batches of tens and dozens. Some of the names leading these new parties are ones Tunisians are slightly familiar with someway or another, some are members of the old guard who served for years on the dark side but yet seem to think Tunisians will believe they weren’t in on the action or that they hold the secret to a post-RCD cleaning and purification process, and then there are the ones most Tunisians never ever heard of.

All of a sudden, Tunisians went from a situation where the political scene was a quasi-empty one and it was normal that they knew no one, to a situation where the scene has burst open at the seams with new parties joining the carnival every day and yet they have the feeling they still don’t really know anyone.

A very important election on July 24th 2011 is inching closer and closer, an election that will carry enormous ramifications for the country and its future, and yet the Tunisian political scene is a big mess and in total disarray, buzzing with a variety of political party names most people can’t translate into positions or agendas they can identify or not identify with.

Political pluralism is great, but too much political pluralism kills political pluralism, or however the saying goes; there’s no way people are going to be able to keep up with over 65 political parties (as of today, who knows about tomorrow); and as we really need as many Tunisians as possible to get involved in the process, exercise their rights and vote for the future of the country; this is obviously not the right way forward.

Now, I think it’s very obvious that there’s no way all these parties will or can come up with entirely different agendas and platforms; in fact once they actually get around to putting their agendas together, it should be pretty easy to put them all in buckets of parties that pretty much stand for the same ideas and principles. Logically, these should be merged, and should pool whatever resources they have to be able to get their message out and start rallying supporters around a clear programme.

Consolidation. That is the keyword; that’s what the next step should be, and it should be done quickly, so that things can be taken to the next level, and so people can start making more sense of what’s out there.
Even though it might seem slightly counter-intuitive to many politicians, but logically speaking they have better chances of getting to power when grouped and merged together, with more resources, more exposure and less competition spitting out the exact same recycled message.
It’s starting to happen already, with a couple of parties who just announced their union and who might be getting a third party on board with them; but we need all political parties out there to be thinking the same way: who could we potentially team up with to win?

By doing that, not only would these political parties increase their chances of winning, but they’d also positively contribute to creating winning conditions for the country and the people, by making it easier for all Tunisians to get involved, make their informed picks and vote for the future.

Tunisia, Canada, Elections And I – Quick Reflections

Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing as much as I used to or want to on here; a combination of being busy with life and work, distracted by the rise of Twitter and me getting tired of following the daily news of the world for a while.

Anyway, in the past few months, true to my inner nomadic nature, we’ve picked up and moved again, this time from Dubai, UAE to Ontario, Canada. We’ve settled down in the city of Mississauga, part of the Greater Toronto Area, and things have been going good so far; almost settled down.

During the period that I’ve been here, a revolution took place back home in Tunisia, which then started spreading across the Arab world; while over here in Canada, the country was plunged into an unscheduled national election, which has been very interesting to witness for me.

I don’t get to vote in the elections here, but still, I’ve been following the campaign very closely, watching the debates both in English and French, looking at the platforms the political parties are putting forward, watching interviews with leaders and MPs, reading opinion pieces and blogs, and making my own opinions on issues and who I’d vote for if I were able to.

I have to say, I’ve been truly enjoying the whole process; maybe it’s because I never got to experience something similar back home in Tunisia, or maybe it’s because I’m living here now and actually do care about who will take over power and what they’ll do with it, or most probably it’s a combination of both.

However, and even though the Canadian election system might not be entirely perfect, I always find myself thinking every time: how I wish we could have something like this in Tunisia; how I wish we could have real engaging debates, real talk shows and reports asking the hard questions, very well written opinion pieces and analysis published in the media, …etc.

How I wish we Tunisians could go into an election we don’t already know the results for!
This year hopefully we will, on July 24th 2011, Tunisians will get to vote and choose a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution and chart the country’s transition and future.
The hope is that the interim government, political parties and Tunisian media step up to the plate and give us a great free election experience that opens the doors for a better and more mature political system in the country.

It’s going to be a real challenge because neither the people, nor the officials in the current government, nor the leaders of the political parties, and especially not the Tunisian media have any experience with a free and democratic election; but this is the occasion to go for it, aim for the stars, learn as we go and make Tunisia the first Arab country to hold truly democratic elections that produce results that represent the will of the people.

As citizens our responsibility is to find out as much as we can about every party, what they stand for, what their plans are and to push the media for better coverage and reporting on the elections and require the government and parties to provide higher transparency on every issue. So let’s make sure we all go out and do that.

Oh and on a final separate note, for those of you who are curious who I’d vote for if I could in Canada; well even though the Liberal Party of Canada is generally more aligned with my ideas and opinions, I’d vote for the NDP (New Democratic Party) because their leader Jack Layton won me over in the debates and I believe he would make a better Prime Minister and leader for Canada.

Tunisian Media In The Post-Revolution Era

Just a few days ago, the Tunisian national TV station (TTN), that was quick to shed its TV7 moniker after the revolution in Tunisia, and who overnight wanted people to believe they would become a space for free speech, aired a report on ex-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, highlighting all the bad things he did, the corruption, the treason and the list goes on; to put it simply they kicked the crap out of the guy, which he more than deserves of course.

Videos of the report quickly went online and were being shared around on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and all; and some people actually seemed impressed and thought that TTN was doing a good job.

On my side, I was actually disappointed, and don’t see anything that suggests the TV station has changed one bit. It’s still a mouthpiece, just saying and doing what they’re told to say and do, with no real reporting and no true voice.

It’s very easy to kick the crap out of someone like Ben Ali and portray him as the devil, now that he’s gone and all, so it’s not really a sign of freedom of speech or anything. But when you prepare and air a report like that, what’s very important is that you actually be precise about the information that you’re throwing around, fact-check it, and make sure it’s correct. Watching the report, I didn’t get that impression at all; they were getting a bunch of people to just throw out accusations and information, without specifying details, without providing precise numbers (they seemed more like they were made up on the fly), and just sticking any and every imaginable bad deed to the guy; and what made it even worse is that it was all done and narrated in a very propaganda-like cheap style.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Ben Ali, and I’m sure he was even worse than what we all heard and know, but my concern in this post is more about TTN and the Tunisian media in general.

Tunisian media has to move up to the next level and play a bigger role in unearthing and providing correct information to people, allowing a space for people to speak freely and share their opinions and facts, and to be right in the center of the national debate going on about the future of the country.

I would have liked to see the same report but with the people throwing these accusations being grilled for precise details and providing them; I would like to see a similar report done some day for our first president Habib Bourguiba, whose praise some people are suddenly re-singing these days; but even more important are reports now profiling members of the current government as well as the opposition leaders and parties, telling their history, what they stand for, and what they were doing while the Tunisian people were suffering under Ben Ali’s rule.

Tunisians don’t need to see anyone being accused, demonized or framed; we just want the media to do their job investigating stories and facts, and then just reporting them to us without any bias or agenda so we can make our own opinions and decisions.

I’m not sure most of the people currently employed by Tunisian TV stations, newspapers and magazines; who have done nothing but provide a very sub-standard level of “reporting” for years; are up to the challenge, and truly believe Tunisian media needs new blood that can live up to our expectations as Tunisians both at home and abroad.

Tunisia To Get New TV Channel Called Elyssa TV? Again With The Historic Names!

I just read that the Tunisian production company Cactus Prod has gone on as expected and filed to get the rights to launch a new television channel in Tunisia under the name: Elyssa TV.

If all goes as planned, broadcast tests for this new channel could start as early as this coming December 2009, with an official launch following early on in 2010.

Now, this is all great, after all I think it’s good to see more players enter the audiovisual market in Tunisia, maybe push the envelope a bit further, give viewers more options, and enrich the scene in one way or another.

What bugs me though is the name!
I went on a similar rant around 5 years ago when the name for Hannibal TV was announced, and here I am again, five years later, thinking the same thoughts.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m as proud a Tunisian as you’ll ever find, and our history is one that is very dear to me, it runs in our blood and defines a big part of who we are as a people, but I’m seriously fed up of every other business in Tunisia, from the neighborhood coffee shop, to travel agents, to the country’s first MVNO, to our TV channels to everything being named after Hannibal and Elyssa.

Come on, we can be more creative that that! Let’s stop living in the past!

Hannibal and Elyssa were great, they are a part of Tunisian history that will always shine throughout the ages, but we’ve overused their legacy; let them rest in their graves, and let us live in the present, let us create for the future.

It’s the same all around the Arab world too, not just in Tunisia, it’s as if we’re a nation clinging to the past, because it holds the only shiny points in our history that we can think of, instead of actually doing something to change the miserable state our nation is in, and building a better future.

Tunisie Telecom To Launch BlackBerry In Tunisia At Last

Tunisie Telecom, Alcatel-Lucent and Research In Motion (RIM) have announced that Blackberry will finally be launched in Tunisia.

At launch, Tunisie Telecom will be offering its customers the BlackBerry Pearl 8100, BlackBerry Pearl 8120, BlackBerry Curve 8320, BlackBerry 8800 and BlackBerry Bold 9000 smartphones, as well as service on BlackBerry Enterprise Server and BlackBerry Internet Service.

According to the company, based on its distribution agreement with RIM, Alcatel-Lucent will take advantage of its strong local presence in the region to provide Tunisie Telecom the end-to-end implementation, launch and on-going support for delivering the solution to the market.

According to Tunisie Telecom’s site, the unlimited email and navigation plan is at 60 Dinars per month, which sounds pretty good. No details were provided on the site for how the devices themselves are priced.

More details about the available plans and prices are available here: Tunisie Telecom BlackBerry Solutions.

[Via: Trading Markets]

Tunisia To Get A New 50 Dinar Banknote

Ah so it seems we’ll be getting a new 50 Dinar banknote in Tunisia… (I know this news is about a week old, but I just found out about it.)

The Governor of Tunisia’s Central Bank (BCT), Taoufik Baccar, announced that the bank will issue a new 50 dinar banknote.

Baccar said that the new banknote will represent the literary scholar, Ibn Rachiq Al Kairouani, ten days following the launch of festivities celebrating Kairouan as Islamic Cultural Capital for 2009.

Mr Baccar who made the announcement during the international colloquium on “Numismatics and the history of money coins in Tunisia”, also said that the choice of the scholar to illustrate the banknote was in line with Tunisia’s rootedness in Arab Moslem sources.

Ibn Rachiq Al Kairouani (999-1063) who was born in Mhamdia near Tunis, was a poet, writer and literary critic. He is known for his magisterial “Al Umda”, a treatise of literary criticism in two volumes, written during the golden age of Arab culture.

There are currently three types of banknotes in circulation in Tunisia, ten dinar notes, twenty dinar notes and thirty dinar notes.

[Source: Tunisia Online News]

This actually makes monetary sense, especially with where prices are going; now if they’d only kill that damn stupid 30 Dinar note! I mean, what the hell were they thinking?! Someone must’ve been seriously drunk the day they came up with that.

It’s quite funny though how because Kairouan is the Islamic Cultural Capital this year, Tunisia is all of a sudden trying to revamp and present itself as a very Islamic country, very in touch with its Muslim roots and all, even inviting Sheikh Qaradawi (who has been very critical of Tunisia before) over.
It’s certainly very convincing, don’t you think? (Yeah right!)

The New Tunisian 10 Dinar Coin

It seems we’ll be getting a new 10 Dinar coin in Tunisia, instead of the paper version we have now… as if money doesn’t already evaporate quickly enough out of our pockets, it should become even easier now.

Tunisian 10 Dinar Coin

[Photos found on Facebook]

Tunisia Blog Awards 2008: Why Is It Up In Flames?

Before I even start this post, I’ll have to admit that I haven’t been as active as I once was in the Tunisian blogging scene, even though I try to always follow what’s going on.

It’s not that I don’t feel like I’m a part of it anymore, neither is it because I think it’s gotten mixed up or anything, in fact quite the opposite, I’m very happy with where we’ve all gotten to. Just a few years ago, Tunisian bloggers could be counted on the fingers of one hand; now we have hundreds of active bloggers who are writing about everything, and voicing their opinions and thoughts about any issue that comes to mind. Day after day, the Tunisian blogosphere is representing the Tunisian society more and more, but in a more open and free way, and that can only be great, and I can only be proud that I’ve been there to witness it all from the beginning.

Anyway back to the topic of this post, the big hot story of today in the Tunisian blogosphere, the Tunisia Blog Awards 2008. It seems these awards are going up in flames, with many blogs joining the anti-TBA campaign, strongly condemning how the organizers have been filtering blog submissions and not accepting certain blogs, that are actually very popular ones, and who would certainly end up winning if left to join.

I’m personally not too hot for awards thingies of this kind at a stage like we’re at, and haven’t even checked who has been nominated and accepted, all I know is who hasn’t, and I think some of them are among the best Tunisian bloggers we have, and that it is unacceptable to ban them from joining because of what they write.

Some of these blogs were even nominated and won in the last Tunisia Blog Awards, so what has changed since then?

Well it seems it’s because the organizers are trying to make a bigger deal out of this one, bringing sponsors on board, thereby making it commercial, and because of it having to run a “clean”, “friendly” and well, let’s just say it as it is, censored event.
Yep, yep, it seems money brought its old friend censorship to the party again! 

And that’s totally wrong, the blogosphere is a whole, it’s not a selection of friendly neutral blogs, as great as those might be, it’s everything, it’s a mirror of the Tunisian society, and should be taken as such.

This should be understood by the organizers and explained to the sponsors. It’s either you organize and sponsor a true Tunisia Blog Awards, or you just don’t do it. There is no compromise. Done otherwise, it can be called anything but the Tunisia Blog Awards, because it wouldn’t be representative of the Tunisian blogosphere, or the Tunisian society, and that would make it meaningless.

Of course, there should be rules, that should be clear from the beginning, and that should be logical, not for censorship purposes. These should be communicated on, explained and held on to. And everyone should stick to them and just them.

Another point my friend Houssein made is that on top of everything, this crisis was very badly managed by the organizers, with them staying silent while the fire grew bigger, not admitting they’re wrong, not taking part in the conversation, and actually trying to stop it by closing the group’s wall on Facebook. That last point is unexplainable to me, I mean what were they thinking? These are bloggers you’re dealing with, and you’re shutting down a group wall? They’ll just run to their blogs and open fire on you!
If anything it shows ignorance to what bloggers and blogging is all about: freedom, expression, conversations and opinions. 

Nothing personal against the organizers, whom I’ve met, and who are a very sweet and cool bunch, but they just did everything wrong with this.
I’d really hate to be in their place right now.

Tunisia Launches RFP For Fixed-line, Mobile License

After hearing about this on and off over the past years, the Tunisian Telecoms Ministry finally launched an RFP yesterday for a license to provide fixed-line and mobile telephone services.

“In order to open up the telecoms sector, Tunisia’s telecoms ministry has decided to award, via an international auction, a license to install and exploit a public telecoms network and provide fixed-line phone and 2G and 3G mobile phone services,” the ministry said in a statement.

Interested bidders willing to pre-qualify for the tender were invited to show their interest alone or as part of a consortium, and submit their offers no later than May 5, 2009; with the government expected to reward the license in the second quarter of next year, according to the ministry.

State-controlled Tunisie Telcom (with a 35% stake held by Dubai’s Tecom) still holds a monopoly in fixed-line services and controls around 70% of the mobile market in Tunisia.

The only existing competition is in the mobile services area, in the form of Tunisiana, a joint venture of Kuwait’s Wataniya and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, which was awarded a mobile license in 2002.

This move has long been awaited by Tunisians who’re fed up of Tunisie Telecom’s monopoly on fixed-line telephony and who hope competition will enhance the quality of provided services and drive down prices, just like the entry of Tunisiana into the mobile area did over the past years.

Having a third competitor in the mobile services area should also break the current balance the two current operators are reaching, and get the market moving again towards offering more for the client at better prices.