Tunisia referendum: The last democracy of the “Arab Spring” hangs by a thread

Analysts say a new constitution would be the final blow to the North African nation’s social and political gains since the Arab Spring, setting the country on a hard path to return from.

Soon, Egypt and Algeria came under strict military rule. Critics say freedoms and rights have since declined in both countries. Meanwhile, Syria, Libya, and Yemen were plunged into bloody civil wars. To this day, they remain bitterly divided and extremely poor.

However, progress in the former French colony stalled.

Last summer, in the face of anti-government protests in the wake of escalating COVID-19 cases and growing anger over chronic political dysfunction and economic malaise, Saeed dissolved the 2014 constitution and began ruling by decree.

Saeed defended his decisions, saying they were motivated by the need to “correct the course of the revolution” and rid the country of corruption. Among Said’s targets was the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, whose leader Rached Ghannouchi is still under investigation for money laundering (Ghannouchi denies allegations he denounces as being politically motivated).

Ennahda, a major political player in the country since the Arab Spring, has recently been criticized for its central role in the years of economic and political crisis in Tunisia.

Some initially celebrated the decision, with huge crowds gathering to support it in Tunis and other cities, but the opposition called Said’s move a coup.

Analysts say the new constitution will abolish the last remaining structure of the country’s democratic days.

Monica Marks, professor of Middle East politics at New York University Abu Dhabi, said Tunisia’s 2014 constitution was “the culmination of the era of Tunisian democracy,” adding that it represented the serious work done in “the post-2011 political transition away from dictatorship.”

In May, Said appointed a “National Consultative Committee for a New Republic,” tasking it with drafting a new constitution—to be voted on in a referendum today.

The draft constitution, published in the state newspaper on June 30, has alarmed activists and rights observers, who say it limits parliament’s influence and essentially signs one-man rule.

“There is no real separation of powers,” Marks told CNN.

“There is no oversight between the branches of the government and there is no presidential accountability,” she added.

Among the constitutional features of interest to critics are articles stating that the government is accountable to the president, that the president appoints the head of government, and that the president can – at any time – dismiss the government or its members. The draft constitution also makes it difficult for Parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in the government.

While rights and liberties are promised protection, as in the current constitution, a host of other issues are sounding the alarm.

The imbalance of power and the “lack of checks and balances” in the new draft constitution is a major concern, according to Ayman Besaleh, coordinator of human rights programs at Al-Bawsala, a non-profit organization founded by Tunisian activists in 2011.

“These are similarities with the 1959 constitution,” Basaleh told CNN, referring to an earlier version that gave the president broad powers.

He added, “It has large and strong executive powers, and the independence of the judiciary is not guaranteed.”

Other articles give the president executive power to appoint senior officials, civilian and military, to take “extraordinary measures” in the event of national security risks, and to rule by decree until the elected parliament takes office.

Analysts say that while an amended draft of the new constitution was published on July 8, it included minor changes and kept the president’s proposed powers.

Several political parties have already rejected the July 25 referendum, and the powerful Tunisian Labor Union, an influential group of more than a million members, called Said’s constitution a threat to democracy but said it would allow its members to vote.

Earlier on Tuesday, the National Salvation Front, the opposition coalition in Tunisia, renewed its rejection of the referendum.

“The proposed draft dismantles many of the guarantees enshrined in Tunisia’s post-revolution constitution, and fails to provide institutional guarantees for human rights,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, adding that it was causing “concern.” Message “and puts Tunisian efforts back years.

Tunisian authorities did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on the draft constitution or the government’s plans to protect liberties and rights if the referendum is passed.

A series of protests and strikes erupted in the capital, Tunis, ahead of Monday’s referendum.

“This hyper-presidential system is a step backwards and it will be difficult to recover from, at least in the short term,” said Basaleh, adding that once the new constitution is approved – as many expect – a crackdown on liberties is likely to follow.

“[The referendum] “It is a very important event in the long and continuous process of consolidating the dictatorship of Kais Saied,” said Marx. “This is the real reason why it is so terrifying.”

digestion

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visits Egypt and reassures Cairo on the continuation of Russian grain supplies

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Egypt on Sunday, where he reassured the North African country of continued Russian grain supplies.

  • background: “We confirmed the commitment of Russian grain exporters to fulfill all their obligations,” Lavrov said at a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry. Last week, Ukraine and Russia agreed on a deal allowing for the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea, which Russia has blockaded since the start of the war. But the mystery remains – less than 24 hours after the signing of the agreement, two Russian Kalibr cruise missiles launched from the sea landed in the port in Odessa.
  • why does it matter: Egypt, one of the world’s largest wheat importers, bought 80 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine last year. Egypt continued to buy wheat from Russia during the war, but was affected by high prices and global turmoil. In an attempt to make up for some of the shortfall, Egypt sought to purchase grain from other sources and lowered the price of bread at home.

Lapid warns of a move to dissolve the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Sunday that Russia’s move to dissolve the local branch of the Jewish Agency, a non-profit organization that promotes Jews and helps them immigrate to Israel, would be a serious development affecting relations between the two countries.

  • background: The Russian Justice Ministry requested the dissolution of the Jerusalem-based agency’s Russian office earlier this month and a court hearing is scheduled for Thursday. The ministry did not provide details of why it would seek the move, but it comes just a few weeks after Lapid replaced Naftali Bennett as Israeli prime minister. In his previous position as foreign minister, Lapid was one of the most vocal Israeli leaders in criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
  • why does it matter: In a possible indication that the Kremlin may not want to listen to Israel’s concerns, by Sunday evening, Russia had not yet agreed to the Israeli government’s request to send a team to Moscow for talks on the issue. In addition, Israel will be wary of angering Russia too much because it needs Moscow’s tacit approval to continue striking Iranian targets in Syria.

Iran carried out its first public execution in two years

The Norway-based Iranian Human Rights Organization announced that Iran executed a 28-year-old man on Saturday, for the first time in two years. Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, reported that Eman Sabzkar was convicted of killing a police officer in February 2022 in the southern city of Shiraz.

  • background: The Iranian news agency (IRNA) said that the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the ruling against Sabzkar on Saturday morning. It was his first public execution in Iran since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Iranian authorities executed at least 168 people in the first five months of 2022, which is an increase from 110 people executed at the same time last year, the international human rights organization said in June.
  • why does it matter: The international human rights organization denounced the practice as “medieval” and called for international condemnation. The human rights group described Sabzkar’s public execution as “a cruel punishment… designed to intimidate and intimidate people into demonstrating.”

what do you want to watch

The signing of an agreement between Russia and Ukraine – brokered by Turkey and the United Nations – in Istanbul on Friday was a momentous event aimed at tackling global food shortages. The deal, if adhered to, would release millions of tons of blockaded Ukrainian grain to global markets, much of it in great demand in the Middle East and Africa.

“Today I feel like I’m experiencing probably the most important day of my tenure,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told CNN on Friday.

Watch the report here:

About the area

Yasmina Zaitoun is crowned Miss Lebanon 2022.
Lebanon became a new beauty queen for the first time in four years. 20-year-old Yasmina Zeytoun was crowned Miss Lebanon 2022 on Sunday and will represent her country at the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions later this year.
A journalism student in her third year at Notre Dame University near Beirut, according to the organizers. “I did it,” she wrote on her Instagram account after winning.
This is the first time Lebanon has held the competition since 2018, after an economic collapse in October 2019 led to high levels of poverty, the disappearance of medicines from pharmacies, and dwindling electricity supplies. According to some United Nations estimates, 80% of the population lives in poverty.

Organizers hope that the competition will help boost tourism in the country, which has suffered due to the Covid-19 pandemic and economic turmoil; They said that the message of the event was “an eternal hope for the rise of Lebanon.”

To celebrate her comeback, the organizers used Play on Words the official slogan for this year’s competition – #WeMissLebanon. Another symbolic gesture was the hosting of the event at the Forum de Beirut – an iconic venue that was badly damaged after the explosion of the Port of Beirut in 2020, which devastated large parts of the city.

by Eoin McSweeney

today’s picture

Lebanese basketball player Wael Arakji won the best player award in the Asian Basketball Cup final after finishing the tournament with 28 points.  His team beat Jordan and China in their march to the final, but lost to Australia 75-73.

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