Referendum in Tunisia: the last democracy of the “Arab Spring” hangs in the balance

Polling stations opened early Monday morning and should remain open until late. It is not yet clear when the results will be announced, but many expect the historic vote to pass as there is no minimum voting threshold.

If passed, analysts say Monday’s referendum will be the latest blow to the social and political gains the North African nation has made since the Arab Spring, and will put the country on a path from which it will be difficult to return.

Egypt and Algiers soon came under strict military rule; critics say freedoms and rights have since regressed in both countries. Meanwhile, Syria, Libya and Yemen plunged into bloody civil wars. To this day, they remain divided and torn apart by debilitating poverty.

However, progress in the former French colony also stalled.

Last summer, facing anti-government protests following a spike in Covid-19 cases and growing anger over chronic political dysfunction and an economic downturn, Said repealed the 2014 constitution and began ruling by decree.

Said has defended his decrees, saying that they are driven by the need to “fix the course of the revolution” and rid the country of corruption. Among Said’s targets was the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, whose leader Rached Ghannouchi is under investigation for money laundering (Ghannouchi denies the allegations, which he called politically motivated).

Ennahda, a major political player in the country since the Arab Spring, has recently come under fire for its central role during Tunisia’s years of economic and political crisis.

The decision was welcomed by some at first when huge crowds gathered in Tunisia and other cities to support him, but the opposition called Syed’s actions a coup.

Analysts say the new constitution will destroy the last structure left over from the country’s democracy.

Tunisia’s 2014 constitution was “the main achievement of Tunisia’s democratic era,” said Monica Marks, a professor of Middle East politics at New York University Abu Dhabi, adding that it represents the hard work done in “the political transition from dictatorship after 2011.” ”

In May, Said appointed a “National Consultative Commission for the New Republic” and tasked it with drafting a new constitution, to be submitted in today’s referendum.

Published in state newspaper On June 30, the draft constitution alarmed activists and human rights activists, who said that it limits the influence of parliament and, in fact, signs one-man rule.

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

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

Among constitutional features of concern to critics are articles that state that the government is subordinate to the president, that the president appoints the head of government, and that the president can dissolve the government or its members at any time. The draft constitution also makes it difficult for parliament to pass a vote of no confidence in the government.

While rights and freedoms are promised to be protected, as they are under the current constitution, a host of other issues are sounding the alarm.

The lack of a balance of power and the “lack of checks and balances” in the new draft constitution are of great concern, according to Aymen Bessalah, human rights program coordinator in Al Bawsalanon-profit organization founded in 2011 by Tunisian activists.

“It’s similar to the 1959 constitution,” Bessalah told CNN, referring to the previous version, which gave the president wide powers.

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

Other articles give the president the executive power to appoint high-ranking officials, both civilian and military, to take “exceptional measures” in the event of a threat to national security and to administer decrees until the newly elected parliament takes office.

Although the amended draft of the new constitution was published on July 8, analysts said it was only slightly modified and retained the president’s proposed powers.

Several political parties have already rejected the July 25 referendum, and the powerful trade union of Tunisia (UGGT), a powerful group with more than a million members, called Syed’s constitution a threat to democracy but said it would allow its members to vote.

“The proposed draft cancels many of the guarantees provided in Tunisia’s post-revolutionary constitution and does not provide institutional guarantees for human rights,” the statement said. Cheba MorayefAmnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, adding that it sends a “chill signal” and sets Tunisia’s efforts back years.

The Tunisian authorities did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on either the draft constitution or the government’s plans to protect freedoms and rights in the event of a referendum.

Ahead of the referendum on Monday, a series of protests and strikes took place in the capital of Tunisia.

“This hyper-presidential system is a step backwards, and it will be difficult to recover from it, at least in the short term,” Bessalah said, adding that after the approval of the new constitution, as many expect, crackdowns will begin. about freedoms, most likely, will follow.

“[The referendum] is an extremely important development in the long, continuous process of Qais Syed’s dictatorial consolidation,” Marx said. “That’s the real reason why it’s terrible.”

Digest

Lavrov visits Egypt and assures Cairo of continued Russian grain deliveries

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

  • Background: “We reaffirmed the commitment of Russian grain exporters to fulfill all their obligations,” Lavrov said at a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shukri, Reuters reported. Ukraine and Russia last week agreed on a deal this will allow the resumption of grain exports from Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea, which Russia has been blocking since the beginning of the war. But uncertainty remains: less than 24 hours after the deal was signed, two Russian Kalibr sea-launched cruise missiles crashed into the harbor in Odessa.
  • Why is it important: Last year, Egypt, one of the world’s largest wheat importers, sourced 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine. Egypt continued to buy wheat from Russia during the war, but this was affected by rising prices and global turmoil. Trying to make up some deficit, Egypt sought to buy grain from other sources and limited the price of bread within the country.

Israeli leader Lapid warns against taking action to dissolve Jewish Agency Russia branch

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

  • Background: Earlier this month, the Russian Ministry of Justice demanded the dissolution of the agency’s Russian office in Jerusalem, and a court hearing is due on Thursday. The ministry did not give details as to why it is seeking the move, but it comes just weeks after Lapid replaced Naftali Bennett as Israel’s prime minister. In his previous post as foreign minister, Lapid was one of the most outspoken Israeli leaders to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
  • Why is it important: A possible sign that the Kremlin is unwilling to heed Israel’s concerns is that by Sunday evening, Russia had not yet approved the Israeli government’s request to send a team to Moscow to negotiate the issue. In addition, Israel will be wary of upsetting Russia too much because it needs Moscow’s tacit approval to keep hitting Iranian targets in Syria.

Iran holds first public execution in two years

Iran publicly executed a 28-year-old man on Saturday for the first time in two years, according to the Norwegian-based Iran Human Rights Group (IHRNGO). Iman Sabzikar was convicted of killing a police officer in February 2022 in the southern city of Shiraz, state news agency IRNA reported.

  • Background: Sabzikar’s sentence was upheld by Iran’s Supreme Court on Saturday morning, IRNA reported. This was the 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, up from the 110 people executed in the same time last year, IHRNGO reported in June.
  • Why is it important: IHRNGO condemned the practice as “medieval” and called for international condemnation. The rights group called Sabzikar’s public execution “a brutal punishment… designed to intimidate people into giving up their protests.”

What to watch

The signing of an agreement between Russia and Ukraine brokered by Turkey and the UN in Istanbul on Friday was a landmark event aimed at tackling the global food shortage. The deal, if it goes through, will release millions of tons of stuck Ukrainian grain onto world markets, much of which is sorely needed in the Middle East and Africa.

“Today, I feel like I’m going through perhaps the most important day of my entire tenure,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Friday.

See the report here:

By region

Yasmina Zaitoun is Miss Lebanon 2022.
Lebanon has a new beauty queen for the first time in four years. 20 year old Yasmina Zaytun was crowned Miss Lebanon 2022 on Sunday and will represent her country in the Miss World and Miss Universe pageants later this year.
According to organizers, the journalism student is in her third year at the University of Notre Dame in Louise near the capital, Beirut. She is posted on her Instagram account after winning: “I did it.”
This is the first time Lebanon has hosted the competition since 2018, following the economic collapse in October 2019, when poverty rates skyrocketed, medicines nearly disappeared from pharmacies and electricity supply dwindled. According to some United Nations estimates80% of the population lives in poverty.

Organizers hope the contest will help boost tourism in a country that is struggling due to the Covid-19 pandemic and economic turmoil; they said “the message of the event is the eternal hope for the rise of Lebanon”.

To mark his return, the organizers used a pun as the official slogan for this year’s competition, #WeMissLebanon. Another symbolic gesture was the holding of the event at the Forum De Beyrouth, an iconic place that has suffered greatly after Explosion in the port of Beirut in 2020which devastated much of the city.

Eoin McSweeney

Photo of the day

Lebanese basketball player Wael Arakcji receives the MVP award in the FIBA ​​Asian Cup Final with 28 points.  His team beat Jordan and China en route to the final but lost to Australia 75-73.

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