Tunisia marks revolution’s 10th anniversary in lockdown

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Tunis' landmark Avenue Habib Bourgiba, where massive protests took place in 2011, is empty on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, due to a national lockdown after a surge in COVID-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP)
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Security forces stand guard in Tunis' landmark Avenue Habib Bourgiba, where massive protests took place in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, during a national lockdown after a surge in COVID-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP)
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A street near Tunis' landmark Avenue Habib Bourgiba, where massive protests took place in 2011, is empty on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, due to a national lockdown after a surge in COVID-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP)
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Security forces stand guard in Tunis' landmark Avenue Habib Bourgiba, where massive protests took place in 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the uprising, during a national lockdown after a surge in Covid-19 cases, in Tunis, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 14 January 2021

Tunisia marks revolution’s 10th anniversary in lockdown

  • The tree-lined Avenue Bourguiba was deserted except for a lone citizen standing in front of the Interior Ministry
  • Police set up checkpoints around the city center, where officers inspected documents of pedestrians and vehicles

TUNIS: Tunisia on Thursday commemorated the 10th anniversary since the flight into exile of iron-fisted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was pushed from power in a popular revolt that foreshadowed pro-democracy uprisings, strife and civil war in the region during what became known as the Arab Spring.
But there were no festive celebrations marking the revolution in Tunisia. The North African nation’s government imposed a four-day lockdown starting Thursday to contain the coronavirus, banning demonstrations.
The tree-lined Avenue Bourguiba, the main artery in the capital city of Tunis that became a center of the 2011 revolt, uprising, was deserted except for a lone citizen standing in front of the once-dreaded Interior Ministry. Police set up checkpoints around the city center, where officers inspected the documents of pedestrians and vehicles and turned some around.
“After the political lockdown, it’s the turn of the health lockdown,” shopkeeper Ahmed Hassen said before the anniversary, adding with a smile that the situation looked like “the revenge of Ben Ali.”
Ben Ali ruled for 23 years over a system that instilled fear in many Tunisians, stifling free press, free speech and other liberties. He fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, 2011, amid a snowballing rebellion marked by violence, rampant pillaging and incessant calls to “get out.”
Ben Ali died in 2019 in exile.
About a dozen people suffering from permanent injuries and are seeking official recognition and compensation as victims of the revolution tried to march onto Avenue Bourghiba, but police pushed them back.
Some citizens questioned the timing of the four-day lockdown.
“Do you know why they did this quarantine and curfew? Because the situation is very tense and has nothing to do with the health situation,” said a man in a market identifying himself only as Rami. He suggested, like some others, that authorities fear “perhaps (people) will revolt in light of the situation.”
The revolution was unwittingly sparked by a desperate act of a 26-year-old fruit seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, who set himself ablaze on Dec. 17, 2010, to protest police humiliation in a town in Tunisia’s neglected interior of the nation. Sidi Bouzid’s death unleashed simmering discontent and mass demonstrations against poverty, joblessness and repression.
That popular unrest ricocheted beyond Tunisia, triggering the Arab Spring uprisings and government crackdowns and civil wars.
In Tunisia, joy and revenge marked the start of the post-Ben Ali era. Protesters tore down the omnipresent posters of Ben Ali and invaded the luxurious home of the president’s brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi. The Tunis train station was burned down, tear gas flooded Avenue Bourguiba and other neighborhoods of the capital, and helicopter gunships flew low over the city. More than 300 people were killed.
Nevertheless, the chaos was contained. A budding democracy grew out of the aftermath.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a congratulatory statement Thursday that Tunisia stands as “an example of an inclusive democracy” with rights “constitutionally respected.” The U.S, “views Tunisia as a partner of choice.”
Despite gains, a pall of disenchantment hangs over the country, marked by extremist attacks, political infighting, a troubled economy and promises unfulfilled, including development of the interior.
Despite guaranteed rights, numerous democratic elections, protests flourish, especially in the central and southern regions where the jobless rate among youth reaches 30% and the poverty level is above 20%. According to the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights, more than 1,000 demonstrations were counted in November alone. Months of sit-ins paralyzed oil and phosphate production, a key resource, for months, putting holes of billions of dollars in the budget.
Tunisians have held numerous democratic elections, for mayor, parliament and president, notably putting a constitutional law professor, Kais Saied, into the presidential palace in 2019.
The Tunisia of today “joins advanced countries” as far as democracy is concerned, said Najib Chebbi, founder of the Progressist Democratic Party, the main political opposition under Ben Ali.
“The Tunisian people have political rights, but are still waiting for their demands for dignity and work to be fulfilled,” he said, alluding to the revolutionary slogan of demonstrators crying out, “freedom, jobs and dignity.”
Analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said that what has been accomplished in the 10 years since the revolution “is far from answering the population’s demands, especially expectations of youth — the backbone of the revolution.”
“The revolution needs a deep evaluation,” he said.
For Chebbi, the opposition leader of the past, “Tunisia sits on a volcano and risks going off the rails.”


Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Updated 10 min 59 sec ago

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.


Jordan reimposes Friday curfew as virus surges

Updated 24 February 2021

Jordan reimposes Friday curfew as virus surges

  • An existing nightly curfew will begin at 10 p.m. instead of midnight
  • From Sunday a maximum of 30 percent of public-sector employees will be allowed at their workplace

AMMAN: Jordan has reimposed an all-day curfew on Fridays to stem the spread of coronavirus as cases rise, officials said Wednesday.
“Starting this week, the government is imposing a curfew throughout the kingdom from 10 p.m. (2000 GMT) Thursdays until 6 am Saturdays,” Information Minister Ali Al-Ayed said in a statement.
Walking to a mosque for Friday prayers, however, is permitted, he said.
An existing nightly curfew will begin at 10 p.m. instead of midnight, while from Sunday a maximum of 30 percent of public-sector employees will be allowed at their workplace.
The toughening of Covid-19 restrictions returns Jordan to rules imposed in March last year, and which were only eased last month.
“The kingdom has witnessed a rapid spread of Covid in recent weeks. This is why swift and strict measures are needed,” Health Minister Nazir Obeidat said.
Jordan, which began vaccinations last month, has officially recorded more than 376,000 novel coronavirus cases and over 4,600 deaths out of a population of 10.5 million people.

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Tensions rising between Athens, Ankara

Updated 24 February 2021

Tensions rising between Athens, Ankara

  • Greek PM: ‘The best we can hope for is avoiding a military accident’

ANKARA: While Turkey and Greece came together to resume talks over their maritime disputes, the decades-long tension between the countries has resurfaced again. 

Ankara claimed four Greek F-16 jets harassed a Turkish research vessel in the Aegean Sea on Tuesday by dropping a flare two miles away from the ship near the Greek island of Lemnos — an accusation that was quickly denied by Athens. 

Greece’s Air Force was conducting an exercise in the Aegean Sea at the time, but allegedly far away from the Turkish vessel. 

In a press briefing, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said his country responded with the “necessary retaliation in line with the rules. While we are carrying out scientific work, harassment is not correct. It doesn't fit in our good neighborly ties.”

The Greek Defense Ministry insisted their jets never harassed the Turkish vessel.

Turkey’s new research vessel, the TCG Cesme, conducted annual hydrographic survey work last week in international waters between the two countries, stirring Athens' anger. 

The Greek Foreign Ministry criticized the presence of the Turkish vessel in the area, describing it as “an unnecessary move that doesn't help positive sentiment.”

In retaliation, Ankara accused Greece of conducting similar military exercises in the Aegean Sea near islands that are supposed to be non-militarized by international and bilateral agreements.

The incident triggered, once again, the unresolved bilateral dispute over maritime zones as both countries continue to pursue energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. 

The second round of exploratory talks was expected to be held in Athens in early March. It was scheduled ahead of the EU Summit on March 25-26, during which Brussels will decide on possible sanctions on Ankara over its energy exploration missions in the eastern Mediterranean. 

“It is important that the resumption of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey does not elicit hopes for a breakthrough,” George Tzogopoulos, a senior fellow at the International Center of European Formation, told Arab News.  

“The two countries interpret dialogue in different terms and employ relevant political communication strategies. New tensions concerning the research ship Cesme are nothing new in the modern history of bilateral relations, but they further deteriorate an already toxic climate.”

Turkish-Greek relations have already been tested with the Cyprus conflict as Ankara ruled out discussing a federal system to reunify the divided island. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Feb. 10 that Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis “will get to know the crazy Turks as well.”

The harsh rhetoric illustrates Turkey’s anger about the bizonal and bicommunal federation offer from Greece, and it did not stop there. 

“Exploratory talks were supposed to be held in Athens but Mitsotakis challenged me,” Erdogan said in the Parliament. “How can we sit down with you now? Know your place first.”

According to Tzogopoulos, without a positive agenda, long-term solutions are unlikely.  

“For now the best we can hope for is avoiding a military accident, while experienced Greek and Turkish diplomats continue their work,” he said. 

Tzogopoulos said that from a European perspective, a model of selective engagement with Turkey is being studied in Brussels. 

“This will continue despite new tensions,” he said. “From a NATO perspective, deconfliction remains a priority and this goal has been met until now.”


Sudan launches monthly cash allowances to ease economic pain

Updated 24 February 2021

Sudan launches monthly cash allowances to ease economic pain

  • The family support project, named “Thamarat” (Fruits), is initially being rolled out in four of Sudan’s 18 states
  • Inflation has risen to more than 300%, and there have been frequent shortages of bread, fuel, power and medicine

KHARTOUM: Sudan launched a scheme on Wednesday to alleviate the impact of a severe economic crisis by paying out monthly cash allowances of $5 that are eventually meant to reach 80% of the population.
The first $400 million phase of the program is financed by the World Bank and other donors, but disbursement of funds had been delayed ahead of a steep currency devaluation announced early on Sunday.
The family support project, named “Thamarat” (Fruits), is initially being rolled out in four of Sudan’s 18 states.
Sudan has been roiled by an economic crisis that triggered protests against former ruler Omar Al-Bashir and continued after his overthrow in April 2019.
An uneasy, transitional military-civilian alliance now governs the country of 45 million. Inflation has risen to more than 300%, and there have been frequent shortages of bread, fuel, power and medicine.
“The Thamarat program is here to help people through this hard time,” Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said as he launched the program in Al-Kalakla, a neighborhood on the southern outskirts of the capital, Khartoum.
Hamdok acknowledged that the scheme had been slow to start but appealed to people to be patient. Logistical challenges registering families have contributed to delays, officials say.
“We aspire to have it cover all of Sudan’s states soon,” Hamdok said.
The government had taken measures try to limit price increases after devaluation, but that the allowances were designed to cushion the impact of any further inflation, said Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim.
“We will try to make sure they (prices rises) don’t happen, but if they do people will have extra income to face these increases,” he said.
“We want this to be a productive program. We want people to pool their money and start small productive projects.”