Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia

A Tunisian man checks newspapers on a stand in the capital Tunis on Tuesday, one day after Tunisia’s president extended his months-long suspension of parliament until new elections in December 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 14 December 2021

Algeria lends $300m to Tunisia

  • President Kais Saied had signed off a deal reached on December 9 for "a loan worth $300 million"
  • Tunisia's public finances have been battered by a decade of political instability, low investment and structural problems
  • Tunisia opposition condemns extension of parliament freeze

TUNIS: Tunisia said Tuesday it had received a loan from its neighbor Algeria, the day before a visit by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The official journal said that President Kais Saied had signed off a deal reached on December 9 for “a loan worth $300 million,” around 266 million euros.
Tunisia’s public finances have been battered by a decade of political instability, low investment and structural problems, with debts approaching 100 percent of GDP and unemployment at 18 percent.
Saied on July 25 sacked the government and seized an array of powers, but has not laid out a plan to rescue the country’s dire economy, despite announcing plans on Monday night for constitutional reforms and new elections in 2022.
Tunisia’s economy has grown at just 0.6 percent a year since its 2011 revolution, while inflation has surged at six percent a year.
An unwelcoming business environment has discouraged investors.
The COVID-19 pandemic made the situation in the North African country far worse, slashing jobs in the vital tourism sector, high commodity prices have hurt reserves, and a drought has battered farmers.
Tunis has received economic aid from the European Union and is seeking its fourth aid program in 10 years from the International Monetary Fund, aiming to receive a loan of nearly $4 billion before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Saied’s opponents on Tuesday slammed his decision to extend a months-long suspension of parliament, accusing him of dealing another blow to the country’s nascent democracy.
The former law professor announced an 11-week “popular consultation” to produce “draft constitutional and other reforms” ahead of a referendum next July 25.
That will mark one year since his power grab, which came as the North African country wallowed in political and economic crises compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
Saied had in October moved to rule by decree, escalating fears for the only democracy to have emerged from the 2011 Arab uprisings.
He said on Monday that parliament would remain suspended until new elections on December 17 next year, the anniversary of the start of the revolution that chased dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.
That further isolated his nemesis, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which has played a central role in Tunisian politics since Ben Ali’s fall.
Many Tunisians, tired of a system seen as dysfunctional and corrupt, welcomed Saied’s moves, but he has also faced growing opposition in the form of demonstrations at home and pressure from abroad.
The envoys of the G7 powers plus the European Union had urged Tunisia on Friday to set a timeline for a return to democratic institutions.
Political analyst Slaheddine Jourchi said Saied was “determined to push through his political project to the end.”
Opponents have accused Saied of seeking to extend his one-man rule and unilaterally rebuild the political system.
Noureddine Taboubi, head of the powerful UGTT trades union, criticized the lack of a vision for tackling the country’s pressing social and economic woes.
In a speech to union members, he said the union had supported Saied’s July 25 moves but that “we didn’t give (him) a blank cheque.”
Yet some in Tunis welcomed Saied’s latest move.
Nizar ben Ahmida, a 37-year-old teacher, stressed the importance of announcing a timeline.
Tunis resident Nidhal said the election date was too far away.
Saied said a consultation on constitutional reforms would be launched on January 1, via custom-built electronic platforms.
These proposals would then be examined by a committee of experts appointed by the president, before being put to referendum.
But former Ennahdha MP Samir Dilou said the idea would “make Tunisia an object of ridicule.”
“The street isn’t reassured. The economic situation is what concerns the Tunisian public,” said Jourchi.


UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen

Updated 32 sec ago

UK warship seizes advanced Iranian missiles bound for Yemen

DUBAI: A British Royal Navy vessel seized a sophisticated shipment of Iranian missiles in the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, officials said Thursday, pointing to the interdiction as proof of Tehran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi militia in the country.
The British government statement was striking in that it provided some of the strongest findings to date that Tehran is arming the Houthis against the Arab coalition with advanced weapons smuggled through the Arabian Gulf.
The UK Embassy in the UAE described the seizure of surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles as “the first time a British naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.”
“The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption,” said James Heappey, Minister for the Armed Forces.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.
The announcement signals an escalation as Western officials have in the past shied away from public statements that definitively blame Iran for arming Yemen’s Houthis with military contraband. The route of the smuggled shipments through the Arabian Sea or Gulf of Aden, however, has strongly suggested their destination.
Despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Iran has long been suspected of transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weaponry to the Houthis since the war began in 2015. Iran denies arming the Houthis, independent experts, Western nations and UN experts have traced components back to Iran.
Citing a forensic analysis last month, the British navy linked the batch of rocket engines seized earlier this year to an Iranian-made cruise missile with a 1,000-kilometer range that it said the militia have used against Saudi Arabia.
The Houthis also used the cruise missile to attack an oil facility in Abu Dhabi in January of this year, the British navy said, an assault that killed three people and threatened the key US ally’s reputation as a haven of stability. The US military launched interceptor missiles during the attack, signaling a widening of Yemen’s war.
The HMS Montrose’s helicopter had been scanning for illicit goods in the Gulf of Oman on January 28 and February 25 when it spotted small vessels speeding away from the Iranian coast with “suspicious cargo on deck.” A team of Royal Marines then halted and searched the boats, confiscating the weapons in international waters south of Iran.
A US Navy guided-missile destroyer supported the British warship’s February operation. Fifth Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said the seizure reflected the Navy’s “strong commitment to regional security and stability.”
The Houthis seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and forced the internationally recognized government into exile. The Arab coalition armed with US weaponry and intelligence joined the war on the side of Yemen’s exiled government in March 2015.
Years of fighting have ground into a bloody stalemate and pushed the Arab world’s poorest nation to the brink of famine. A tenuous truce that began around the holy Muslim month of Ramadan appears to be holding, although both sides have accused each other of violations.

8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt

Updated 07 July 2022

8 killed, 44 injured in car crash in southern Egypt

  • The incident took place in the early morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck
  • Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt

CAIRO: Eight people were killed and 44 injured in a car crash on Thursday near Egypt’s southern province of Aswan, the state-run news agency reported.
The incident took place in the early morning when a passenger bus collided with a truck, on a highway linking Awsan to Abu Simbel, the seat of the ancient temples of Ramses II, MENA said.
Ambulance vehicles rushed to the scene to carry the casualties’ bodies to Aswan’s morgue and to transfer the wounded to the province’s main hospital, added the report.
Deadly traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes and collisions are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
In January, at least 16 people were killed 18 others injured when a microbus collided with a public transportation bus in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
Egypt’s official statistics agency says there were around 10,000 road accidents in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.


UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

Updated 07 July 2022

UN Security Council to vote on extending Syria cross-border aid

  • The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014
  • Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year

UNITED NATIONS, US: The United Nations Security Council votes Thursday on extending its authorization of aid transfers across Syria’s border without approval from Damascus, with Russia seeking a six-month prolongation while Western nations want a full year.
The UN resolution permitting aid deliveries across the Syrian-Turkish border at Bab Al-Hawa has been in effect since 2014, but is set to expire on Sunday.
Norway and Ireland, two non-permanent members of the 15-country Security Council, have drafted a resolution that would extend the authorization until July 10, 2023.
Nearly 10,000 trucks loaded with humanitarian aid passed through Bab Al-Hawa last year, bound for the rebel-held Idlib region in northwestern Syria. It is the only crossing through which aid can be brought into Idlib without navigating areas controlled by Syrian government forces.
The resolution, which was obtained by AFP, calls on “all parties to ensure full, safe and unhindered access by all modalities, including cross-line, for deliveries of humanitarian assistance to all parts of Syria.”
Russia, a veto-holding Security Council member and ally of Damascus, has hinted in recent months that it would oppose an extension, having already forced a reduction in the number of allowed border crossings on the grounds that it violates Syria’s sovereignty.
According to diplomats, Russia ultimately put its own draft resolution on the table, which includes an extension of six months.
In an attempt to persuade Moscow, Norway and Ireland have inserted several amendments touching on the transparency of humanitarian shipments, possible contributions to Syria’s reconstruction, and on the need to develop aid deliveries via government-controlled territory.
Russia has long called for the West to participate in Syria’s reconstruction, but some council members, most vocally France, have refused until political reforms have been enacted.
However, during a Security Council meeting in June, a majority of countries — including the United States — offered support for financing so-called “early recovery projects” in Syria.
In this vein, the resolution by Norway and Ireland calls for “further international initiatives to broaden the humanitarian activities in Syria, including water, sanitation, health, education, and shelter early recovery projects.”
By Wednesday evening, few diplomats dared to predict whether the additions would be enough to convince Russia to agree to a full-year extension.
But some told AFP that a last-minute compromise was possible, by making the six-month extension renewable for an additional six months practically by default.

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Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

Updated 07 July 2022

Sudan protesters take to the barricades again

JEDDAH: Protesters in Sudan took to makeshift street barricades of rocks and tires for a seventh day on Wednesday as military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan fired the last civilian members of the country’s ruling council.

Burhan, who seized power in a coup last October, has vowed to “make room” for civilian groups to form a new transitional government after he disbanded the ruling Sovereign Council, which he chairs. The council’s members said they had received no formal notification and were surprised to discover that their official vehicles had been taken away.

Protesters have demanded a restoration of the transition to civilian rule despite repeated crackdowns by the security forces, who have in recent days fired live bullets, launched barrages of tear gas canisters and deployed water cannons. At least 114 people have been killed in the crackdown since October.

The transitional government uprooted by Burhan last year had been forged between the military and civilian factions in 2019, following mass protests that prompted the army to oust dictator Omar Bashir.

Sudan’s main civilian alliance, the Forces for Freedom and Change, said Burhan’s latest move was a “giant ruse” and “tactical retreat.” They also called for “continued public pressure,” and protesters returned to the streets of Khartoum on Wednesday.

Democracy campaigners say the army chief has made such moves before. In November, a month after the coup, Burhan signed a deal with Abdalla Hamdok, the prime minister he had ousted in the power grab and put under house arrest, returning him to power.

But many people rejected that pact and took to the streets again, and Hamdok resigned in January warning that Sudan was “crossing a dangerous turning point that threatens its whole survival.”


United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

Updated 06 July 2022

United Arab Emirates cuts red tape to attract digital businesses

  • UAE aims to make it easier for digital companies to incorporate
  • Sets a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates is cutting red tape to make it easier and quicker for digital companies to incorporate, the latest economic policy announcement as the government seeks to further diversify the economy away from oil revenues.

Trade minister Thani Al Zeyoudi, flanked by executives from many state-linked entities, on Wednesday announced the changes that include better access to the financial and banking system.

“We want to show digitally enabled companies from Europe, Asia, the Americas, that the UAE is the world’s best place to live, work, invest and scale,” the minister told reporters, setting a target for 300 digital companies to incorporate within a year.

Those setting up in the UAE, home to financial center Dubai and oil-rich Abu Dhabi, would have visas issued sooner and be offered attractive commercial and residential leases, he said.

As other governments step up national efforts to increase renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels, the UAE is rolling out a series of initiatives to double the economy to $816 billion by 2030.

“We want to show that we are here to help; from commercial licenses and work visas, to opening bank accounts, finding office space and the perfect place to live,” Al Zeyoudi said.

United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi gestures during an interview with Reuters in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, June 30, 2022. (REUTERS)

Some company executives complain about the bureaucracy involved in setting up a business, including in hiring international staff in a country where citizens are a minority.

Still, the UAE’s Dubai has established itself as the region’s premier business hub and is already home to many multinational corporations and international businesses.

But regional competition has intensified as Saudi Arabia takes steps to re-mold itself as a leading financial and tourism center under the leadership of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“We’re moving from a regional hub to a global hub,” Al Zeyoudi said. “We’re competing with the big, big boys now.”