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Hichem Mechichi, Tunisia’s minister of the interior and advisor to President Kais Saied, has been designated as the new prime minister following the abrupt resignation of Elyes Fakhfakh more than a week ago. The transfer of power was formally conducted on July 25, and the president tasked Mechichi with forming a new government within a month.

Forming a government is one thing; maintaining one will be much more difficult.

In this handout picture provided by the Tunisian Presidency Press Service, Tunisian president Kais Saied (R) appoints Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as the country's new prime minister, tasked with forming a new unity cabinet, at the Carthage Palace on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)
Tunisian president Kais Saied (right) and new prime minister Hichem Mechichi, photographed at the presidential palace in Carthage on July 25, 2020. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP)

The new government will need parliamentary approval, which requires an absolute majority. This means that the kingmaker will once again be the largest party in Tunisia’s legislature: Ennahda, an Islamist political movement that gained significant influence following the 2011 Arab Spring. Should the parliamentary vote of confidence fail, new elections must be held three months later.

During the political tug-of-war between the presidency and Ennahda over Fakhfakh’s appointment, the prospect of holding new elections finally convinced the party to form a coalition government, as their majority was not guaranteed given the months of political crises and economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

 

Elyes Fakhfakh
Elyes Fakhfakh, who resigned as prime minister of Tunisia on Wednesday, July 15. (AFP)

Tunisian prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh abruptly resigned on Wednesday, having served in the office since February 28, once again leaving Tunisia in a political quandary. Fakhfakh’s resignation comes a day after Ennahdha, the largest political party in parliament, tabled a vote of no confidence in the former prime minister’s government over allegations of a conflict of interest involving him. Documents came to light last month showing that Fakhfakh owns shares in companies that previously won contracts worth about US$15 million from the state. Investigations have been opened.

While there has been heightened tensions as a result of these allegations, the last straw for Ennahdha was probably Fakhfakh’s announcement on Monday that he would conduct a cabinet reshuffle within days, which they suspected would lead to him firing Ennahda ministers. Right after he had submitted his resignation, Fakhfakh did indeed dismiss six ministers affiliated with Ennahda. 

 

It now falls to President Saied to designate Fakhfakh’s successor within a month

 

When President Kais Saied appointed Fakhfakh in January to form a new government, it came after weeks of deliberations in parliament had yielded no clear majority vote for the cabinet lineup of the previous nominee, Ennahdha’s candidate Habib al-Jamali.

It now falls to President Saied to designate Fakhfakh’s successor within a month. The prime minister designate will then have to form a new government that would pass a majority vote, failing which, the country would have to hold new legislative elections.

 

Tunisia Hospital
Medical staff applaud as a woman greets her mother (center), who recovered from COVID-19 after having spent more than a month in a coma, upon her discharge from the hospital in Ariana on April 24, 2020.

 

Tunisian’s ongoing battle against COVID-19 has produced a separate medical casualty: access to reproductive services for Tunisian women.

A recent study conducted by the Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group and the Tunisian Association of Midwivery found that 10 percent of Tunisian women giving birth did so at home during lockdown, as opposed to the normal rate of 0.1 percent. The reasons included a fear of infection, no means of transport, and a lack of access to personal protective equipment because most of it had been reserved for use by medical personnel.

Some expressed concern that more politically conservative streams of Tunisia’s government are using the pandemic to curtail reproductive rights by closing family planning centers and limiting pre- and postnatal consultations, abortion, and contraceptive services during the lockdown. This has led to an increase in clandestine abortions.

 

Tunisia was the first African country to implement a national family planning program

 

Fortunately, Tunisia’s healthcare system is relatively robust and the country has one of the lowest maternal mortality rates of the Maghreb. In 1963, seven years after gaining independence from France, Tunisia became the first African country to implement a national family planning program, after revoking colonial laws restricting abortions and the sale of contraceptives.

In response to a petition initiated by the Tawhida Ben Cheikh Group urging the authorities to ensure access to sexual and reproductive health services, the Ministry of Health included access to contraception and abortion in a list, published on April 24, of essential healthcare services during the COVID-19 lockdown period.

 

 

Migrants Tunisia
Some migrants are rescued, but too many die off the coast of Tunisia as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

This past weekend, Tunisia’s coast guard managed to rescue more than eighty people from two boats in distress carrying migrants hoping to get to Europe as countries start to relax strict lockdown measures.

Coast guard spokesman Lieutenant Houssameddine Jbabli said one person was died during the rescue of eleven migrants just off the coast of the city of Sfax, but the captain and principal trafficker managed to evade the authorities. The coast guard found another boat in poor condition near the Kerkennah Islands, from which they rescued seventy people. Jbabli said in the previous two days Tunisia had prevented ten attempts to smuggle people across the Mediterranean, mostly to Italy.

 

At the height of the migrant crisis, more than a million refugees fled to Europe from North African ports

 

These rescues come not long after the European Union launched Operation Irini, a joint naval mission set up ostensibly to prevent arms smuggling into Libya but which has largely functioned as a replacement for Operation Sophia, a 2015 mission coordinated to address the trafficking of people from North Africa into Europe. At the height of the migrant crisis, more than a million refugees fled to Europe from North African ports, escaping conflict, terrorism, climate-induced poverty, or political persecution.

The number of crossings since has drastically gone down, aided in part by joint efforts between the European Union and African Union, though tensions have mounted over the asymmetric manner in which European concerns regarding migrants and refugees seem to take precedence over African directives.

 

 

African CDC

 

The African Union’s Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) has outlined COVID-19 clinical trials currently being done to test both treatments and a vaccine in Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, and Zambia.

 

Hydroxychloroquine is being tested as a potential treatment for COVID-19 in Zambia.

 

Egypt and Nigeria are running trials on potential therapeutic agents, among other trials. The antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine is being tested as a potential treatment for COVID-19 in Zambia. And South Africa is looking into the efficacy of chloroquine, interferon therapy, and Remdesivir.

These developments are encouraging, as Africa continues to lag behind Europe, North America, and Asia when it comes to testing for COVID-19 and genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, which in turn could prolong the continent’s suffering from the pandemic.

 

No Evidence

Notably, Africa CDC made no mention of Covid-Organics, Madagascar’s artemisia-based herbal tea that President Andry Rajoelina claims can both prevent and cure COVID-19. It has not been adequately tested and there is no evidence to back the claims, yet Tanzania, the Comoros, and the Republic of the Congo have decided to import Covid-Organics from Madagascar.

SHAMS, a Tunisia-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group, posted on its Facebook page that Tunisia had recognized a marriage contract between two men, one of Tunisian and one of French nationality, when the Tunisian man was allowed to register the marriage on his birth certificate.

 

A First for the Arab World

Speaking with the Jerusalem Post, British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said this recognition of a gay marriage was a breakthrough that would give hope to LGBTQ+ people in Tunisia, and across North Africa and the Middle East, even though it was an indirect recognition and not the legalization of same-sex marriage.

 

Achraf, a 26-year-old Tunisian gay artist, arrives to attend the opening of the second edition of the Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 22, 2019. Cries of joy and the applause of hundreds of people: the second edition of the Mawjoudin Film Festival, which aims to promote stories of sexual minorities and defend their rights, began on March 22 in a festive atmosphere. Mawjoudin (We are present), a Tunisian association defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), organises the festival in the North African country where homosexuality remains illegal. FETHI BELAID / AFP
Achraf, a 26-year-old Tunisian gay artist, arrives to attend the opening of the second edition of the Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival in the Tunisian capital Tunis on March 22, 2019. (Fethi Belaid/AFP)

 

Defending LGBTQ+ Rights

Led by Mounir Baatour, SHAMS is a non-profit organization focused on the decriminalization of homosexuality in Tunisia, where dozens of citizens are currently imprisoned on “sodomy” charges based on Article 230 of the Penal Code of 1913, imposed by colonial authorities when Tunisia was a French protectorate.

Since its inception in May 2015, SHAMS faced increasing pressure from Tunisian authorities, until a court decision recognized its legal status on March 11, 2019. Even with social and legal pressures, Tunisia’s LGBTQ+ community has managed to persevere since the revolution in 2011, even organizing the annual Mawjoudin Queer Film Festival in Tunis since 2018. The Mawjoudin Film Festival aims to promote stories of sexual minorities and defend their rights. Mawjoudin (We are present), a Tunisian association defending the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), organises the festival in the North African country.

 

Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s announced during a diplomatic visit with his Tunisian counterpart Kais Saied that Algeria will make a security deposit of US$150 million at the Central Bank of Tunisia. It will help Tunisia to obtain loans from the international financial institutions. The decision incited fierce criticism by Algerians, perplexed that the government would make such a significant investment outside of the country at a time when Algeria is struggling to keep its economy afloat.

The former governor of the Bank of Algeria, upon his departure last week, warned that the country’s foreign exchange reserves had decreased drastically since a global drop in the oil price in 2014. Currently at US$62 billion, the reserves are expected to fall even further to US$51.6 billion by year’s end, a massive decrease compared with its national high of US$195 billion in 2014. 

Algerians took to social media to criticize the government’s actions, acknowledging that improving relations with its neighbor Tunisia is important but saying the Algerian people are in greater need of such funds. Algeria’s lack of funds has hindered its ability to fund health and education services; pay civil servants’ salaries; and address its high youth unemployment rate, which stands at 26.4 percent for those under 30, who make up two-thirds of Algeria’s total population.

 

https://www.jeuneafrique.com/892165/politique/algerie-pourquoi-laide-financiere-accordee-a-la-tunisie-suscite-la-polemique/

Hundreds of people in Tunisia demonstrated on Wednesday in the centre of the capital Tunis against a recent Middle East plan by United States president Donald Trump.

According to protesters, “Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan”:https://www.africanews.com/2020/01/29/twitter-uses-apartheid-label-for-trump-s-israeli-palestine-plan/ was at best “The Deal of Shame,” they also calling for the boycott of all American products. The said plan has been firmly rejected by the Palestinians and the Arab League.

According to Brahim Bouderbala, president of the bar association, “I call on all the free peoples of the world to unite to oppose this barbaric decision, which is a violation of all UN resolutions.”

Trump on 28 January unveiled a controversial plan for the Israeli – Palestinian conflict but analysts say ot is favourable to Israel as it allows it to annex occupied Palestinian territories despite international law, and the recognition of Jerusalem as its “indivisible capital.”

For his part, Noureddine Taboubi, a protest leader described the plan as a betrayal and said Arab nations were complicit in what Trump had come up with. “Today, this agreement is a great betrayal. It is a lesson for the treacherous Arab states in this affair.

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