US Congressional Democrats have sent an open letter to the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, expressing concern over the alleged Tunisia rights crackdown by Tunisian President Kais Saied on perceived political opponents in the country. The 20 signatories condemned the “stark acceleration in Tunisia’s autocratic consolidation” and highlighted the wave of arrests against activists, former ministers, former MPs, senior political figures, judges, businessmen and media professionals.

They noted that Tunisian authorities charged individuals with conspiring against the state security and plotting to overthrow the government under the Anti-Terrorism Law for meeting US diplomats. They also criticized Saied’s “repugnant racist and xenophobic remarks” that undocumented sub-Saharan migrants were part of a conspiracy to change the country’s demographic make-up, and the increased arrests of undocumented migrants following those comments.

The letter called for any US foreign assistance to Tunisia to support the restoration of inclusive democratic governance and rule of law, as well as directly supporting Tunisians in dire economic need, without strengthening the hand of the internal security services that have exacerbated repression and authoritarianism under Saied.

Following the open letter from US Congressional Democrats expressing concern over Tunisian President Kais Saied’s alleged crackdown on perceived political opponents, tensions between the US and Tunisia have increased. The letter, sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, warned of a “stark acceleration in Tunisia’s autocratic consolidation” and raised concerns about the future of the US-Tunisia relationship.

Tunisia rights crackdown

Since mid-February, Tunisian authorities have arrested activists, former ministers, former MPs, senior political figures, judges, businessmen and media professionals, prompting condemnation from the UN Human Rights Office and several international rights groups. The Congresspersons were particularly alarmed by reports that individuals had been charged with conspiring against state security and plotting to overthrow the government under the Anti-Terrorism Law for meeting with US diplomats.

The American legislators also condemned Saied’s “repugnant racist and xenophobic remarks” about undocumented sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia being part of a conspiracy to change the country’s demographic makeup. In response to the president’s comments, authorities have increased their arrests of undocumented migrants, causing many to flee the country. Black people in Tunisia, both citizens and migrants, have reported being attacked and abused due to their skin colour, and police have arrested dozens of “illegal migrants”. The African Union has also condemned Saied’s remarks, warning against making “racialised hate speech”.

The letter from the US legislators urged President Joe Biden’s administration to ensure that any US foreign assistance to Tunisia supports the restoration of inclusive, democratic governance and the rule of law. They also called on the US to ensure that any aid directly supports Tunisians in dire economic need and does not strengthen the hand of those, including the internal security services, that have exacerbated repression and authoritarianism under Saied.

Tunisia has been in political turmoil since 2011 when mass protests led to the overthrow of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the country has struggled to establish a stable democracy since then. In July 2021, President Saied announced that he was seizing control of the government, dismissing the prime minister and freezing parliament for 30 days. The move was widely seen as a power grab, with Saied accused of seeking to consolidate his power and undermine democracy. Although he has since lifted the freeze on parliament, he continues to rule by decree and has yet to appoint a new prime minister.

The situation in Tunisia remains tense, with the country facing multiple challenges, including a deteriorating economic situation, rising COVID-19 cases, and ongoing political unrest. The US, which has been a key ally of Tunisia since the Arab Spring, will need to navigate the situation carefully to ensure that it continues to support democracy and human rights in the country while also maintaining its strategic interests in the region.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Hassene Dridi

Protesters in major southern Iraqi cities took to the streets on Tuesday morning, burning tires in objection to the controversial new amendments to the election law endorsed by the Iraqi parliament in a chaotic session on Monday. Independent candidates and small parties fear they will be disadvantaged by the amendments that tend to favour the established parties.

The amendments revert to the modified Sainte Lague system introduced in 2014, a complex formula to apportion seats that benefits the established parties. The law also reverses a key change made in 2019 law, reducing the number of constituencies from 83 to 18, where one district covers each governorate. At least 560 people were killed and tens of thousands were wounded, many with live ammunition during protests in 2019.

Iraqi Parliament pushes amendments

The new amendments were pushed by the Iran-backed Co-ordination Framework, which has the majority in the parliament, and is the main supporter of Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al Sudani. The protesters vowed more demonstrations in several cities, including Nasiriyah, Najaf, Hilla, Diwaniyah, and Kut, and anti-riot police and other security forces were sent to the cities.

The country is preparing to hold its provincial council elections on November 6, its first in a decade, and the federal government has not yet scheduled the next general elections. The semi-autonomous Kurdish Regional Government also announced on Sunday that the region would hold elections for its regional parliament on November 18, after a delay of a year.

As the protests continued to rage on, the Iraqi government responded by sending in anti-riot police and other security forces to try and disperse the demonstrators. However, this only seemed to inflame the situation further, as videos shared on social media showed security troops trying to forcefully break up the protests while gunshots could be heard in the background.

The government’s heavy-handed approach to the protests drew condemnation from human rights organizations and activists, who accused the authorities of using excessive force against peaceful protesters. Many also criticized the new amendments to the election law, which they argued would make it harder for independent candidates and smaller parties to compete against the more established parties in the country.

The protests were not limited to just the southern cities of Hilla, Nasiriyah, Najaf, Diwaniyah, and Kut, as demonstrations also broke out in other parts of the country. In Baghdad, protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, the site of the 2019 protests that brought down former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. Demonstrators here chanted slogans and held up signs denouncing the new election law and calling for reform.

The passing of the new election law and the ensuing protests have thrown a spotlight on the challenges facing Iraq’s fledgling democracy. The country has been struggling to build a stable political system ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, with corruption, sectarianism, and violence plaguing the country.

Despite these challenges, there have been some glimmers of hope, such as the emergence of new independent parties that have sought to challenge the entrenched political elites. However, the passing of the new election law threatens to stifle this progress and reinforce the status quo.

As Iraq prepares for its next round of elections, the country’s leaders will need to find a way to address the concerns of the protesters and ensure that the democratic process is open and fair to all. Failure to do so could lead to further unrest and instability in a country that has already suffered so much.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Anmar Khalil

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a delay in his controversial judicial reform plan, which has sparked one of the most significant domestic crises in the country’s history. The plan, which would weaken the role of the Israeli Supreme Court, has faced intense opposition, leading to protests and strikes that have disrupted the nation’s economy.

Netanyahu’s decision to delay the plan until after the Knesset’s April recess is an attempt to find a compromise and avoid a civil war. However, he remains determined to proceed with the changes, which have divided the newly formed government. Critics have called the reforms an attack on Israel’s democracy.

Response to Netanyahu’s announcement

Following Netanyahu’s announcement to pause the judicial changes, there were mixed reactions from the public. Some viewed it as a positive step towards resolving the crisis, while others criticized it as a delaying tactic to avoid facing the issue head-on.

Proposed judicial reforms

The proposed judicial reform plan, which was introduced by Netanyahu’s government, aimed to limit the power of the Supreme Court and give the government more control over the appointment of judges. The plan sparked outrage and protests across the country, with critics arguing that it would undermine the independence of the judiciary and harm the country’s democracy.

The crisis deepened after the sudden dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had publicly opposed the reform plan, and the subsequent resignation of the justice minister in protest. The move triggered a wave of strikes and protests, with major industries shutting down, and thousands of people taking to the streets to express their dissent.

The strikes, which were called by the Histadrut labor federation, affected a wide range of sectors, including transportation, healthcare, and education. The federation’s leader, Arnon Bar-David, had urged the government to listen to the people and withdraw the controversial plan.

The decision to pause the plan came after weeks of intense pressure from the public and political opposition. Netanyahu’s government had initially pushed for the plan to be passed as soon as possible, arguing that it was necessary to reform the judiciary and ensure greater accountability.

However, the opposition had accused the government of trying to undermine the rule of law and accused Netanyahu of using the plan to shield himself from corruption charges. Netanyahu is currently facing trial on corruption charges, which he denies.

The crisis has put Israel’s democracy under strain and raised concerns among its allies. The United States and the European Union have expressed concern over the situation, with the US State Department urging Israeli leaders to find a compromise that protects the rule of law and democratic principles.

The crisis is expected to continue until a compromise is reached between the government and the opposition. The next session of the Knesset is scheduled to begin on April 30, and it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to garner enough support to pass the plan or if a compromise can be reached to address the concerns of the opposition.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Oren Ziv

The Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq has announced that parliamentary elections will take place on November 18, following a delay due to a disagreement between the two major ruling parties. Kurdish President Nechirvan Barzani issued a decree on Sunday, approving the election date. The vote will elect both a parliament and a president for Kurdish regions, which have had self-rule since 1991. The President has called on the regional authorities and the Independent High Elections Commission to prepare for the elections and has requested that representatives of the United Nations help make the elections a success.

The parliamentary elections in the region were supposed to take place on October 1, 2022, but were postponed by a year due to disagreements between the two dominant political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, over electoral constituency boundaries. The parliament has 111 seats, with the KDP controlling 45 and the PUK holding 21.

Kurdish officials have portrayed the region as a haven of stability in conflict-ridden Iraq, but activists and opposition figures have criticized corruption, arbitrary arrests, and the intimidation of protesters. Disputes between the KDP and the PUK have centered on the allocation of budgetary funds. Further disagreements at Iraq’s national level have typically been between Erbil and the central government in Baghdad over federal budget allocations to Kurdistan, as well as the management of oil exports from the resource-rich region.

Image Credit: KRG

The White House has urged Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, which led to mass protests across Israel. Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest against the dismissal, which came after Gallant broke ranks and urged the government to halt plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The overhaul package aims to tighten political control over judicial appointments, giving the executive greater freedom to name judges to the Supreme Court. The bill, along with others that would limit Supreme Court powers to rule against government policy, have led to concerns over Israel’s democracy. Asaf Zamir, Israel’s consul general in New York, resigned in response to Netanyahu’s “dangerous decision,” saying he wanted to join the fight for Israel’s future to ensure it remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world.

In the wake of the mass protests, tensions between Israel’s government and opposition parties continued to rise, with accusations of corruption and authoritarianism being levelled at Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The protests, which were some of the largest the country had seen in years, were met with a heavy-handed response from the police and security forces. The use of water cannon and other crowd control measures drew criticism from human rights groups and civil liberties advocates.

Despite the pressure, Netanyahu remained defiant in his support for the judicial reforms, arguing that they were necessary to ensure that the courts did not overstep their authority and interfere with the democratic process.

“The reforms we are proposing are essential for the future of Israel as a free and democratic society,” he said in a speech to the Knesset.

“We will not be deterred by the protests of a vocal minority who seek to undermine our government and our democracy. We will continue to stand firm and do what is necessary to protect the interests of our citizens and our nation.”

The controversy surrounding the judicial reforms also drew attention from the international community, with many countries expressing concern over the impact they could have on Israel’s democratic institutions.

The United States, one of Israel’s closest allies, issued a statement calling on the government to find a compromise with the opposition and ensure that any changes to the judicial system were made in a manner that respected the rule of law and democratic principles.

“The United States is deeply concerned by recent developments in Israel and urges all parties to find a peaceful and democratic solution to their differences,” the statement read.

“We remain committed to working with Israel and its leaders to promote democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.”

As the controversy continued to unfold, many Israelis were left wondering what the future held for their country and their democracy. With tensions high and protests continuing, it remained to be seen whether the government and opposition could find a way to work together and resolve their differences, or whether the situation would escalate further and lead to more unrest and political instability.

Image Credit: AP Photo/Oren Ziv