Francis Ghilès

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The recent visit to Tunisia of the president of the European Commission, Ursula Van der Leyen focused on stemming immigration, in one of the many examples of the European Union struggling to reconcile its policy of protecting the European way of life, defending its interests, and upholding the values on which it has been founded. This task is made more difficult by the day in the geopolitical background of tectonic movements and emerging powerful alliances.

In this context, small Tunisia might be seen as easy to bully – sorry, persuade, of the benefits of its “partnership” with the EU. The $1bn plus in loans and aid which the European Union has offered cash-strapped Tunisia displays a cynicism which does not sit kindly with the EU’s stated intentions to promote good economic governance and respect for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

In a recent interview on the Algerian state radio Chaine 3, Fatima Oussedik, one of Algeria’s most respected sociologists, remarked that the people of Algeria had always respected the army as an institution even when they had disagreed with the manner in which its senior officers behaved. That remark not doubt surprised many foreign observers who like to argue that the Algerian army is “totally corrupt”, that it “owns the country” and that predation is its only modus operandi. Reducing Algeria and this key institution to a cliché explains why most observers have failed to understand why the army has kept is truncheons sheathed since the start of the huge demonstrations which are now into their third month.…  Seguir leyendo »

Nunca el pueblo argelino se había sentido tan humillado como tras la decisión del presidente Abdelaziz Buteflika de presentar su candidatura a un quinto mandato. Una situación que se ha vuelto aún más surrealista tras las palabras del portavoz del presidente en las que subrayaba que éste “se compromete solemnemente, ante Dios y ante el pueblo argelino, a convocar elecciones presidenciales anticipadas y libres de aquí a un año, a las que no se presentará como candidato“. Hospitalizado en Suiza desde el 24 de febrero, no habiendo pronunciado ningún discurso oficial desde que sufriera un derrame cerebral en 2013, el apodado ‘presidente fantasma’ ha dejado el Gobierno de Argelia en manos de lo que no cabe sino denominar mafia: sus dos hermanos, Saïd y Abderrahim, y el jefe del Estado Mayor, Ahmed Gaïd Salah y otros comparsas, hombres de negocios y políticos.…  Seguir leyendo »

The scale of the defeat suffered by Theresa May in Westminster on 15 January 2019 will go down as the worst humiliation a British Prime Minister has suffered in the House of Commons in well over a century. It qualifies as a historic defeat, dwarfing the Suez debacle in 1956 and going hat in hand to the IMF in 1976. The PM’s deal to take the United Kingdom out of the European Union, painstakingly negotiated over twenty one months was thrown out by 432 votes to 202. The night before, the House of Lords had already voted by a majority of 321 to 152 to reject the deal, regretting that May’s proposal would damage the future economic prosperity, internal security and global influence of the UK.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is little to cheer 12 million Tunisians as they approach the eighth anniversary of the fall of Ben Ali next month. Security it is true has improved a lot since the terrorist attacks which devastated the important tourist sector in July 2015 and foreign visitors are back with a vengeance. The first democratic local elections last May passed off without a hitch. Greater freedom of speech (and insult) prevail, torture has virtually disappeared. Tunisia has escaped the fate of the other Arab countries which revolted against their dictators in 2011 only to sink into more repressive regimes (Egypt) or bloody mayhem (Syria, Yemen and Libya).…  Seguir leyendo »

The bloody three month-long standoff over crude oil export terminals in eastern Libya earlier this summer served as a stark reminder that the  United Nations are nowhere nearer to finding a political solution than they were when they started nearly seven years ago. One often overlooked consequence of this bloody stalemate is that it casts a long shadow over Algeria and Tunisia with which Libya shares long and porous borders.

Seven years ago, Italian and Algerian officials warned France, the UK and the US of the huge risks for regional security were Libya to disintegrate. Backing the military operation, NATO paid no heed to such warnings, despite what had happened in Iraq since 2003.…  Seguir leyendo »

Some unlikely names are beginning to appear in Syria, Egypt, Libya and countries which lie south of the Sahel belt of Africa. Wagner Group, a Russian private military company (PMC) which won its spurs in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and in Syria where it guards oil facilities, has spread its wings to the Central African Republic, where a hundred of its men are training the army which is being rebooted after free elections brought a new man, Faustin-Archange Touadéra, to the presidency two years ago. Russia had already agreed to sell weapons to the country despite a UN embargo which followed severe rioting in 2013, to the consternation of the United States and France.…  Seguir leyendo »

Social protests are not unheard of in Morocco – indeed they are regular features of the calendar and although they have not threatened, to date, the overall stability of the country, let alone the monarchy, they point to the persistence of large income disparities, high unemployment among young people (the percentage of Moroccans between 15-24 who were neither at school, in training or had a job in 2017 was a staggering 29.3% according to government statistics) and rising living costs.

Protest took on an altogether new form in late April when an online boycott campaign against three leading Moroccan oligopolies, using hashtags such as “let it rot” was joined by 57% of Moroccans, according the Moroccan daily L’Economiste.…  Seguir leyendo »

As they went to the polls in the first ever free local elections in the Arab world after Lebanon, the Tunisian people offered their neighbours in the Maghreb and Europe a lesson in democratic politics. Those who voted inflicted heavy losses on the coalition of two political parties which has ruled the country for just over three years. The lay Nidaa, founded in 2012 by president Beji Caid Essebsi lost one third of its electors (900,000), its partner the Islamist Nahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi,  half (50o,000). Independent lists won a plurality of votes, 32.9%. Hope resides in the fact that 47% of new municipal councillors are women and 37% are under 35.…  Seguir leyendo »

The dismissal of the governor of the central bank of Tunisia, the Banque de Tunisie, on 18 February 2018 was long overdue. It marks an important date in the history of a country trying to put down democratic roots in the face of mounting economic and political challenges. Chedly Ayari, who was 84, was not noted for his competence. He was replaced by Marouane El Abassi, a respected economist, whose integrity is unquestioned and has held senior jobs in Tunisia and the World Bank. The choice of El Abassi was made by the Prime minister, Youssef Chahed and supported by the president, Beji Caid Essebsi.…  Seguir leyendo »

The countries which lies south of the Sahara desert in north west Africa Sahel belt - Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso - remain below the radar of international affairs. Soldiers die there virtually every week in what are often referred to as “mopping up” operations led by troops of the G5 group of nations which, under the military umbrella of France are tasked with making the Sahel region safe from the incursions of jihadi terrorism. If the soldiers and officers killed are African, their deaths usually go unreported internationally, if they are French they will make it on French news but not elsewhere in Europe.…  Seguir leyendo »

If Tunisia’s elite continues to fiddle while Carthage burns, the only fledging democracy in the Arab world risks self destructing or reverting to some form of authoritarian rule. It is seven years since the fall of the dictator Ben Ali. His fall decapitated the predatory ruling family and legalised political parties, not least the Islamist party Nahda. And it sparked revolts across the Arab world. However Tunisia faces a real revolution unless its leaders articulate and enact bold economic reforms which offer desperately needed hope to the country’s mass of unemployed and ill-educated young people.

The freedom of speech that followed the end of the old authoritarian regime has today too often morphed into freedom to blackmail and insult.…  Seguir leyendo »

Not for decades has there been such public hand-wringing over Russian intentions in Syria, Libya and the Mediterranean. European and American media keep reminding us that Russia’s moves are evidence of aggressive policies, similar to Russian military actions in Ukraine and Crimea. Ethan Chorin, a former US diplomat, in “Russia Strategic Waiting Game in Libya” said this is “hyperbole”. While Russia has taken advantage of the vacuum in US policy since the “Arab spring” to maintain and increase its geographical status, its policy remains “selective and opportunistic.” It has neither the resources nor the desire to incur responsibilities, other than limited in Syria and not at all in Libya for the foreseeable future.…  Seguir leyendo »

As ever more private “revelations” of tax avoidance and tax havens hit the front pages of the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the British The Guardian and the French Le Monde - the aptly name Paradise Papers (13.4m files), many ordinary people in Europe have convinced themselves that all their political leaders are dishonest and out to line their pockets rather than work for the public good. In coordination with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, 381 journalists in 67 countries have worked with the leaked information, much of which originated with the Bermuda law firm Appleby, to report stories on how wealthy individuals and companies use offshore accounts to make their fortunes untraceable and unreachable.…  Seguir leyendo »

One month ago, on October 4, four members of US Special Operations Forces were killed and two wounded in an attack in western Niger, an emerging hot spot of Islamist terrorist activity. If an Islamist armed group was responsible, as some reports suggest, this would be the first known incident in which such a group has killed US soldiers on active duty in the Sahel. Western civilians, including US civilians, have died however in a recent series of mass-casualty attacks by Islamist extremists in regional African capitals. A number of French military have lost their life too.

Such groups conduct regular attacks against local targets: their focus includes  government officials, prisons, schools and individuals accused of collaborating with the state or French-led counter terrorism operations – and against UN peacekeepers in Mali.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the months and year ahead, the future of Tunisia will be shaped by its regional environment and by the capacity of its leaders to enact bold reforms. While Algeria has helped its smaller neighbour confront terrorism, the country’s interplay with Libya has been altogether more complex. The impact of the Libya crisis on the Tunisian economy has not been easy to decipher but a World Bank report now allows for a better understanding of the complex interplay of economic and social factors between the two countries since 2011.

Slow progress marred by loss of finance minister

Two events characterised the domestic last August.…  Seguir leyendo »

Earlier this month, the French parliament voted overwhelmingly to convert a number of emergency police powers into permanent laws as the country tries to face up to the continuing threat of home grown terrorism. Three quarters of MPs backed a bill which will allow police officers to continue to use powers that largely mirror those granted under the state of emergency, which was declared after the Bataclan attacks on November 13, 2015, and extended six times finally expires.

The bill gives police the right to restrict the movement of terror suspects without judicial approval and shut down places of worship if they are deemed by intelligence services to be encouraging terrorism.…  Seguir leyendo »

In an age of political vacuousness, we often ask what has happened to the quality of our leaders. Many believe that we deserve such poor leaders because we live in trivial, reality television-addled times dominated by consumerism. Electors across Europe seem, more often than not, unhappy with the leaders of their respective political parties. The French however were never unhappy with Simone Veil, who has died at the age of 89. She was a – reluctant - politician of stature whose appeal transcended age, class and region. She was respected and held in immense affection ever since, as minister of health of President Valery Giscard d’Estaing in 1974 she won the bitter battle to make abortion legal, at a time when most French male politicians, especially if they were conservative Catholics wanted women as tokens in ministerial office –government was a man’s business.…  Seguir leyendo »

Voters under 25 flocked to the polls in the British general election which humiliated Theresa May and saw the Conservative party lose its majority in the House of Commons. An election called by the prime minister allegedly to strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations produced exactly the contrary result. How the Brexit negotiations start and what form they might take is anybody’s guess. What is not in doubt is that what appeared to be the cast iron rule of the past generation, that old people turn out on polling day and young people do not, seems to have been overturned. The impact of younger voters finding their voice deserves to be measured.…  Seguir leyendo »

Britain for one is quite unprepared for the ultimate project of the new French president: the restoration of Franco-German leadership in Europe. For centuries, it avoided a concentration of power in Europe and paid a blood price when it failed in 1914 and 1939. It failed again in the post 1945 era, but successfully divided and conquered after it joined the European Union. Britain played France and Germany off against the other and crafted an EU to suits its interests. The result was the single market, the eastward expansion and the never ending opt-outs. Emmanuel Macron wants a bargain in which Germany secures the euro with a fiscal union while Paris agrees to structural reform at home.…  Seguir leyendo »