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North Africa Politics

Tunisia’s PM Sacks Interior Minister

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Tunisia’s Prime Minister, Hichem Mechichi, on Tuesday, sacked the country’s Minister of Interior, Taoufik Charfeddine.

A cabinet statement said Mechichi would supervise the interior ministry on an interim basis pending the appointment of Charfeddine’s successor.

The statement did not give reasons for the decision but Charfeddine is seen as close to Tunisian President Kais Saied. His sack is seen as underscoring tensions between the North African country’s two most powerful leaders.

Mechichi, an ex-interior minister, took office in September.

He had previously sacked the ministers of culture and environment from his government.

Mechichi is expected in coming weeks to reshuffle his cabinet amid demands from pro-government parties in parliament to include party figures in the government.

Opposition parties and the presidency want a continued technocratic cabinet.

Parliament approved a technocratic government in a confidence vote four months ago.

Tunisia is the only Arab country to have managed a peaceful transition to democracy after the “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept through the region in 2011.

But the North African nation’s economy has been crippled by high debt and deteriorating public services, made worse by the global coronavirus pandemic.

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North Africa Politics

Israel Approves Deal to Upgrade Ties with Morocco

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Israeli Government on Sunday approved a deal which seeks to upgrade ties with Morocco.

Morocco is the fourth Arab country to do so after United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Sudan.

Though the Israeli cabinet has approved the deal, which is a parting foreign policy push by the former Donald Trump administration, the agreement will now go to Israel’s parliament for ratification.

Palestinians have censured the accords, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meets their demand for statehood.

Israel’s economy ministry announced on Sunday that the countries have reached an agreement to promote trade and economic collaboration in fields including regulation and innovation.

The ministry said both sides were interested in signing the deal in about two weeks.

The UAE on Sunday approved establishing an embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel’s business centre.

Israel and the UAE agreed to normalise relations in August.

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UN Lays Out Timeline for Libya’s Transitional Government

Plans for the new government has raised fears that powerful figures who stand to lose influence could attempt to sabotage the transition process.

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The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) says nominations for leadership of a new unified transitional government must be made in a week, and voting on candidates would take place in early February.

Plans for the new unified transitional government has raised fears that powerful figures who stand to lose influence could attempt to sabotage the process.

Back in November, the UN gathered 75 Libyan participants in a political dialogue in Tunis with the purpose of laying out a road map to national elections which they set for late December.

After weeks of arguing, the dialogu members finally agreed this week, on rules for selecting a new presidential council consisting of three members, as well as a prime minister to oversee the run-up to the election.

On Thursday, the UN said from Feb 1-5, dialogue members would vote on candidates for the new government’s leadership positions in Switzerland.

At separate UN-backed talks in Geneva, Libyan envoys on Tuesday voted to pass a mechanism to choose an interim executive that will govern until the December elections, according to the UN, calling it a “significant step forward.”

In a report submitted to the UN Security Council (UNSC) earlier this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the “tangible progress” recorded in recent months to tackle the Libyan crisis which has lasted for almost a decade, and reiterated that all foreign troops and mercenaries must evacuate the country by the end of the week.

Structured around the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, the talks in Geneva have been taking place amid a heavy international push to reach a peaceful settlement to the civil war in Libya. All previous diplomatic initiatives have failed.

In the Libyan conflict, forces loyal to the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital Tripoli, and those of its rival, Gen. Khalifa Haftar, had formally agreed on a cease-fire in October last year. After Haftar launched a failed offensive on Tripoli in April 2019, the two sides have returned to negotiations. Since then, the capital city has been kept under the control of the GNA.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Russia have been the main supporters of Haftar. Media report that Russia has primarily supported Haftar’s forces by deploying mercenaries of the Wagner Group to the North African country in their fight to seize power from the GNA in Tripoli.

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Tunisian Presidency Refute Claims of Anti-Jewish Remarks

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Tunisian presidency on Thursday denied that President Kaïs Saied made the anti-Jewish comments he is being accused of during a visit to the popular district of M’nihla-Ettadhamon this week.

During the visit, President Saied had confronted the instigators of acts of looting and vandalism perpetrated during the unrest that has shaken the country for several days.

His words, difficult to decipher, and inaudible in the recording, have been interpreted as an accusation addressed to Jews described as “thieves”, according to the perception made, in particular, by the Conference of European Rabbis (CER).

Literal translation in Arabic of “those who steal…” and “Jewish thieves” are similar and confusing for those who do not understand the intricacies of the Arabic language.

The CER published a press release in which it expressed “its deep concern following the serious and public remarks made by Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed, accusing Jews of being responsible for the instability in the country”.

He urged the Tunisian President to withdraw these remarks, which “constitute an immediate threat to the physical and moral integrity of Tunisian Jewish citizens”.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the CER, said on Wednesday, “we consider that the Tunisian government is the guarantor of the security of Tunisian Jews. Such allegations threaten the integrity of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world”.

According to the legend, Jews have been living in Djerba, an island in southern Tunisia, for more than 2,500 years following the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Babylonians. Their number is currently estimated at around 1,500 people.

The reaction of the Tunisian authorities was instantaneous. In a statement issued Wednesday evening, the Tunisian presidency protested against “the spread of false information”, calling it “lies” and “slander”.

It maintained that in his statement to M’nihla, “the president did not mention any religion and there were no reasonable grounds for dealing with the issue of religions in the context of (social) protests, especially since the head of state considers this issue does not arise in Tunisia”.

Faced with the outcry caused by the “misinterpretation” of his remarks, President Saied had a telephone conversation on Wednesday with the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia, Haim Bittan, to reassure him that “Tunisians of the Jewish faith are citizens benefiting from the care and protection of the Tunisian state, just as much as other citizens”.

The communiqué also recalled the “firm position (of the Tunisian president) regarding the Palestinian cause, making a distinction between religious freedom and the right of the Palestinian people to their land. A right considered as a constant principle that no one can question”.

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