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Authorities Denounce the Normalization of Terrorism
A mine explosion last week in Jebel Ouergha, in the north of Kef, that resulted in the death of four soldiers and the wounding of two national guards has prompted renewed frustrations at a delay in the creation of a revised anti-terrorism law. The incident occurred on July 2 when a military vehicle was passing between the delegations Twiref and Sakiet Sidi Youssef in the governorate of Kef as a part of a joint operation carried out by the army and national guard to destroy terrorist hide-outs in Ksar el-Gallel. Mansour Almi, Ghazi Drihmi, Abdelkader Ayari, and Chokri Dahkoul were killed in the explosion, reported the Ministry of Defense. The following day, government officials, political parties, and public institutions responded with condolences to the families of the so-called martyrs, avowals of support for military operations, and condemnations against not only terrorism itself but its ‘normalization’ in Tunisia.

On July 3, Minister of National Defense Ghazi Jeribi addressed the public regarding the implementation of military operations and the country’s «war against terrorism» in which he enlists «all segments of the population to mobilize to uphold the integrity of the country.» Such language is characteristic of the recent surge in public statements urging citizens to recognize terrorism as ill-fitted to and uncharacteristic of Tunisia’s social and political environment. Responses to the Jebel Ouergha incident represent varying shades of the same message; the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) has voiced «indignation at the continued terrorist operations that are a source of pressure threatening the stability and security of the country and the lives of citizens», while the Tunisian Union for Agriculture and Fishing (UTAP) expressed its solidarity with the military in its anti-terrorism operations, and the National Bar Association condemned the ‘normalization’ and ‘banalization’ of terrorism.

The Jamhouri Party called upon the government to undertake «revolutionary measures that break with the routine practices of the fight against terrorism», proposing the formation of a provisional anti-terrorism committee and a ‘national information agency’ charged with coordinating military-security operations. ANC President Mustapha Ben Jaafar invoked the imperative for citizens to reject terrorism and cited the need to develop a time-specific plan of action for the Legislation Commission and Commission of Rights, Freedom, and International Relations concerning the controversial Law n°2003-75 of December 10, 2003 to support international efforts in the fight against terrorism. Parliament has been criticized for dawdling in the creation of a new draft law whilst deputies tease out a definition of terrorism and examine anti-terrorism legislation that meets the standards «of an equitable process that respects human rights.»

A patriotic imperative has presented itself: the next elections must set in motion a new phase in the history of our country, that of institutionalized pluralistic democracy. It is important that there is popular support in measure with the mass demonstrations that put an end to the former regime, that hope is renewed and dictatorship, fundamentalism, and terrorism are left behind. Mohamed Jaibi, Saving the Day with Corrective Measures of Consensus.

The interim government’s approach to controlling terrorism is a continual source of public discontentment, and security issues have directly influenced citizenry’s reticence to participate in political processes, according to several La Presse de Tunisie and Nawaat reports. On the same day that the Ministry of National Defense announced the Jebel Ouergha tragedy, the High Independent Authority for Elections (ISIE) reported the disappointingly low turnout for voter registration. «The rate of registration has fallen short of expectations», commented ISIE member Nabil Baffoun regarding the 52,000 newly registered voters of the targeted 4.2 million Tunisians who did not previously participate in the October 2011 elections. The explanation provided by ISIE officials, journalists, bloggers, voting and non-voting citizens alike—points to a mix of administrative and logistical inefficiencies and public indifference to participating in political processes.

Strategic and Logistical Defects Impede Voter Registration

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A number of strategic factors are inherently detrimental to the voter registration process to the point that some have accused ISIE of sabotaging it for political ends. «I love Tunis, so I register» is the slogan that has belatedly graced billboard fronts and television screens. The implementation of a voter registration awareness campaign four days after the opening of the voter registration period (as opposed to one week prior as was the original plan) is alone a glaring fault for which the campaign is deemed ill-prepared. That the registration period coincides with the World Cup, the beginning of the oppressively warm summer months, and the thirty days of Ramadan is furthermore an untimely coincidence as registration sites located in municipalities or post offices operate according to the modified (séance unique, meaning ‘single session’, more or less half-day) schedule of all administrative and public institutions.

Referring to the present registration rate—which would result in a mere 200,000 voters by the last day of registration if it remains consistent—as «disastrous,» Moez Bouraoui, President of the Tunisian Association for Dignified and Democratic Elections (Atide), noted among other factors the inadequacy and variable accessibility of registration sites throughout the country. Specifically, Bouraoui pointed to the delayed opening of some registration offices, the failure to make known the presence of mobile registration stations, and the absence of ISIE regional offices in governorates with large rural demographics. In Mehdia, for example, where 55 percent of the population lives in rural areas, there were 1,100 registered voters by the end of June for the regions’s 133,000 inhabitants, a fact which regional coordinator Mahjoub Belkhir related both to a lack of regional ISIE presence as well as local disinterest in participating. In Jendouba where 73 percent of the population lives in rural areas, Dhaou Kechide of the regional ISIE office pointed to public institutions’ non-cooperation with ISIE which is hard-pressed to penetrate remote regions. According to Law n°23-2013, «all public administrations are called upon to provide, to the fullest extent possible, the ISIE with the human and material resources to the end of helping the Authority accomplish its mission.»

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Abroad, in France, Belgium, Canada, and the United States, Tunisians have reported technical difficulties on the touenssa.isie.tn website. ISIE official Faouzia Drissi who coordinates Tunisians residing abroad detailed the tedious logistical complications that largely concern the transmission of passport information. While Drissi explained that the ISIE has been working with the Ministers of the Interior and Foreign Affairs as well as Social Security institutions (CNSS) and CNPRS to reconcile personal data and technical factors, blogger Slim Amamou explains why the Authority’s attempts to resolve administrative and technical issues have been inadequate:

We can…reproach the ISIE for having provided a non-functional solution. It might have been better to not have created the possibility to register online for the next elections in order to avoid upsetting voters who fail to do so. The coming elections relatively strained, unequal access to registration amongst voters is likely to increase tensions. Slim Amamou quoted in Confusion on the Net

Past Disillusionment and Present Disinterest – Tunisians’ Reluctance to Vote

Whereas a number of individuals interviewed by Nawaat insisted on the obligation for citizens to participate in elections in order to help move the country out of crisis, the majority, and youth in particular, are reluctant to take part in the elections after the course of politics over the past three years and present political parties and politicians in the running for the country’s future leadership. For many Tunisians, the precedent of the previous elections represents an elected government whose unfulfilled promises and lack of adherence to the public will have exacerbated national security issues and the economic crisis. For many Tunisians, prospects for ‘freedom, dignity and equality’ that were the driving principles of the revolution have unraveled, and faith in state institutions appears impossible in a political landscape trivialized by the tangential arguments and inconsequential bickering of ANC deputies, an increased incidence of terrorism, and citizens’ diminished purchasing power. Needless to say, the overall effect is proportionally diminished political power and the citizenry’s aloof or resentful disinterest in casting votes for the next elections.

Such sentiments are reinforced by misgivings about the nature of coming elections; as Bouraoui explained, legislative elections by political party prevents the selection of candidates based on individual qualifications and requires instead the selection of political parties that have yet to present their post-election social and economic plans. Similarly, the president-by-consensus discussion relative to subsequent presidential elections represents a worrisome prospect and counter-force to authentic democratic elections.

Since early reports examining the reasons for the low rate of voters registration, doubts concerning the independence and objectivity of the ISIE have escalated into overt accusations of sabotage and political complicity. Articles published on July 4 announcing an updated tally of 70,000 registered voters carried a remarkably different tone than those of the previous day, unequivocally convinced that each mishap and inconvenience of the voters registration campaign and process have been orchestrated by the ISIE in the favor of Ennahda party. Such suspicions, whether accurate or not, are significant inasmuch as they are symbolic of many Tunisians’ continued skepticism about the unreliability of state institutions and, by extension, about the worth of the citizen’s role in political processes that shape the social and economic conditions of daily life. In the few months remaining before a new set of characters takes the presidential and legislative lead, a lack of public interest in elections is a frightening prospect that does not bode well for any imminent actualization of «institutionalized pluralistic democracy.»