Tunisia: An economy drowning in debt

Tunisia: An economy drowning in debt
A vendor displays snails at a market in downtown Tunis, Tunisia. (Reuters)
Updated 31 January 2018

Tunisia: An economy drowning in debt

Tunisia: An economy drowning in debt

TUNIS: Tunisia was widely hailed as the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Today, the country is drowning in public and personal debt, and social turmoil.
According to official figures from the Finance Ministry, the budget deficit now stands at $2.2 billion.
State debt now accounts for 71 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), up from 41 percent in 2010, when the deficit was 650 million dinars ($272.5 million).
At a time when the global economy is growing faster than it has for a decade, Tunisia’s growth languishes at 2.3 percent, well below the 5.6 percent average achieved in the Arab world 10 years ago.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) insisted that Tunisia implement controversial reforms before receiving the next tranche of a $2.9-billion loan that was negotiated in 2016 with a view to stimulating economic growth and job creation.
The new fiscal measures raised taxes on a wide range of everyday goods, increased levies on some imported goods, and added a percentage point to the value-added tax (VAT).
With state social security funds $1 billion in the red, Parliament also approved a new 1 percent social security tax on employees and companies.
Speaking on Tuesday in Marrakech, IMF chief Christine Lagarde said the reforms are necessary.
“The IMF understands the frustrations of the Tunisian people, who have not yet felt the full economic benefits of their country’s political transformation,” she said. “This process is difficult and takes time.”
Lagarde also urged Arab governments to urgently create jobs. Unemployment in Tunisia among young people is estimated at 30 percent.
Ahmed Sassi a member of the secretariat for the UDC, the union for unemployed graduates, said Tunisia has been blighted by successive governments following a flawed economic model and “self-destructive” policies.
“The model we have for development is increasing the disparity between the rich north, and the south and interior of the country,” he told Arab News.
For example, at the height of the orange season, farmers face great problems in distributing and exporting their produce.
Sassi also pointed to “missed opportunities” to develop markets for Tunisia’s wheat cultivation and flowers for essential oils for the perfume industry, and to capitalize on the country’s strength in the olive oil market.
He also criticized the lack of “audacity and courage” regarding technologically innovative projects, such as a solar-energy farm in the south.
Meanwhile, when negotiations with PayPal fell through last May, young digital entrepreneurs were left in the lurch because they could not make international payments online.
For big donors such as the EU and the World Bank, Tunisia’s rampant corruption continues to put off investors.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed was elected on an anti-corruption platform, but has achieved little in practice.
The head of the National Anti-Corruption Authority, Chawki Tabib, has estimated that corrupt transactions cost Tunisia $840 million a year, a sum that would almost halve the national deficit if it were put back into the economy.


Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
Updated 46 min 59 sec ago

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
  • Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression
  • EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran warned Wednesday that Washington's seizure of 33 websites run by Iran-linked media was "not constructive" for ongoing talks on bringing the United States back into a landmark nuclear deal.
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites, as well as three of the Iraqi group Kataeb Hezbollah, which it said were hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression, while the president's office questioned the timing of the move as talks on bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and major powers are reportedly making headway.
"We are using all international and legal means to... condemn... this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters.
"It appears not constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are under way."
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, but in 2018 then US president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement and ramped up sanctions, prompting Iran to pull back from its own commitments.
Trump's successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties -- also including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have been negotiating its revival in Vienna since early April.
EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remain.
The US action also comes just after Iranians chose ultraconservative cleric Ibrahim Raisi as president in an election the US State Department characterised as neither free nor fair.
Visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English- and Arabic-language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Huthis, were met with single-page statements declaring the website "has been seized by the United States government" accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department.
The 33 websites were held by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), itself controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC).
Both the IRTVU and IRGC have been placed on the US sanctions blacklist, making it illegal for Americans, US companies, and foreign or non-American companies with US subsidiaries to have business with them or their subsidiaries.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi group which owned three sites that were seized, is a hardline military faction with close ties to Tehran that Washington has formally designated a terror group.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the immediate parent of Al-Alam, reported that other web domains, including Palestine-Al Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, and an Arabic-language religious and cultural channel were among those seized.
Bahrain's LuaLua TV, a channel run by opposition groups with offices in London and Beirut, was also frozen by the United States, according to an AFP correspondent in the region.
IRIB accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia "to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region."
TV stations such as Press TV and Al-Alam switched to .ir domains and their websites remained accessible. They are also still present on social media, mainly Twitter, and their broadcasts have continued uninterrupted.
On the website of their political wing, the Huthis branded the action "American piracy and copyright confiscation".
"The government of the United States of America is banning the Al-Masirah website without any justification or even prior notice," they said.
Al-Masirah quickly established a new website, using its name but swapping the .net domain for .com.
Meanwhile LuaLua and Al-Masirah continued to broadcast new programs, AFP journalists said.
IRTVU was designated for sanctions last year for "brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters," the Justice Department said.
"IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organisations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," it said in a statement.
US officials meanwhile have tied Kataeb Hezbollah to rocket and other attacks on sites in Iraq where American soldiers and diplomats reside, and say the group is supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Justice Department did not identify the US company or companies which owned the domains that hosted the websites, or explain how they had been able to host them contrary to sanctions.


Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled
Updated 4 min 8 sec ago

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

TEHRAN: An Iranian news site close to security services says that authorities have thwarted a “sabotage attack” on the country's civilian nuclear program, without providing further information.
Nournews, a website believed to be close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reported Wednesday that the attack was foiled “before causing any damage to the building.” It said the case was “under investigation.”
When asked for comment, an Iranian official referred to the Nournews report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to discuss the matter with the media.
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency said the building was located near Karaj City, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west the capital of Tehran.
The website of state-owned IRAN newspaper published the same report without offering the location or other details.


Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya
Updated 23 June 2021

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya
  • The meeting is held at the foreign ministry in Berlin
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those expected to attend, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections that are due to be held on Dec. 24 and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas, who met Libya’s transitional prime minister and foreign minister on Tuesday evening. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Libya descended into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.


Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
  • Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6
  • As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place

DUBAI: Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket in recent days and now appears to be preparing to try again, the country’s latest effort to advance its space program amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal.
Satellite images, a US official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran’s space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6. Those images include what appears to be fuel tanks alongside a massive white gantry that houses a rocket, while scientists fuel it and prepare for launch. Before the launch, workers tow the gantry away to expose the rocket.
The number of fuel tanks, based on their size, appear to have been enough to fill the first and second stages of an Iranian Simorgh rocket, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Simorgh is a satellite-carrying rocket that has been launched from that same area of the spaceport, he said.
Later satellite images on June 17 showed a decrease in activity at the site. Lewis said analysts believe Iran launched the rocket at some point in that window.
“Nothing had blown up. There wasn’t a giant stain — like they had dumped the fuel — and the vehicles had kind of just moved around,” he said. “The overall level of activity at the site was much lower. So to our mind, that looked like a launch.”
CNN, which first reported on the failed launch, quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and US Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
On Sunday, a new satellite image from Planet Labs showed renewed activity at the site. The image shows a mobile platform previously used to secure a Simorgh rocket at the gantry, a support vehicle seen at previous launches and a new line of fuel containers lined up at the site. Lewis said the equipment suggests that another launch is imminent.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. A failed launch this month would be the fourth in a row for the Simorgh program. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A rocket explosion in August 2019 drew even the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” But Lewis said such failures are common, especially when trying to put objects carefully into orbit around the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.
The launch comes after the landslide election of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s hard-line judiciary chief tied to the mass execution of thousands in 1988. The vote saw the lowest turnout in a presidential election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi will take over from Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the US to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US has alleged such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
The Simorgh, however, is far too large and too slow to fuel to be a good carrier for a nuclear-tipped weapon, Lewis said.
“It’s a butter knife,” he added. “Could you stab someone with a butter knife? Yeah, but that’s not really the tool.”


90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
A doctor from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) checks a rescued migrant's identity before administering a Coronavirus test, in Ben Guerdane, southern Tunisia, Saturday June 12, 2021. (AP)
Updated 23 June 2021

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released

90 detained Egyptians in Libya released
  • Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities

CAIRO: Ninety Egyptians who had been detained at the headquarters of illegal immigration in Tripoli since last Friday have been released, said the head of Egypt’s Diplomatic Mission in Libya’s capital.
Mohamed Tharwat Selim said the Egyptian Embassy in Tripoli succeeded in resolving the matter in coordination with relevant Libyan authorities.
He thanked the Libyan interior minister, officials and local authorities for their efforts, which Selim said reflect the close relations between the two countries. He added that most of those released were from Minya Governorate.