Tunisia airs first ‘great debate’ ahead of presidential poll

A man looks at posters of Tunisian presidential candidates in the capital Tunis. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2019

Tunisia airs first ‘great debate’ ahead of presidential poll

  • In 2012, 15 months after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt organized a historic televised debate between two favorites among the 13 candidates running for president

TUNIS: Days before the first round of Tunisia’s presidential election, the fledgling democracy is holding three nights of televised debates between the candidates, a rare event in the Arab world.
The showdown between the 26 hopefuls, starting on Saturday, is seen as the highlight of the campaign and a turning point in Tunisian politics ahead of the vote a week on Sunday.
Called “The road to Carthage: Tunisia makes its choice,” the programs will be broadcast on 11 TV channels, two of them public, and some 20 radio stations.
“We won’t be able to escape it,” said a smiling Belabbes Benkredda, founder of the Munathara Initiative which promotes open debate in the Arab world and helped organize the event.
The first hour-and-a-half debate on Saturday night will include several “heavyweight” candidates, pitting Abdelfattah Mourou of the Ennahda party against passionate secularist Abir Moussi, head of a group with roots in the party of former dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.
There will also be an empty space for the controversial media mogul Nabil Karoui, currently detained on money laundering charges.
Organizers considered having him take part in the debate by phone from his cell, but whether or not he will be able to is up to the courts.
The stage, at the studios of public TV channel Wataniya, places candidates in a semi-circle with two journalist moderators at the center.
The questions were set by the journalists and will be randomly selected and allocated to candidates on Friday.
Each candidate will have 90 seconds to respond to a question and can be asked a follow-up question or interrupted.
At the end of the show, candidates will have 99 seconds to outline their manifestos and campaign promises.
The number of questions has not been specified, but each candidate will have 15 minutes of speaking time during the program.
“We are going to be extremely strict on time. It’s the rule of the game, you are in front of the people and you each have the same amount of time to convince them,” said Lassad Khedder, head of a private TV channel syndicate in Tunisia, who expects “very rich and heated debates.”
Beyond the organizational and technical elements, organizers highlighted the rare nature of the event.

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Many Tunisians say they are counting on the debate to help them make their decision.

“Often in the Arab world, when we speak of competition we know who wins at the end, with 99.99 percent. Today, we don’t know who is going to win,” Khedder said.
Indeed, the plethora of candidates, political programs and issues, has led to an uniquely unpredictable election.
Many Tunisians say they are counting on the debate to help them make their decision.
“It’s unprecedented! As a Tunisian journalist, I am proud and impatient to see this,” said Monia Dhouib, a member of the organizing committee.
The debates are not entirely unprecedented in the region.
In 2012, 15 months after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt organized a historic televised debate between two favorites among the 13 candidates running for president.
The winner of that election, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi, was deposed by the army following massive protests a year after he took office.
Munathara Initiative’s Benkredda said “the culture of debate doesn’t yet have a place in the Arab world.” But he noted that the Tunisian debates will also be broadcast by channels in Iraq, Algeria and Libya. The hope is, he said, that this “first step will serve as inspiration” for other Arab countries.


Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

Updated 32 min 2 sec ago

Leaked audio of Assad forces shooting elderly women in Idlib proves civilian killings: Report

  • Syrian regime also attacked Turkish military posts in violation of cease-fire deal

LONDON: Syrian regime forces deliberately killed elderly women in the northwestern region of Idlib, leaked recordings obtained by the UK’s Daily Telegraph have shown.

The audio recordings from Feb. 11 also suggest that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked Turkish military posts in violation of a cease-fire deal.

The recordings captured a conversation between soldiers from the infamous elite Tiger Forces, the 25th Division, tracking a vehicle driving into the village of Mizanaz, to the west of Aleppo.

In the audio, intercepted by spotters at an observatory in the local area who picked up the soldiers’ frequency, one soldier can be heard saying: “There are women driving, their car is stuck in the mud and they’re headed to a battlefield.”

 

 

A second soldier said: “She looks elderly. It’s clear she’s coming to pack her belongings, then she’s leaving.”

Despite a clear identification of the women, one of the soldiers is heard saying: “I’m watching them. They’re about to enter a house. Yallah, I’m firing now.”

At that point, rapid machine gun fire can be heard on the tape. “Fire, fire, I’m observing for you,” the second soldier replies.

Local media reports from the time and date of the audio recording support the assertion that the women were killed in the attack.

Regime forces have used attacks on civilians as part of their strategy to clear rebel-held areas of the country, while attacking civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals. 

In September 2019, pro-Assad militants reportedly executed an elderly woman who refused to leave her home when it was confiscated after they recaptured the town of Khan Sheikhoun. 

According to figures from the Syrian Network for Human Rights, regime forces and their Russian allies are responsible for 90 percent of civilian deaths in the nine-year conflict, with three-quarters of those people victims of artillery or aerial shelling. The deliberate killing of non-combatants is a war crime under international law.

The Telegraph’s report also revealed recordings showing regime forces actively attacking Turkish posts in Idlib province that were set up as part of a de-escalation deal negotiated with Russia in 2018.

The attacks prompted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday to urge his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to “restrain” Assad’s advance in Idlib.