Tunisia presidential hopeful walks free from jail in time for runoff

1 / 2
Tunisian presidential candidate and media mogul Nabil Karoui, waves as he is greeted by jubilant crowds after he was released from prison in Mannouba, Tunisia, on Oct. 9, 2019, just four days before the upcoming presidential runoff election. (AP Photo)
2 / 2
Tunisian presidential candidate and media mogul Nabil Karoui, center, is greeted by jubilant crowds after he was released from prison in Mannouba, Tunisia, on Oct. 9, 2019, just four days before the upcoming presidential runoff election. (AP Photo)
Updated 10 October 2019

Tunisia presidential hopeful walks free from jail in time for runoff

  • Nabil Karoui's Heturn to the arena as a free man comes at a time of uncertainty for the country hailed as the sole democratic success story of the "Arab Spring"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s presidential candidate Nabil Karoui received a hero’s welcome as he walked free from jail Wednesday, just days ahead of a runoff against a political newcomer.
Karoui’s release is the latest twist in a shock election dominated by political outsiders in the country whose 2011 revolution sparked a wave of regional uprisings.
His return to the arena as a free man comes at a time of uncertainty for the country hailed as the sole democratic success story of the "Arab Spring".
An AFP journalist outside Mornaguia prison near Tunis saw a throng of media mogul Karoui’s supporters waving Tunisia’s red-and-white flag and campaign banners as they jubilantly cheered for him.
An elated Karoui then left the scene in a black Mercedes, without speaking to the press.
The Court of Cassation’s decision to free Karoui, a business tycoon who has been detained since August over a money laundering probe, comes ahead of Sunday’s final presidential vote.
Despite being behind bars, he won 15.6 percent of votes in the first round of the presidential poll.
The runoff comes as Tunisia appears poised for complex, rowdy negotiations to form a government.
Announced shortly after Karoui’s release, preliminary results of last Sunday’s legislative election showed Islamist-inspired party Ennahda came out on top with 52 out of 217 seats — far short of the 109 needed to govern.
Karoui’s Qalb Tounes party placed second with 38 seats.
In the run-up to the parliamentary poll, Ennahda and Qalb Toues had officially ruled out forming an alliance.
The abstention rate was 58.6 percent, nearly double that of the last legislative polls in 2014, despite the post-revolution constitution putting parliament at the heart of political power.
TV pundits contend that the high abstention rate is not only a mark of voter apathy, but also a repudiation of the parties taking part.
It was a similar sense of rejection of the establishment that catapulted political newcomers Karoui and rival contender conservative law professor Kais Saeid to the lead in the September 15 presidential first round.
The sidelining of Tunisia’s post-Arab Spring political class in the vote was rooted in frustration over a stagnant economy, high unemployment, failing public services and rising prices.
While the country has succeeded in curbing jihadist attacks that rocked the key tourist sector in 2015, its economy remains hampered by austere International Monetary Fund-backed reforms.
Saied had announced last weekend he was quitting campaigning in order to avoid an unfair advantage over Karoui.
With the contenders now free to campaign on a level playing field, the pair will face off in a televised debate Friday, one of the organizers told AFP.
The debate is expected to begin at 9:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) should Karoui confirm his presence, national television channel Wataniya said.
Wataniya has also invited Karoui for an on-screen interview Thursday.
Previous requests to release Karoui had been turned down and he has branded his arrest as “political.”
Karoui’s lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud on Wednesday said the Court of Cassation had “annulled the detention order” against his client.
Another of his lawyers, Nazih Souei, said Karoui remains under investigation, “but he is free.”


Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

Updated 14 October 2019

Will European arms ban impact Turkey’s Syria operation?

  • Several European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey

ANKARA: With an increasing number of European countries imposing weapons embargoes on Turkey over its ongoing operation in northeastern Syria, Ankara’s existing inventory of weapons and military capabilities are under the spotlight.

More punitive measures on a wider scale are expected during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Oct. 17.

It could further strain already deteriorating relations between Ankara and the bloc.

However, a EU-wide arms embargo would require an unanimous decision by all the leaders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned last week of a possible refugee flow if Turkey “opened the doors” for 3.6 million Syrian refugees to go to Europe — putting into question the clauses of the 2016 migration deal between Ankara and Brussels.

“The impact of EU member states’ arms sanctions on Turkey depends on the level of Turkey’s stockpiles,” Caglar Kurc, a researcher on defense and armed forces, told Arab News.

Kurc thinks Turkey has foreseen the possible arms sanctions and stockpiled enough spare parts to maintain the military during the operation.

“As long as Turkey can maintain its military, sanctions would not have any effect on the operation. Therefore, Turkey will not change its decisions,” he said.

So far, Germany, France, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway have announced they have stopped weapons shipments to fellow NATO member Turkey, condemning the offensive.

“Against the backdrop of the Turkish military offensive in northeastern Syria, the federal government will not issue new permits for all armaments that could be used by Turkey in Syria,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Following Germany’s move, the French government announced: “France has decided to suspend all export projects of armaments to Turkey that could be deployed as part of the offensive in Syria. This decision takes effect immediately.”

While not referring to any arms embargo, the UK urged Turkey to end the operation and enter into dialogue.

Turkey received one-third of Germany’s arms exports of €771 million ($850.8 million) in 2018. 

According to Kurc, if sanctions extend beyond weapons that could be used in Syria, there could be a negative impact on the overall defense industry.

“However, in such a case, Turkey would shift to alternative suppliers: Russia and China would be more likely candidates,” he said.

According to Sinan Ulgen, the chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, the arms embargo would not have a long-term impact essentially because most of the sanctions are caveated and limited to materials that can be used by Turkey in its cross-border operation.

“So the arms embargo does not cover all aspects of the arms trade between Turkey and the EU. These measures look essentially like they are intended to demonstrate to their own critical publics that their governments are doing something about what they see as a negative aspect of Turkey’s behavior,” he told Arab News.

Turkey, however, insists that the Syria operation, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is undeterred by any bans or embargoes.

“No matter what anyone does, no matter if it’s an arms embargo or anything else, it just strengthens us,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told German radio station Deutsche Welle.