The Mideastwire Blog

Excerpts from the Arab and Iranian Media & Analysis of US Policy in the Region

Some criticisms of recent think tank work on Tunisia to consider and debate, in light of the current protests

A few grafs, below, from my piece last year criticizing the Carnegie report on Tunisia, with reference to criticism of ICG as well. Key points: 1) Tunisia will likely not be able to “muddle along” as a “kind of corrupt, kind of democratic state” and 2) a failure to implement aggressive, “hard stick” policies (vigorously supported by external actors) against the key cancer that is the cops+economic-elite mafias/corruption matrix as it operates against the lower and middle classes of Tunisian society, will – all together – progressively undermine both the security and economy of Tunisia, perhaps to a breaking point.
 
Read ICG’s report and Max Gallien and Mohamed-Dhia Hammami‘s criticism together, and keep in mind that I minimized the specific role that subsidy “reform”+price/inflation plays as a part and parcel of the cops-economic mafia matrix. Max and Mohamed and ICG have all done a far, far more extensive job of examining this side that is now at the head of the “new” Tunisia crisis. Also excellent on this aspect and more is @MullinCorinna and Monica Marks as well as Achraf at I-Watch and Sami Ben Gharbia
 
 
 
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The rot will rise, sooner than later:
 
…Unfortunately, the anchors of that consensus may soon unravel. Despite the passage of a new Constitution, several free and fair elections and a Nobel Prize, Tunisia is desperately struggling to maintain its stability amid economic regression, widening social divisions and repeated ISIS and Al-Qaeda attacks.
 
As these pressures grow, a crucial blind spot of the past few years will likely emerge: Few outside advocates for the country have proposed specific policies for how the country might fundamentally re-wire itself in order to prevent its own collapse.
 
If you scratch down to that level – i.e. beyond the mechanics of holding elections and the drafting of new laws – among Tunisians there has long been a robust debate about the best way forward. This is especially true when it comes to the central problem of dealing with the deeply corrupt, anti-reformist “parallel state” that is simultaneously strangling the economy and hobbling the security sector.
 
One strongly suspects, and hopes, that these sorts of debates will finally bubble to the surface in European and North American capitals as the prospect of yet another failed state on the Mediterranean continues to grow.
 
For the time being, however, the soft rhetoric of institution and infrastructure-building, good governance and non-confrontational, de jure approaches to reform marches on, couched in the fading hope that it will be enough to hold the line…
 
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Criticism of Carnegie approach:
 
…Perhaps with this in mind, the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace recently published several reports and op-eds that both sound the alarm and propose what amounts to a grand bargain to “save” Tunisia.
 
While this approach might be more palatable for some Tunisians, it actually suffers from the same problem that hobbles Carnegie’s “New Framework for Partnership”: The underlying, structural imbalance of weak democratic forces pitted against far stronger, parallel state networks is left largely unaddressed.
 
Pouring money into a system that has been, and is still, de facto controlled by an iron triangle of business oligarchs, security sector actors and traditional mafias (i.e. the approach preferred by many Nationalists and Leftists) would only inflate the wealth and leverage of those who have long been preponderant.
 
In fact, the cancer would metastasize at an even faster rate.
 
Conversely, waiting to provide international aid (Carnegie’s approach) until some Tunisian actors succeed in forcing a far stronger side to start reforming itself out of existence – via micro-decentralization programs, “public dialogues” or end-runs around the bureaucracy – is also doomed. After all, Tunisia’s parallel state is exceptionally well schooled in the art of co-option, subversion and re-direction, especially in a climate of terrorism and overriding European concerns about refugee flows…
 
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Criticizing the ICG approach:
 
Strangely, despite these unique circumstances and the obvious urgency of the situation, the search for more robust approaches to stem Tunisia’s decline doesn’t seem to be particularly of the moment in New York, Washington, Brussels, or any Mediterranean capital.
 
Carnegie, for its part, prefers to stop just short, hoping that the dangling of carrots will be enough to encourage Tunisians to use whatever sticks they can muster up themselves in the reform fight.
 
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) has also largely shied away from the task at hand, espousing a non-confrontational approach even as the situation deteriorates further.
 
Last summer, for example, it extensively outlined how “a dysfunctional internal security apparatus” in Tunisia was failing and had to be “thorough(ly) reformed”: “Without an Internal Security Force (ISF) reform that would allow for the formulation of a holistic security strategy, Tunisia will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis as its regional environment deteriorates and political and social tensions increase, at the risk of sinking into chaos or a return to dictatorship.”
 
Brushing aside the full implications of its own dire predictions, however, ICG then went on to propose more of the same remedies that might have made sense in the 2011-2013 period: The parallel state, and especially its manifestations in the security sector, needs to be brought into the democratic process since “a head-on fight between the ISF and the political class is a dead end.” Rather than “impos(ing) their vision on the Internal Security Forces,” the report asserted, Tunisia’s leaders needed to somehow “channel the ISF’s desire for independence,” cooperate with it and offer “encourage(ment).”
 
Doubling down on the approach, ICG released a report earlier this month that proposed several ways to rescue the embattled transitional justice effort.
 
“It would be better,” the report’s authors said, “for the government to support a law regularizing under certain conditions the status of Tunisians implicated in [past] corruption and tax evasion. Instead of entering into conciliation procedures that could create new opportunities for cronyism and blackmail, these Tunisians would have to entrust the inventory of their assets to certified public accountants, who would be held responsible for any false declarations, as a basis for a tax assessment and back payment.”
 
Although ideas like this, and other efforts to “find a middle ground,” may seem like a sensible way to head off the full-scale assault of the past two years against anti-corruption efforts and transitional justice as a whole, the problem is that the very idea of compromise for the upper echelons of graft is unworkable since any meaningful accounting would dangerously expose the parallel state as it currently operates, threatening their whole enterprise.
 
Given all of this, it is high time to recognize the situation as it. There may be a rare chance to build a robust, non-corrupt democracy in the Middle East. But a “head on fight” led by Tunisians that aims to dismantle their country’s de facto triangle of power—the police, their associated business elites, and the mafia—is the only credible way to move forward.
 
It also might be the only way left to prevent yet another disaster in a region that can’t bear much more…
 
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There are “hard stick” approaches reasonably available. Let us look at the Guatemala Model: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/08/170830023245822.html):
 
…Addressing these questions in detail is vital for getting to the next step: Rapidly and responsibly dismantling Tunisia’s parallel state.
 
But here too, not much work has been done to sketch out options even though several approaches are available.
 
Perhaps, the most ambitious and comprehensive one would be the creation of a supra national, International Anti-Corruption Court (IACC) that would function in a similar manner to the International Criminal Court (ICC). As one proponent has put it: “Like the ICC, an IACC would operate on the principle of complementarity, meaning that only officials from those countries unable or unwilling to prosecute grand corruption properly would be subject to prosecution. This would give many nations a significant incentive to strengthen and demonstrate their capacity to combat grand corruption.”
 
But cobbling together broad international support for an IACC would undoubtedly take time and face numerous obstacles.
 
A better alternative, then, for the vast majority of Tunisians who desperately want to see an end to the corruption of the parallel state, as well as for regional peace and security, may be an ad-hoc U.N. investigation, combined with the threat of a hybrid (Tunisian-UN) tribunal should Tunisia prove itself unable to prosecute the handful of top-level networks identified by the investigation.
 
Such an effort would send a powerful message to all Tunisians that the era of elite impunity is over. The culture of corruption/crony protectionism and the inefficiency and injustice it breeds has become an existential threat to Tunisia and to “frontline” states in the region…
 
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As well as previous pieces on Tunisia via:
Read the above in full:
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Written by nickbiddlenoe

January 10, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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