Tunisia Adopts New Constitution: Is It A Setback For Human Rights?
Plus: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov visits Egypt, al-Sadr’s supporters storm the Iraqi parliament, Macron hosts Saudi prince for dinner, and much more.
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Tunisia adopts a new constitution: Is it a setback for human rights?
Tunisia voted on the new constitution on Monday, July 25, to hand sweeping new powers to the country’s president in a move that critics say risks the return of authoritarian rule to the country.
Fewer than a third of Tunisians voted in the referendum, with 94.6% of those balloted supporting plans to hand President Kais Saied broad new powers.
Tunisia’s new constitution would give the head of state full executive control, the army’s supreme command, and the ability to appoint a government without parliamentary approval.
It would also weaken Tunisia’s judiciary and remove checks on the presidency’s powers.
Monday’s poll saw just 30.5% of eligible voters casting a ballot, marking the lowest turnout in any of five major votes held in Tunisia since 2011 when the country overthrew its long-serving ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and became the birthplace of the Arab Spring that then swept across the Middle East.
The new constitution is set to come into force on August 27, 2022, and replace the one adopted by Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly in January 2014.
Opposition groups, who boycotted the vote, said the results were “not credible” and “inflated,” and accused the country’s electoral board of “fraud” and said they would not recognize the newly approved constitution.
However, Saied has claimed the changes will break Tunisia’s political paralysis.
The referendum comes exactly one year after President Saied’s power-grab, during which the authorities targeted high-profile critics and political opponents through criminal investigations and prosecutions.
According to Amnesty International, the new constitution would dismantle or threatens key institutional safeguards for human rights.
“The new constitution dismantles many of the guarantees to the independence of the judiciary, removes protection for civilians from military trials, and gives the authorities the power to restrict human rights or renege on international human rights commitments in the name of religion,” said in a press statement Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Lavrov visits Egypt as Russia attempts to break diplomatic isolation
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed Ukraine with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry at the outset of his wider Africa tour on Sunday, July 24.
The trip aims to ease Russia’s diplomatic isolation amid the war on Ukraine.
Lavrov also met the secretary general of the Arab League and addressed members of the organization during his one-day trip to Cairo.
The tour comes just one week after U.S. President Joe Biden’s first tour to the Middle East.
The Russian war on Ukraine has caused a significant divide between Russia and Western countries.
However, most Arab and African countries have refused to take sides, as they share interests with both stakeholders.
The fragile economies of countries in Africa and the Middle East have also suffered the most from the war due to skyrocketing oil prices and the food crisis.
Iraq: Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters storm parliament in Baghdad’s Green Zone
Dozens of supporters of influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr stormed parliament on Wednesday, July 27, during a protest against the selection of a nominee for prime minister by Iran-backed parties.
Local news agency Rudaw appeared to broadcast footage from inside parliament’s meeting hall, where protesters could be heard chanting slogans supporting Sadr.
The demonstrators were protesting the recent nomination of Mohammed al-Sudani as the official nominee of the Coordination Framework bloc, a coalition led by Iran-backed Shia parties and their allies.
Caretaker Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi called for calm and demanded that protesters “immediately withdraw” from the building.
Several protesters had carried portraits of Sadr, who recently stepped down from the political process despite winning 73 seats in Iraq’s October 2021 election, making it the largest faction in the 329-seat parliament.
Sadr exited government formation talks after he couldn’t corral enough lawmakers to get the majority required to elect Iraq’s next president.
Energy on the table, Macron hosts Saudi prince for dinner
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to his presidential palace Thursday, July 28, for a controversial dinner that marks another step in the Saudi leader’s diplomatic rehabilitation.
The meeting between the two leaders has drawn harsh criticism in France after the gruesome Saudi killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
The visit from the prince of the oil-rich state comes after France and other European nations are seeking to secure energy sources to lessen their dependence on oil and gas supplies from Russia amid its war on Ukraine.
The Elysee palace said the war in Ukraine would be high on the working dinner’s agenda and added that Macron would address “human rights” without elaborating.
Since Khashoggi’s killing, the crown prince has been steadily attracting big-name investors back to the kingdom.
He has also reset Saudi relations with Turkey, a key step toward rehabilitating his international standing.
Russian and Israeli planes hit Syria in separate strikes, killing at least 10
At least ten people were killed in Syria between Sunday, July 24, and Monday, July 25, following Israeli strikes on the capital in the south and Russian strikes in the northwest of the country.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported Israeli strikes coming from the disputed Golan Heights shortly after midnight Friday, July 22, killing three soldiers, wounding seven others, and causing material damage.
Syria regularly reports airstrikes from southern neighbor Israel, its long-standing sworn enemy.
On the other side of the country, in the northwestern Idlib countryside, Russian airstrikes killed seven civilians, according to the White Helmets, a local first responder group.
Iran Ramps Up Drone Exports, Signaling Global Ambitions
Iran has made steady advances in the design and production of military drones in recent years, stepping up their transfer to militant groups across the Middle East as it seeks to shift the dynamics of battlefields from Yemen to Gaza.
However, it is now seeking to build its global clout and sell increasingly sophisticated weapons-capable drones commercially to other nations, including Venezuela and Sudan.
Russia may also be a potential client.
Washington said this month that it had intelligence that Moscow planned to purchase hundreds of drones from Iran to bolster its arsenal for the war in Ukraine.
U.S. officials have urged Iran not to sell drones to Russia and warned of consequences for both countries.
Tehran began drone development in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq war.
Despite crippling sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear and missile programs in recent years, it has produced and fielded a vast array of military drones used for surveillance and attack.
However, Iranian drones still remain largely on the margins of the global market. Furthermore, they are primarily bought by low-income or sanctions-hit countries unable to buy them elsewhere.
Iran also faces stiff competition from powers like Turkey, whose Bayraktar TB2 drone has been bought by countries like Azerbaijan, Pakistan, and Ethiopia and has been embraced by Ukraine in its war with Russia.
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My name is Dario Sabaghi, a freelance journalist. I am interested in human rights and international news focusing on the MENA region.
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Cover photo: Reuters/US News