Back in Tunis…

After 6 flights in 21 days, I am back in Tunis once again ready to resume this Tunisian adventure and hopefully continue to serve the International Community with valuable security insights.  During my time off I had the opportunity to visit Frankfurt, Germany, New York City, USA and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  As a security professional I could not turn my ‘security mind’ off and I must say that I learned a lot during my break.

During the past few days I had the opportunity to talk to Tunisians from different walks of life in order to get a pulse on what’s happening in Tunisia.  At the present time there are pretty much (3) major events:

  1. Libyan Crisis
  2. Ramadan
  3. Elections

Libyan Crisis

The Libyan Crisis is much more complicated than it appears.  The 10th International Conference of the Middle East has put out a preliminary assessment on the impact of Libya’s Conflict on the Tunisian Economy.   A key point made in the paper which is now coming into light is the fact that:

“Libyans have been seeking refuge in Tunisia due to the conflict and they are likely to
remain in the country for a long period. To date over 65,000 Libyans have found refuge in
Tunisia (equivalent to 40% of the Libyan arrivals in the same period last year) and others are
expected. Depending on the duration of the conflict, this may lead to a significant increase of
consumption…”

Upon my arrival I was told that Tunisia was suffering from a  ‘water shortage’.  After visiting Carrefour and a couple of Monoprix stores I quickly started to doubt the severity of this so called shortage.  While visiting a small convenience store I figured out the source of the ‘shortage talks’.  With 4 bottles of water in his hands, a Tunisian man told the store clerk “I have to get as much as I can cause you know that all the water is going to Libya”.  “Yes”, the store clerk replied “there is even a shortage of beef, fish, and flour…it’s all going to Libya.” The talks about ‘shortages’ suddenly made sense to me.  The ‘shortage’ is really a combination of rumors + oppurtunisitc merchants + humanitary efforts + Ramadan preparation overbuying…etc,.

Still, it always makes sense to have a  practical stock of water and every family should consider maintaining their own ‘home survival kit’.

Ramadan in Tunisia

TunisPro
Hotel Zones in Tunisia

Ramadan is expected to start on Monday, August 1st and last until Tuesday, August 30th.  As can be expected Tunisians are very excited about the start of Ramadan and busy getting themselves ready for a month of fasting.

Although shops, restaurants, banks, etc., operate on a much lower capacity, tourist zones such as Yasmine Hammamet are pretty much functional as usual.  As indicated by the map on the right, during Ramadan you can still enjoy the beautiful coast of Tunisia.

From a security point of view Ramadan is usually a relatively quiet month, but common courtesy such as not eating in front of locals and avoiding busy highways during peak hours (1600-1800) are good practices to keep up.

Elections

Last but certainly not least, Tunisians are thinking about the up and coming elections which will take place on October 23rd.  Right now there is a massive register to vote campaign taking place all throughout the country.

Additionally, Tunisians are trying their best to navigate the electoral playing field and learn as much as they can about the people who wish to win a seat on the National Constituent Assembly (NCA).

The Middle East and North Africa International Foundation for Electoral Systems, prepared a great Frequently Asked Questions document about which explains anything you need to know about the Tunisian elections.

Snap Shot

Tunisia is a great snap shot of the current world situation.  Facing political, economical, and social challenges, the people continue to find ways to go about their daily lives and enjoy life.  During the days, the beaches are filled with swimmers and sun bathers that don’t look in the least bit worried, and the nights testify that there are no shortages of wedding celebrations.

Still, the recent events in Gafsa and Sidi Bouzid along with the ongoing Libyan crisis and the up and coming elections give security professionals a lot to think about.

Let’s hope that rather then the calm before the storm, this is a preview of what’s to come.

Election Day Update

And the winner is:  October 23rd!  Congratulations.

Hi folks, I hope you are all getting ready for a beautiful and safe summer, but unfortunately I have to once again write about the Tunisian election date.  Yes, the issue that will not go away.  This story is starting to sound more like a wedding than an election.  Yes, we have to commend the Tunisian people for their extraordinary efforts and bravery as they so eloquently reminded us that power is truly of and for the people, but we can now safely say that there are those who are having cold feet for their future husband…Democracy.

On Monday June 6th, Reuters published a very interesting article entitled:  ‘Tunisian party fears violence if election delayed‘.  The article focused on Mr. Rached Ghannouchi’s (leader of the Islamist Ennahda movement), analysis on the possible option of delaying the elections until October 16th.  Apparently October 16th was not written in stone.

Mr. Rached Ghannouchi

Back to the wedding analogy.  According to wedding expert Nina Callaway, “a general sense of nervousness about a wedding is normal”, but what’s important is that we know the difference between cold feet and a serious problem.  She tells couples that if they are “only going through with it  because they will be too embarrassed to call it off”, they should probably rethink the whole marriage.

Mr. Rached Ghannouchi warned that the postponement or cancellation of such elections “may drag the country into a spiral of violence”.  Additionally he stated that his party had”real misgivings that those who have decided to postpone the date of the first election can do it for a second time”…cold feet or signs of serious problems?   You be the judge….

Reading Between the Lines

As the leader of the well-organized Islamist Ennahda movement,  Ghannouchi’s words deserve further examination.  His statement that his party had heard of “possible plans to delay or cancel the election for an assembly that would draw up a constitution”, is very interesting and highlights a growing sense of distrust toward  the current government caretakers among not only the main political parties but also the Tunisian people in general.  History teaches us that distrust is the cancer that eats away at any hope for democratic change and it is also the great accelerator of chaos and instability.

The Verdict Please

Finally, today June 8th, Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi announced that Tunisia’s election will be held on October 23, a delay of a further week to ensure it can be “free and transparent”.  From a  risk management perspective this is not good news for (3) main reasons:

1. One of the most organized and popular political party has already publicly stated that they are suspicious and frustrated over the October 16th date. If anything today’ news will only increase their suspicion and frustration.

2.  The date has now been changed at least 4 times officially.  This trend undermines the credibility of the interim government and may embolden other shall we say less positive groups to take action.

3.  On an economic front there are several reasons why the date change will have a mostly negative effect ranging from tourism to foreign investment.

Interesting Summer…

The change of date coupled with Mr. Rached Ghannouchi’s comments promises to make this summer very interesting.  Let us hope that the beautiful blue skies and smell of jasmine  inspire the Tunisian people to continue on their path and not call off the weeding.

This Moment of Oppurtunity

Cautious Optimism

With so much negative news in circulation, I thought it would be nice to shine the light on a few positive and somewhat hopeful information.  On Friday May 20th, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said in Beijing  that China “believes Tunisia’s government and its people can realize social stability and economic prosperity.”  According to the Vice President he feels that the Tunisian government and its people have the “ability, wisdom and ways to find an economic system and road of development suitable for the country’s conditions”.  Additionally, during the most recent G8-Leaders of the world’s richest nations approved a multi-billion-dollar aid package for Tunisia and Egypt.

As might be expected, the tourism industry is greatly effected by the continual instability.  Still, there are those who still  have a positive outlook on the future.  According to Habib Ammar, the director-general of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (ONTT):  “The revolution will help boost our tourism industry in the mid to long-term,” Habib Ammar, the director-general of the Tunisian National Tourist Office (ONTT), told the press. “I’m confident that our visitor numbers will triple or even quadruple over the next five years.”

Summer Security Preparation

According to most security analysts, it should be a relatively safe summer  in Tunisia, but as we all know; things can change very rapidly.  Above all things, situational & informational awareness are the tools  that will enable you to stay ahead of any crisis.

Make sure you read our next posting on Thursday June 9th for a complete summer in Tunisia Security Posting.

Intel Challenges 2nd Edition…

Intel Challenges

ON MAY 25TH THE INFORMATION IN THIS ARTICLE WAS 100% ACCURATE…SINCE THEN THERE HAS BEEN (1) SIGNIFICANT CHANGE:  The electoral panel organizing the poll for Tunisia’s constituent assembly said Thursday it had postponed the vote to October 16…EVERYTHING ELSE STILL APPLIES…UNLESS THEY DECIDE TO CHANGE IT AGAIN

If you are having trouble keeping up with all the security news in Tunisia…you are not alone.  The recent issue regarding the Tunisian elections is a great example of just how complex and challenging it is to obtain and confirm information.

On Tuesday May 24th,  at about 1230pm we received information that the elections would take place on the original July 24 date.  In order to verify the information we conducted a few searches and to our surprise here’s what we found:

  • At 2:09pm Aljazera published a piece entitled “Tunisian elections:  Gone till October“, even more interesting was the sub headline:  The decision to postpone elections in Tunisia will allow citizens to first test their mettle in an empowered society.  The piece was written by Dr Larbi Sadiki who is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter
  • At 2:30pm Reuters went forward with an article stating:  “Tunisian govt confirms July 24 election date“.  This information, they claimed came from a government spokesman.
  • Finally, Agence France-Presse (AFP), confirmed that Tunisia will maintain July elections. According to the article, a government spokesman stated:  “We are committed to offering the commission all the means it needs to organize these elections.”

Putting the pieces together

Now that we know the date, we can prepare a game plan for the grand event.  Even if you will not be residing in Tunisia a few weeks before and after the elections, it is important that you understand the importance of this historic transition.

If we read between the lines, we can clearly see that there will be a lot of tension during the weeks leading up to the elections and after the results.  We have to remember that the reason why they thought of delaying the elections in the first place was because the commission in charge of organizing them publicly stated that they did not have “enough time to hold an election on July 24th”.  Among other challenges, the committee pointed to the great hurdle of registering over seven million voters.

Other logistical challenges such as training 6,000 voter registration agents and setting up 1,500 registration centers and 8,000 voting centers, are also going to test the abilities of the committee and the patience of the Tunisian people.

More importantly, if the elections have even the slightest trace of fraud, they run the risk of losing all creditability.  Within any good Risk Management plan, one has to acknowledge the known, the unknown, and the unknowable.  We know the elections will be held on July 24th.  We know that at least (2) weeks before that date there will be an ebb and flow of challenges.  We know that although the elections will be a great challenge for the Tunisian people, they have a great desire for peace and stability.  We know that Ramadan (which tends to have a calming effect on the general population will start (7) days after the elections.  What is unknown is the different levels of reactions both in the days leading up to the elections and immediately after.  Beyond that, in the realm of the unknowable there are many (as Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi stated) “secret forces, that obviously we can not account for.

Still as we prepare for the worst and hope for the best, we can take heart in the words of the brilliant Tunisian poet Abut al-Qasim al-Shabi:

If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.

And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.

Curfew reduced…

The curfew has been reduced by four hours and is now being enforced between midnight and 4:00 am (Source:  AFP, 14 May 2011).

Although the news is definitely positive; it’s not back to business as usual.  Since the curfew was mainly in reaction to security incidents that took place  in Mnihla, Intilaka, Ibn Khaldoun, El-Mourouj V, Tunis suburbs such as Kram as well as the city of Kasserine; you can be assured that these places will continue to have a heighten sense of security alertness.

Between midnight and 4:00 a.m.

Interestingly enough, research shows that most violent crimes occur between midnight and 4am. (Source:  Criminal Investigation, by Wayne W. Bennett, 2006).

Additionally, as far as ATM incidents are concerned most occur at night, “with the highest risk between midnight and 4 a.m”.  Another statistic which pertains to the United States, but is relative to Tunis, between midnight and 4 a.m., approximately “80% of all fatally injured drivers have been drinking“.

Whether there is a curfew in place or not, it is safe to say that it’s always a good practice to use extra caution between midnight and 4:00am.

Rumors of Curfew Changes…

There is a persistent rumor that the current curfew will change from starting at 9pm to Midnight.

Normally, State television will break the news and confirm the Interior Ministry’s decision.

We will keep you updated…

Curfew Updates…

Strategic Curfew

“Curfew…what curfew?”  was the reply my neighbor gave me when I asked him how long did he think it would last.  It appears that the curfew which was reinstated on May 7th is not being as widely enforced as  previous ones…or so that’s how it appears to the average civilian.  In fact if you walk through the streets at night you might not even know that there was curfew in place.  In some places coffee shops and small convenience stores remain open into the late  night hours and people continue to roam about freely. Yet, make no mistake about it; there is a curfew, but it’s more of a strategic curfew.

Since the newly imposed curfew, Tunisian security forces have arrested more than “600 individuals implicated in various crimes”. (Source:  EnglishNew, 10 May 2011).  Additionally, a total of 629 people have been arrested for “involvement in crimes such as robbery, assault and destruction of public and private property.

Who’s to blame for the escalation of violence and the return of scattered protests?  In an interview on Sunday, Tunisian interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi blamed “secret forces”, without saying too much.

At least 4 people were killed in the acts of violence that plagued the capital during the weekend and since most of the violence took place in the Ettadhamen district in western Tunis, it’s important we know just where Ettadhamen is located.  

Cite Ettadhamen…

Also known as At-Tadaman, Cite Ettadhamen is a town and commune in the Ariana Governorate of Tunisia.  Cite Ettadhamen is considered one of the “poorest places in Tunis” (Source:  People Forum, 8Mar 2011).  In fact the violence and activities that  took place in Ettadhmane last weekend was a major reason why the Tunisian authorities to declared the curfew. Ettadhamen, a  district with high unemployment is located outside Tunis and  is one of “several areas across the country that has been rocked with violence over the past several days (Source:  Yahoo New, 8 May 2011).

Just to give you an idea about the population of Cite Ettadhamen, between the multiplicities of La Marsa, Carthage, and Sid Bou Said there are approxiamelty 111,090 residents and as of 2006 there were  118,486 residents residing within Cite Ettadhmanen.

To see exactly where Cite Ettadmanen is located click on this link

Curfew Developments

Although it is unknown how long the curfew will remain in place, the interior and defence ministries in a statement carried by state media TAP, called on the population to “show civic duty and strong responsibility in order to help calm the situation and for its return to normal” (Source:  RNW, 8 May 2011). 

There are rumors of the curfew being pushed back to Midnight or perhaps  it will be lifted all together.  Perhaps, authorities will use this weekend to assess the situation and review the effectiveness of the curfew.

Untill then it is recommended to abide the curfew and continue to use extra vigilance in your day-to-day activities.


Safety doesn’t happen by accident.  ~Author Unknown


Fridays Are Different…

Day of Rage

If you have been following the various revolutions  throughout the region,  you probably have picked up on a similar pattern, namely the fact that  most intense protests take place on Fridays.  From Yemen to Libya, Tunisia to Syria, each have had their ‘Day of Rage‘.  With that said, we should always take extra precautions on Fridays and plan our week accordingly.  Attending an outdoor event on a Friday afternoon for example, would probably not be a good idea considering the current security situation.

Our last ‘day of rage’ was back on February 25th, when protesters demanded the  resignation of then Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi.  As always the bulk of the action took place downtown, but the heighten security presence was felt all throughout the country.  As a general rule pertaining to Fridays, it would be smart to avoid major events, large public gatherings, and going downtown if at all possible.

The day of rage is not just limited to local politics, geopolitics and regional disturbances also play a major factor.  On February 25th many Tunisians were also screaming “Gaddafi out!”  While it is difficult to predict the next day of rage, we can make practical contingency plans to prepare for them. 

Day of Rage Preparation

We would like to stress that although we are focusing on Fridays, security challenges can happen on any day of the week.  As such it is important that we have the following measures always in place:

Remember that after a major crisis, the  first 72 hours are the most critical…

-Have at least 3 days worth of fresh water and wholesome food.

-Have a plan A,B,C regarding communication.

-Have a positive mental attitude.

Although not directly connected, the rage usually beings after the Friday prayers which end at or about 2:oo pm.  The timing is convenient for protest organizers and unfortunately it also benefits people who simply enjoy creating chaos.  Additionally, the rage is usually counter with either a stricter curfew or martial law, so be prepared to stay in doors for a long duration.

Another reason to stay away from protests

A 25-year-old man was killed when troops opened fire to disperse stone-throwing protesters in fresh anti-government demonstrations in Tunisia at the weekend.  (Source, news24, 9/5/2011)

As interesting as they may appear you would do best to stay away from protests and mob gatherings.  Additionally, when the rage spills over it is best to avoid government buildings, police stations, large shopping centers, and open markets.

Not all is negative…

Tunisia has set up an independent body for elections planned in July to shape the country’s post-revolution future.  According to analysts “the creation of the promised independent electoral body to oversee the vote suggests a step in the right direction.”(Source, al jazeera, 10/5/2011).

Hopefully we will avoid another ‘day of rage’ and instead begin to see more days of hope and progress as we continue our adventure here in Tunisia.

All of civility depends on being able to contain the rage of individuals.
Joshua Lederberg

Big Picture Analysis

At the Tunisia Security Update blog, we like to stick to our model of providing relevant and practical security information mainly for the Expat community living within Tunis, but every once in a while in order to provide readers with adventitious information, we have to venture into the tricky arena of ‘speculation’.

Trying to read in-depth analysis during a revolution is rather difficult and due to the lack of English-speaking local media within Tunisia; the Expat community is usually fairly behind even the casually informed local citizen.

Putting the pieces together…

The last ‘revolution’ sort of caught us off guard.  We’re not at all embarrassed to admit it since it even caught many world governments and intelligence agencies by surprise.

The main reason why it came as a surprise was because we did not put the pieces together in time to inform others.  The clues were all there:  Wiki Leaks, Riots in the South, uprisings, etc…

Fortunately, we have corrected these shortcomings through the use of good social networks, security collaboration, and fine tuned media searches.

Big Picture Clues…

Although the security community has definitely become more friendly in terms of sharing information and cooperation; we can all contribute to the security analysis process.

As you read the following clues try to think about the big picture and the impact these new events will have within the larger Tunisia Security Frame. 

1.  Massive ‘accidental’ prison break.

2.  Accidental video posted by a former minster that unquestionably undermines the current interim government.

3.  The developments coincide with the conviction by a Tunis court of a nephew of Leila Trabelsi, Tunisia’s widely reviled former first lady, on drug consumption charges.

Imad Trabelsi was sentenced on Saturday to two years in prison and a $1,000 fine, according to Mokhtar Trifi, president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

4.  Military pulled back from most major streets.

5.  Lieutenant General and Army Chief Rachid Ammar was promoted to the rank of Chief of Staff of the Tunisian Armed Forces.

We can take these ‘big picture clues’ and speculate all day about their possible implications, but one thing is for sure; we have entered a new stage in this transition.

Meaning…

What does it all mean, and more importantly what does this all mean for the international community living and working in Tunisia, is something that we will cover extensively in the near future.

For now, let’s ponder on these clues and together we will be able to figure this thing out before the next big day of chaos…

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”-Benjamin Franklin

Revolution 2.0

Well folks here we go again, but this time we’re ready…or at least we should be.

For those of you who are scratching your heads wondering… “wait a minute didn’t we just have a revolution???”…well allow me to give you a quick update:

Event:  Video Posting on Facebook (click to watch the video)

SourceAl Jazeera

Date:  4 May 2011

Action:  The video was first posted to Facebook late on Wednesday evening, and by Thursday morning had captured the attention of Tunisia’s vibrant online sphere.  Among other troubling allegations, Tunisia’s former interior minister has warned that lingering members of the country’s former political elite may carry out a coup d’etat if Islamists win a majority in the upcoming election.

In plain English…the former interior minister basically undermined the new and extremely fragile government.

On top of this we can throw in the various protests that took place on Friday and the stadium mayhem that took place on Saturday when fans stormed on to the soccer field after what was supposed to be a friendly game between Club African and Sudan. Additionally, there have been reports of at least (2) police stations being set on fire and other governmental buildings attacked.

Immediate Action

In light of these events the interim government ordered an overnight curfew for Saturday May 7th from 9pm to 5am.  It is safe to assume that this curfew will also apply on Sunday and perhaps for the very near future.

Headlines such as:  “Riot police have clashed with protesters denouncing the transitional government and calling for ‘a new revolutionshould remind us that we too need to take immediate actions.

A so-called new revolution may be more challenging than the first one as historically these types of events tend to get more violent as in the case with Algeria.

It’s never too late to put together a practical emergency preparedness plan for you and your loved ones.   If you are interested in putting together a detailed yet practical plan, the Emergency Family Packet is a must read.

Fortune favors the prepared mind.
Louis Pasteur


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