The government ordered a total lockdown on Jan. 14. What should have been a celebration of 10 years of democracy turned into a clampdown under the pretext of COVID-19 sanitary measures. The country exploded in angry revolt with running battles with police in the burning nighttime streets of popular neighborhoods across Tunisia.
Clashes erupted in Tunisia’s Kasserine province between protesters and security forces on Tuesday after a man died when authorities demolished his kiosk. The cigarette vendor died after the roof of his kiosk in the town of Sbeitla collapsed over his head after municipal police flattened the structure with a bulldozer. The death prompted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi to dismiss Kasserine’s governor and three other officials. The incident sparked angry protests with people who have long suffered from marginalization in the area, blocking roads with burning tires and throwing stones at police. Sbeitla is one of Tunisia’s most impoverished cities, including Sidi Bouzid, where a street vendor’s self-immolation in 2011 ignited the Arab Spring.
Tunisia’s parliament today granted a vote of confidence for a new technocratic government headed by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, in hopes of ending months of political paralysis. President Kais Saied appointed Mechichi as the new prime minister in late July to replace Elyes Fakhfakh, who resigned over corruption accusations. Mechichi’s government, the third in less than a year, received 134 votes. Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which had previously opposed the new Cabinet lineup while calling for a unity government instead, voted in favor of Mechichi “despite reservations.” The new prime minister vowed to “address the economic and social situation.” Tunisia’s successive governments following the 2011 uprising have failed to solve the rising unemployment rates and poor public services, leading to renewed protests concentrated in the country’s south this year.
Tunisia's President Kais Saied appointed over the weekend Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as the new prime minister amid a deep political crisis. Mechichi replaces Elyes Fakhfakh who resigned earlier this month over accusations of having conflicts of interest regarding a business he has shares in that has received some $15 million worth of public contracts. If the new prime minister-designate fails to form a new government within a month, the president will dissolve parliament and call for new elections at a time the country is grappling with a serious economic crisis made worse by the coronavirus outbreak.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the head of Libya’s internationally-recognized government met in Istanbul on Saturday amid escalating tensions over Sirte and al-Jufra. Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya’s western Government of National Accord, discussed the latest in the conflict, Turkey’s presidency said in a statement. Sarraj’s visit came as the Turkish-backed GNA forces are preparing for a military operation to seize control of the strategic coastal province of Sirte and central Libya’s al-Jufra base. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared the two targets a “red line,” and has threatened to militarily intervene on Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s side if the GNA should advance on Sirte and al-Jufra. Along with Egypt, the United Emirates and Russia also back Hifter’s forces. The United States military last week released aerial imagery that it said depicted Russian military forces near Sirte, suggesting Russia may be gearing up to defend the coastal city. Erdogan also discussed the possibility of a “political solution” in Libya during a phone call with Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
A recent move by Russia’s Wagner paramilitary forces into Libya’s southern oil fields is escalating tensions between the United States and Russia over Libya’s future. US officials are becoming concerned that Russian mercenaries are increasingly focused on taking over the country’s petroleum industry after a company owned by Russian businessman and confidant of President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeny Prigozhin, set up shop in the coastal town of Es Sider, east of Sirte. The US Treasury Department expanded its sanctions on Prigozhin-owned companies earlier this month. Prigozhin is widely believed to oversee the Wagner mercenaries, who operate as an arm of Russia's Defense Ministry.