First Published: 2017-09-14

Tunisia parliament approves amnesty for Ben Ali-era corrupt officials
Controversial law would exempt corrupt officials from prosecution, splitting Tunisia on whether to bury its past.
Middle East Online

By Tarek Amara – TUNIS

Tunisian deputy Samia Abbou reacted in parliament against the contested reconciliation bill

Tunisia's parliament on Wednesday approved a controversial law granting amnesty to officials accused of corruption during the rule of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, triggering angry protests from the opposition and activists outside.

Opposition lawmakers sang the national anthem and shouted slogans before the session was temporarily suspended. Outside, dozens of demonstrators chanted "This law will not pass" and "Whitewash corruption".

The law was approved by 117 deputies. The opposition withdrew from the session in protest against the insistence of the ruling coalition on passing the law in an extraordinary session.

"I congratulate you on the return of the dictatorial state and reconciliation with the corrupt," Ahmed Seddik a deputy of the Popular Front said.

"Tunisians will not forgive you", he added.

After months of protests, the bill was amended from an original draft which would have also granted amnesty to corrupt businessmen. As it stands, they will be liable to prosecution for crimes committed during Ben Ali's 24-year rule.

Witnesses said police beat protesters who had shouted slogans against the President and the ruling parties Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes which supported the law.

"The opposition no longer has a pretext, they resorted to unacceptable methods..They rejected democracy", Sofian Toubel a lawmaker of Nidaa Tounes said.

Critics of the so-called "Economic Reconciliation" Law say it is a step back from the spirit of Tunisia's 2011 revolution to oust Ben Ali, who fled after weeks of protests against corruption and inequality.

"This law is an advanced stage of counter-revolution," opposition lawmaker Ammar Amroussia said.

TURNING THE PAGE?

But government officials say the law helps to turn the page on the past, improves the climate for investment and gives confidence to the administration and officials.

"The time has come to stop the isolation of those officials who could contribute to the building of the new Tunisia," said Mohamed Souf of the governing Nidaa Tounes party. "We must reconcile, as happened in South Africa and Rwanda." The bill was proposed by President Beji Caid Essebsi, himself a former Ben Ali official, and sent to parliament in 2015. But debate was postponed after criticism that the original bill benefited business elites tied to the government.

At Wednesday's session, tensions flared between the ruling coalition and the opposition lawmakers, who said the Supreme Judicial Council had not yet given its answer after being consulted by the parliament on the legality of the bill.

Despite the consensus between secular and Islamist parties that helped the country's transition towards democracy, the bill has divided Tunisians between those who want to draw a line under the past and those who say they must deal with past graft.

Since the 2011 uprising, Tunisia has been held up by Western partners as a model of democracy for the region. Economic progress has lagged, though, and corruption remains a major problem in the North African state.

 

Libya to investigate 'slave auction' footage

Iraq top court declares Kurd referendum unconstitutional

Saudi Arabia, Arab allies push for unity against Iran, Hezbollah meddling

15 women killed in food aid crush in Morocco

Rare moments of joy at Arabs’ unprecedented World Cup qualifications

UN chief horrified by Libya slave auctions

Qatar 2022 chief has no regrets over hosting World Cup

Gheit says Lebanon should be 'spared' from regional tensions

Syria ‘de-escalation zone’ does nothing to stop civilian deaths

Is a demilitarised Palestinian state a viable option?

S&P affirms good Saudi credit ratings

Israel president faces big backlash over Palestinian scarf

Sudan leader to visit Russia Thursday

Seven years into Libya’s civil war, the chaos continues

Lebanon FM will not attend Arab League Iran summit

Syrian forces liberate Albu Kamal from IS

Israel votes to shut migrant centre, deport Africans

Diplomats from Iran, Russia, Turkey discuss Syria

Libya to investigate ‘slave auction’ footage

Piece by piece, Iran moves towards a ‘new empire’

Netanyahu faces new questioning over corruption case

Syria troops, allies retake most of Albu Kamal from IS

EU cuts funding to Turkey in 2018 budget

Lebanon's Hariri arrives in Paris

Egypt opens Gaza border for first time since unity deal

US-Russia rift threatens fragile prospects for Syria peace

'Caliphate' in tatters but IS still a threat

Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments

Russia again vetoes renewal of Syria gas attacks probe

UN weighs bid to save Syria gas attacks probe

IS attack kills 26 displaced people in Syria

Saudi FM says Lebanon 'held hostage by Hezbollah'

Egypt to open Rafah crossing for 3 days

Turkish troops pulled from NATO drill amid new tensions

Six children among civilians killed in shelling of Eastern Ghouta

US official calls on Sudan to stop 'church demolitions'

Hariri set to leave Saudi Arabia for France

Fears of bombs, IS cells still haunt Mosul

Iraq retakes Rawa, last town held by IS

Riyadh striking deals with people detained in anti-graft purge

Iran criticises French Mideast policy

Russia again blocks UN resolution on Syria action

Israel military chief says ready to cooperate with Saudi Arabia

Egypt confirms death of wanted jihadist

UK denies link between citizen detained in Iran and £400m debt