TS Update-(Crime and Safety Report)

The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) crime and safety report is a great security informational resource.  Mostly updated by the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Officer, the report provides valuable and practical security information.  The report was recently updated and looking for valuable insights here’s what I found…

Overview

The U.S. Department of State continues to rate Tunisia as a medium threat country for crime. As stated in previous postings, road safety continues to be the “most significant safety threat” to a visitor in Tunisia.  An interesting point that was added to the report confirms that “since the revolution there have been occasional threats to American or Western interests”.  One incident sited in the report took place in August 2011 where it was reported that “extremists had possibly identified staff of international aid organizations as potential targets for kidnapping”.  

Another interesting note relative to the importance of situational awareness is the “target selection” among criminals.  According to the report, the target selection “tends to focus on persons who appear unfamiliar with their surroundings…and or otherwise draw attention to themselves”.  The other factor is that thieves, usually male “sometimes target western women walking alone and rob them day or night IF the opportunity presents itself”.  That being said it is important to note that violent crimes remain “relatively rare in the affluent areas where most expatriates reside”.   

Post Revolution Security Update Points

The report highlights several interesting points relative to the  New Tunisia Security Landscape:

  • Tunisia security forces have noted the increased availability of small arms and other weapons in Tunisia throughout 2011. 
  • Since the revolution, Tunisia has witnessed increased activity by ultra-conservative Islamists. 
  • While demonstrations have not been directed toward foreigners, visitors are urged to remain alert to local security developments and to be vigilant regarding their personal security. 
  • The majority of crime reported by the Tunisian media, including violent crime, occurs between people who are acquainted in some way. 
  • The U.S. Embassy has noted a rise in aggressive criminal activity in recent months.  

Positive Side…

Overall the report makes the accurate point that since the revolution, the security situation in “most tourist and business centers remains calm…”  Additionally, considering the historical changes that have taken place in Tunisia within such a short time span, it is fair to say that things are going well.  

Please feel free to review the report for yourself and share your valuable feedback…

Tunisia 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report

 

 

 

 

TS Update-(Good Day)

Yesterday thousands of Tunisians sent a powerful message to those who are calling for division and extremism.  “”Tunisia is free, no to the Caliphate and backwards mind” read one of many such signs.

It was also a powerful message to Expats.  There should be no doubt that the majority of Tunisians are for pluralism and freedom.  The Expat community thrives in a pluralistic, accepting, and open environment.  Usually, the host country benefits greatly from this energy of diversity and inclusion.  As an Expat, it’s nice to hear the Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki, wisely advise people to “live together despite their differences”.  The president’s words are the foundation for a vibrant Expat community.

Action…Reaction?

It will be interesting to see what (if any) reaction will take place on Friday.  Will the salafists feel the need to assemble a counter protest?  Usually, major protests take place after Friday’s prayer from 2pm-5pm.  Good information to know if you are planning on being on the road during these times.

Good Advice

The president also gave Tunisians the best security advise available: “be vigilant against extremism from wherever it comes and preserve a civil state based on pluralism, democracy and fundamental freedoms.”

These words fuel the engines of security and civility which in turn make living in Tunisia safer.  A safe Tunisia equals a better place for Expats to live, explore, and thrive.

 

 

TS Update-(Independence Action)

During the Spring Break I promised myself that I would “cut back” from all the security information and simply enjoy the week, but there’s so much going on that it’s close to impossible to cut back.  Besides, I love this stuff!

I find the times we’re living in so interesting and like an enthusiastic storm chaser; I find myself in the middle of a very interesting storm.

56th Independence anniversary

Downtown would normally be pretty busy tomorrow, but with the added fury between salafists and secularists things could get a little more interesting than normal…or as Tunisians say “mouch normale”.

Starting as early as 11am, protesters from different groups and walks of life will gather downtown for many reasons.  The major demonstration will come from those who oppose the Shariaa law as the foundation of the Tunisian constitution. 

I wonder how the salafists feel about that?

On the Road…

We’ve been on the road a lot these past few days and things look good out here, but there is a hint of suspense.  Indeed the debate between salafists and secularists is heating up right in time for the warm weather.

Let’s hope cool heads prevail and things continue to go as smooth as the weather has these past few days.

 

TS Update-(Spring Break Tunisia 2012)

I wanted to share a few travel tips for those of you staying in country over the break.  The weather is getting better and thankfully tourism is picking back up.  Still, Situational Awareness remains your best security tool because of the unpredictability of social tensions and demonstrations.  Additionally, it is a good practice to visit touristic sties (especially in the south) with an approved local guide or reputable tour operator.

There is still a high security risk in the southern Tunisia/Algeria border and we would recommend that you avoid these areas if possible.  If you are planning on visiting certain desert areas bordering Algeria you need to do a lot of prep work before you go down there.  This includes seeking permission from the Tunisian authorities and coordinating with licensed guides.

That being said I just have to add this comment… Tunisia is a beautiful country with so much to see (especially when the weather is good), so why would a visitor want to visit the Tunisian/Algerian border, especially their military zones…you would be surprised!

Tourism+Security=Win-Win

The relationship between the tourism industry and the security field is a good barometer of how things are going.  In response to the question as to way European tourist are preferring to visit other destinations such as the Canary Islands, the Caribbean or the Maldives, the Tunisian tourism minster, Mr. Elyes Fakhfakh goes straight to the point:  “We understand that (challenge) perfectly. We have to reassure them that Tunisia is safe”. 

Wahid Ibrahim, former CEO of the Tunisian National Tourism Board (ONTT), highlights the point even better:  “Tourism is the engine of economic and social development. However, to ensure its durability Tunisia today needs security and peace…
Top 5 Tunisia Road Trip Points

5.  Pre-Plan…Pre-Plan…Pre Plan:  Did we mention you should pre-plan?  Yes pre planning your trip will save you from a lot of unwanted surprises. 

4.  Stay Updated:  Before you get on the road make sure you check your “intel sources”…(Tunisia Security Update…DavidSecurity Twitter…Tunisia Live…neighbors…etc)

3.  Vehicle Check:  Make sure your papers are in order, stickers are updated, and your vehicle is good to go!

2.  Avoid “hot spots”:  Sure the Algerian border is probably very beautiful to see at night but do you really need to see it in person???

1.  Drive Safely:  Driving continues to be the number safety concern in Tunisia…stay vigilant, respect traffic laws, and drive safely. 

 

Enjoy your break…have fun & be safe!

 

 

 

TS Update-(In the Middle)

The Associated Press story entitled “Tunisian Islamists Spark Fear of Culture War”  has a passage that accurately describes the situation Expats currently find themselves in:

“New religious freedoms have also opened the way for the Salafis, who are now in a daily battle for hearts and minds with equally hardline secular elements entrenched in the media and the elite. Television stations, Western embassies and government offices have all felt the conservatives’ wrath.”

This “conservative wrath” has been the main focus of our analysis during the past month or so and it’s been quite an interesting time.  From protests to alleged plots, flag burnings to suspicious meetings, the conservative wrath is no easy assignment to keep up with.

On the opposite side of the spectrum (or more towards the middle), we’ve also been tracking the ‘moderates’ attempts to deal with this whole situation.  At this point we can put forward several observations:

  1. The conservative wrath is led by a small and vocal minority that does not in any way represent the vast majority of Tunisians.
  2.  Although small in number, the conservative wrath presents several security concerns.  As the article points out, the so-called war of words is taking place against a “backdrop of armed radical movements just over the porous borders in neighboring Algeria and Libya, and there are worries that Tunisia’s aggressive demonstrations could evolve into an armed struggle if the competing demands are not handled carefully.”
  3. It is still unclear how the Tunisian authorities will ‘deal’ with this small, vocal, and increasingly active minority.

In the Middle

Tunisia is in the middle…in the middle of writing a new Constitution….in the middle of choosing a path…in the middle of two very challenging countries.  Some even suggest that Tunisia is experiencing a middle class revolution.

As Expats we find ourselves in the middle of historic times with a lot to be excited and concerned about.

 

TS Update-(A moment of truth)

As Expats, we find ourselves once again witnessing history.  Once again we’re going to see a shift.  A shift in this whole debate between the so-called “salafists” and the general Tunisian public.  It has already been established that the salafists do not represent most Tunisians.  Instead they are but a vocal minority taking advantage of the new political landscape.

For months now, we have seen them challenge the authorities on a number of issues.  During their last protest in front of the U.S. embassy they not only placed the American flag on the road for cars to run over it but they were even embolden enough to burn it.  The burning of a U.S. flag abroad is nothing new so of course I did not expect any notable condemnation from the Tunisian people. It is however, encouraging to see how the majority of Tunisians are reacting to what can only be labeled as an “ignorant move” on the part of the Salafists at the Manaboua University.

Reported by numerous sources, salafists demonstrating at the Manouba University decided to replace the Tunisian flag with a black religious flag….big mistake!

Action…Reaction

After this offensive spectacle, the general Tunisian population is waiting for the proper reaction from the government.  Article 129 of the Tunisian Penal code, basically protects the Tunisian and all other foreign flags from any type of public desecration.

People are now gathering in front of the assembly in Bardo, to demand that the law be applied.

It will be interesting to see the reaction if any, but no matter what,  we can be certain that this is a moment of truth.

 

 

TS Update-(Salafists Fridays)

After witnessing the disturbing protest on Friday, March 2,  by the so-called “salafists” in front of the U.S embassy , I decided this would be a good time to take a step back…

Let’s cover the basics

Expats love to travel. They love to experience new cultures and discover new worlds. However,  they’re usually not interested in the everyday politics of the country they live in.  In a country like Tunisia, with few English speaking media outlets, this can be a liability. It is primarily in response to this reality that we started the Tunisia Security Update.

After the protest at the embassy I heard many expats asking basic yet important questions about this small yet vocal minority.

 

Tunisian-Salafists

Salafists 101

What’s a Salafi?  First let’s understand that labels are convenient to understand vast subjects, but they’re not always necessarily accurate.  After considering various definitions I think this one answers the question:  “A Salafi is a Muslim who emphasises the earliest Muslims, as model examples of Islamic practice.”  We could say that they are traditionalist, neo-conservative, literalist, etc. 

Who are the Salafists in Tunisia?  There’s a very informative article entitled “Salafists in Tunisia” by the Stonegate Insutite.  In it they point out that it is difficult to make an “evaluation about their number but they have become numerous and visible” (i.e. US Embassy Protest).  They also go on to state that Salafists are not interested in a democratic model and a modern state, but rather they wish to “impose social norms which are from twelve to fifteen centuries old.”

Do they present a security threat?  Well this is the question that’s unfolding.  Authorities have been sending out mixed signals.  On the one hand, we saw the strong actions taking by security forces which eventually led to the sizing of large amounts of arms and ammunition during the Bir Ali operationBut on the other hand  we also read statements such as “President Moncef Marzouki supports the recognition of Salafi parties”.

There are many good articles online about the Salafists and their developing role within the new geopolitical stage, but still many questions remain. 

Salafists Fridays

I choose to title this posting ‘Salafists Fridays’ because we’ve had  some sort of ‘Salafists Action’ (protest, rally, etc.) 3 weeks in a row.  Interestingly enough one of the leading Islamist groups, Hizb Ettahrir, is hosting a conference entitled:  “Caliphate, a bright example for the rights and political role of women.” on March 10th 2012 in the Carthago Hotel.  Supporters of this neo-conservative group from all over the world will make their way here to meet and discuss many topics. 

You could  expect to see a higher security presence around the Carthago Hotel and the greater Northern suburb area this weekend.