The World Today for July 29, 2021

NEED TO KNOW

TUNISIA

Pandemic+’Coup’/geopolitics=Crisis

For some, the coronavirus pandemic feels like it’s ending. For Tunisians, it’s as if it has just begun.

Hospital beds, oxygen and other medical supplies are running low in the North African country that managed to avoid the worst of the first wave of Covid-19 but now is seeing the most deaths per day since the pandemic started. The hospital system is on the verge of collapse. Only seven percent of the country is vaccinated.

“My mother is in a critical condition,” a woman identified only as Laila told Reuters as she stood at a hospital in Tunis, the capital. “Oxygen is not available… people die every day for this reason.”

Tunisians were banding together to combat the virus. Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach Wimbledon’s quarter-finals, sold her racket to raise cash for the cause, France24 reported.

The international community has been sending urgently needed supplies to Tunisia, too.

Saudi Arabia and France each promised to send one million vaccine doses. The US pledged 500,000 doses. Morocco sent 100 intensive care beds. Qatar sent a field hospital. Egypt and other Arab countries are sending other supplies.

The humanitarian aid has arguably sparked a kind of competition for influence in Tunisia, wrote the Washington Post.

Saudi Arabia, for example, is traditionally a donor country that helps its allies in the region. Aid to Tunisia helps polish its image, which has been tarnished by Saudi agents killing journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul and the Saudi military’s outsized role in the humanitarian crisis plaguing war-torn Yemen.

The aid also plays out through foreign influence in Tunisian politics. President Kais Saied has been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, who enjoys the support of the Islamist political party, Ennahda, which has the largest bloc in parliament. Ennahda has sought support from Turkey and Qatar, two Saudi rivals in the region. Saudi leaders could be seeking to improve their standing to counterbalance Qatari influence.

Still, all the geopolitics got shoved to the side this week after Saied fired the prime minister and suspended parliament, plunging the country into the most serious crisis in the decade since its transition to democracy. The president also instituted a curfew and ordered troops to surround parliament and the government seat. Already, fighting has broken out in the streets between Saied supporters and critics who call his move a coup.

Now, some worry that the birthplace of the Arab Spring and the only country to successfully transition to democracy might be headed the way of the other countries in the region who pushed out their leaders, namely Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

A failing economy, a healthcare crisis, a political crisis and the prize of a region geopolitical competition: It’s a lot for a young democracy to handle.

But as some Tunisians tell it, the struggles are worth it if it means holding on to the liberty they gained 10 years ago.

Ali Garci, a retired teacher, told the Washington Post that life hasn’t been perfect over the past decade but that he has enjoyed the freedom the revolution ushered in: “I spent 54 years under the (heels) of politicians like Ben Ali and [Habib] Bourguiba,” he said, referring to two former presidents, both deposed. “I prefer to die rather than continue the rest of my life under the (heels) of new brutal politicians.”

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