Checkpoint Tunisia: A shooting and a diplomatic gaffe

by fpman

September 11, 2014

News of a major diplomatic gaffe, via Tunisie Numerique

When Mongi Hamdi, who happens to be Minister of Foreign Affairs in Tunisia’s current caretaker government under acting Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, showed up in Frankfurt on September 11, there was no one to give him an official reception on the part of Germany, statedly because Tunisia’s Consul General in Bonn, a certain Hichem Marzouki, failed to notify his German counterparts of the minister’s arrival… Hence no airport facilitation for the MFA that is typically available for foreign dignitaries in most countries, even for those only transiting (see, for a faraway example, Australia’s current policy here). Concluding he had to do things all by himself, Minister Hamdi therefore presented himself to German border police who then promptly took the necessary measures and made sure he was comfortable.

Or so the story goes.

Hichem Marzouki is a convenient target of ridicule: his appointment as Consul General was widely criticized back in 2012 as a form of patronage on the part of Tunisia’s current (interim) President, Moncef Marzouki, given that Hichem  his brother  had no prior diplomatic experience.

Having said that, it seems highly unlikely that Tunisia would leave it to a Consul General to notify his host country of a transit by his minister of foreign affairs. So why would a theory like this emerge?

Two weeks earlier – A shooting…

A checkpoint shooting by Tunisian interior ministry troops in the city of Kasserine resulted in the death of two students, named as Ahlem D. (21) and her cousin Ons (18), on August 24. Their car, driven by Sondes D., Ahlem’s sister, on the way back from a wedding, was shot at at a road block after it allegedly failed to stop at warning signals.

This is where dots suddenly seem to connect. Ahlem D. was a German-Tunisian double citizen. And her father is a car mechanic in… Bonn, Germany.

So President Marzouki eventually found time, on September 2, to receive Ahlem’s father and a group of relatives. He listened to the family make the case that the troops made a grave mistake when they opened fire on that tragic day and that the car was not in fact accelerating so much that this would have warranted shooting at it. Reportedly, President Marzouki burst into tears over what he had heard.

How could the family have found access to, and so much understanding from, the president? Was this facilitated by the president’s brother perhaps? The link through Bonn seems to suggest there may be a connection like this…

And is what happened to Minister Mongi Hamdi in Frankfurt possibly related to this? Could the above story about Hichem Marzouki’s gaffe be a tendentiously spun piece of partisan news reporting, in the context of the struggles of the upcoming legislative and presidential elections? Now that the registration of presidential candidates has begun, on September 8? Did the president’s reaction to the shooting incident, embarrassing as it was for some in the caretaker government, work as the trigger for this? Am I going to pose more intriguing questions like these? Or is it time to move towards a synthesis? Yes?

A synthesis!

Judging by the reactions in the comments over here, President Marzouki is strongly hated by some who now refer to him and his brother Hichem as “a dynasty of dogs” and almost rejoice upon being confronted with news of the above kind about a Marzouki’s inexcusable gaffe or what is presumed to be that.

Still… Even a much more moderate commenter (going by the name of Mizaa Noun), who otherwise takes issue with the theory that the Consul General himself failed to notify German authorities and was exclusively responsible for the lack of reception for Minister Hamdi in Frankfurt, concludes that in Tunisia:

“Il semble que les clans familiaux ont été toujours partie organique du pouvoir. Autrement dit la corruption est le pilier principal du pouvoir quel qu’il soit. Il n’y a pas un seul ministre, député, ambassadeur ou autres qui n’a pas en priorité en tête de placer ses frères et sœurs aux postes de « confiance » et aussi les plus lucratifs.

In a nutshell: this commenter says that corruption is a part of the system in Tunisia, whatever is the system of the day. And it’s not an isolated case when people in power are found to have put relatives into positions of “confidence” that also happen to pay well.