'We shall not forgive': Tunisia's campaign against ex-regime figures

'We shall not forgive': Tunisia's campaign against ex-regime figures
Manich Msameh hopes to block the economic reconciliation bill, which would grant amnesty to thousands of Ben Ali's corrupt officials in exchange for their wealth.
3 min read
31 May, 2016
Ben Ali was ousted in a 2011 popular revolution [AFP]

A grassroots movement targeting Tunisia's economic reconciliation bill has been gaining popularity, particularly following the brief detention of several of its members.

Manich Msameh ["We shall not forgive"] is an independent non-violent movement that hopes to hold accountable the top figures from the era of dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in a 2011 popular revolution that triggered a series of Arab Spring uprisings.

"Manich Msameh serves as a reminder for the Tunisian people that there is no room for reconciliation with the top figures of the former regime," member Wessam al-Saghir told The New Arab.

"Continuous events and incidents, as well as social and economic crises, may push the revolution's main goals into oblivion," he said. The movement, he added, hoped to "resist the obliteration of the revolution".

Saghir was among several movement members who were arrested and briefly detained last week for "hanging posters without a permit".

The group were posting portraits of Tunisian politician Abdel Wahab Abdallah, accompanied by the word "Wanted".

Abdallah, who is accused of leading a media blackout and crackdown on dissent during Ben Ali's era, had sparked controversy after he was invited to an official ceremony at the Carthage Palace.

Manich Msameh and others considered the move as an insult towards the revolutionary youth and a step towards reconciliation with Ben Ali's cronies.

Saghir believes that the movement will be successful, as it "haunts" the politicians who "dream of a full reconciliation".

The movement was founded last summer after the government approved the controversial bill based on a proposal by President Beji Caid Essebsi in March.

Following government approval, the bill was referred to the parliament for ratification.

If adopted, the proposed bill would grant amnesty to thousands of Ben Ali's allegedly corrupt businessmen, ministers, and top aides - in exchange for their wealth, which they are reported to have embezzled from state funds.

It would end any prosecutions underway and cancel any sentences already handed down - if the business executives agree to give back the assets in question.

Transparency International issued a press release in August 2015 strongly condemning the bill and calling on the government to reject it.

"There is nothing in the proposed law to make the corrupt name the cronies or high officials in the Tunisian government who helped them steal," the press release said.

"This allows the most corrupt in Tunisia to escape justice."

The group's chairman, Jose Ugaz, added: "The proposed new law would make a sham of the noble concept of truth and reconciliation.

"The biggest thieves who enriched themselves under Tunisian dictator Ben Ali would be able to escape justice in return for putting some of their ill-gotten gains back into the economy. That will only serve to boost the influence and power of the corrupt."

Last September, dozens of members from the movement protested in front of the Tunisian General Labour Union in the capital, Tunis, chanting: "We shall not forgive."

The police forcibly prevented the march from parading down the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue and briefly detained a number of protesters.

"Tunisia certainly faces serious security problems, but the authorities' heavy-handed response to these peaceful protests is no way to resolve them," Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director of Human Right Watch, said at the time.

"Tunisian authorities need to send a clear message to their security forces that beating and otherwise mistreating peaceful protesters won't be tolerated."

Presidential spokesperson Moez Sinawi responded at the time, saying that the bill would not be withdrawn from the parliament.