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Security Improves in Tunis

End of overnight curfew seen as sign of new approach to policing as Tunisia makes halting progress.
By Fethi Touzri

The recent lifting of the curfew in Tunis is a sign that progress is being made in the area of security, and suggests a more conciliatory tone from the authorities, and the police in particular.

Public expectations of change are running high, so tensions are inevitable when there seems to be no visible progress.

Prior to the curfew, there were some problems with security, including during a four-day protest when demonstrators called on the government to resign. In the ten days the night-time curfew was in place, ending May 19, it hit business activity.

Relations between police and the public continue to be uncertain. The police are trying to shape a new public image for themselves, whereas what people want is a radical change to way law-enforcement is carried out. In clashes with protestors in early May, police used tear gas and batons and made many arrests.

The is a clear link between frictions in the political process and violence on the streets.

The government is now talking about political reform, and opening up the interior ministry to dialogue with civil society. This is certainly a new approach.

In the first instance, we need to ensure that the police play a positive role through the transitional period, particularly in preparing for elections.

Previously, the problem with the police was the doctrine they followed, the role they played in the autocratic system, and their behaviour towards
the public. Their job was quite simply to serve as ideological guardians of the state.

Furthermore, corruption is a feature of the security system, as it is of all sectors of government.

Now we must define a new set of guidelines, a new standard of behaviour, and a new role for the police within a democratic system.

The evolution we are undergoing is not linear. Some days we go forward, on others we regress.

We are aware we have to pursue a huge range of reforms across almost every sector. Sometimes there is progress in one area but not another. That is bad since these areas – economics, security and politics – are all interlinked.

So far, we can say we have achieved a consensus on the interim provisional institutions that we need with regard to the presidency and government. We are also working on a new election law and on holding the elections themselves, and we are lightening the economic burden on the poorest people in our society. This last is particularly important, as it is already clear this is going to be a very bad year for tourism, which has been badly affected by the revolution.

On the other hand, it has been a good year for agriculture, with high production levels for fruit and cereals. So God has not forgotten Tunisia, after all.

Fethi Touzri is a doctor and a veteran human rights activist in Tunisia.

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