The Council of Europe and the Arab Spring

© GammaEver since a desperate man in Tunisia burned himself to death last December, pro-democracy movements have exploded across the Arab world. The revolutionary wave of demonstrations continues to seize our attention, raising headlines and hopes that democracy can replace dictatorship. After Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland visited Tunisia in February and offered the Council of Europe’s practical cooperation, efforts are underway – from the Parliamentary Assembly and the Venice Commission, to the Pompidou Group and the North-South Centre.

A television crew from Tunisia’s national television station El Watania travelled to Strasbourg in August 2011 to report on the Council of Europe’s role in Tunisia’s transition to democracy. “We were identified with the old regime, but now we have come out of the dark and welcome the light of press freedom,” said producer Slaheddine Ben Mbarek. In July, Olfa Belhassine, journalist for the Tunisian daily La Presse, visited Strasbourg to report on the Council of Europe. “In a situation of transition, things are far from simple,” she said. She stressed the threat not only of Islamic fundamentalists, but also counter-revolutionaries supporting former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for 21 years. “More than ever, we need journalists to reveal to the public what is happening here, and welcome Council of Europe support for press freedom and democracy.”
Photo: © Gamma (Jean Marmeisse)

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Parliamentary Assembly rapporteur on a fact-finding visit to Morocco

Luca Volontè (Italy, EPP/CD), rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the “Evaluation of the Partnership for Democracy in respect of the Parliament of Morocco” made a fact-finding visit to Rabat on 17 and 18 April.

On 21 June 2011, the Parliament of Morocco was the first to benefit from Partner for Democracy status with PACE, established in 2010 to strengthen institutional co-operation with the parliaments of non-member states in neighbouring regions wishing to benefit from the experience of the Council of Europe in the field of democratic reform, and to take part in the political debate on common challenges that transcend European boundaries. (more...)

Council of Europe Secretary General calls on Syria to comply with peace plan

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland issued on 9 April 2012 the following statement: "The attack by Syrian forces on a refugee camp inside the Turkish border is a blatant violation of international law.

It is deeply worrying that the Syrian regime is escalating the conflict at a time when the international community is intensifying efforts to broker a peaceful, political solution.

President al-Assad must work with UN Secretary General's Special Envoy Kofi Annan on immediate, full and unconditional compliance with the peace plan.

Read also: Joint statement on the situation in Syria by PACE President and Chair of its Political Affairs Committee

Assembly delegation makes a post-election visit to Tunisia

A PACE delegation led by Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC) travelled to Tunis on 16 and 17 January 2012. The President of the Venice Commission – the Council of Europe's group of independent legal experts – also joined the delegation.

The purpose of this visit was to assess the scope for strengthening PACE’s institutional relations with the new Constituent National Assembly and with other Tunisian institutions and partners, following the elections of 23 October 2011. (more...)

Assembly to observe parliamentary elections in Morocco

A 15-member delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Morocco from 22 to 26 November 2011 to observe the parliamentary elections on 25 November.

The delegation met, inter alia, representatives of the parliamentary groups, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior in charge of election administration, the President of the National Human Rights Council and representatives of civil society, the media and political parties not represented in parliament.

On 25 November, the delegation was deployed throughout the country to observe the voting in polling stations. (more...)

Observers congratulate citizens of Tunisia for keeping their appointment with history

Following the election of the consitutent National Assembly of Tunisia, the observer delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe made the following statement:

"“The observer delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) congratulates the citizens of Tunisia for having achieved this rendez-vous with history. For the first time, they have freely elected their constituent National Assembly, laying the foundations of their democracy. They have thus transformed the revolutionary dynamic into a legal and legitimate institution, thereby setting an example for the entire region.

The PACE delegation thanks the Tunisian transitional authorities for having guaranteed the free expression of citizens' will and congratulates them on their commitment. The election day was calm and peaceful. The people of Tunisia expressed their will freely and in a dignified manner. (more...)

North-South Centre: the Role of Women in the Arab Spring

"Women as agents of change in the South Mediterranean Region": the international conference organised in Rome by the North South-Centre of the Council of Europe and the Italian Parliament has brought together representatives of international organisations, civil society and experts from the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.

"The issue of participation is linked to the fundamental principle of equality between men and women", said today Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio while addressing the opening session.."We all have seen the images of women in streets asking for change - continued the Deputy Secretary General - Seeing is not enough. We have to demonstrate in the next two days that we have also heard and understood their messages, and that we stand alongside them".  

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini, the President of the North-South Centre, Deborah Bergamini, PACE President  Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio, Italian Minister for Equal Opportunity Mara Carfagna and President of the Italian parliamentarian delegation at PACE, Luigi Vitali are among the speakers at Palazzo Montecitorio.

The event takes place at the Italian Parliament's Sala del Mappamondo, analysing during two days the role of women as agents of political and economical change in the Arab Spring. A focus on the media as instruments for the promotion of women's' action is also envisaged, with the participation of journalists, bloggers, film directors and industry representatives. The Libyan activist Huda El Abdelaziz Muhamed has finally highlighted today the new context of democratic changes after the dictatorship.

 

Parliamentary Assembly rapporteurs to visit Egypt

Jean-Charles Gardetto (Monaco, EPP/CD), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on co-operation with the emerging democracies in the Arab world, and Konstantinos Vrettos (Greece, SOC), rapporteur on the situation in the Middle East, visited Egypt from 23 to 26 September 2011.

The visit was an opportunity for the rapporteurs to gather information about the political situation in Egypt in the run-up to the parliamentary elections with a view to intensifying and broadening co-operation between Egypt and the Council of Europe, including via the Partner for Democracy status created recently by the PACE for parliaments in neighbouring regions. The Moroccan Parliament has already been granted Partner for Democracy status and the Assembly is expected to take a decision on the award of this status to the Palestinian National Council on 4 October in Strasbourg. (more...)

Tunisia’s democratic revolution: training the electoral gatekeepers

On 23 October 2011, Tunisia held its groundbreaking election of a new Constituent Assembly, the first pluralistic election in its history. The elected Assembly will have to adopt perhaps the most democratic constitution in the Arab world – and the Council of Europe will provide exclusive legal assistance in this process.

Tunisian judges and lawyers will arbitrate possible electoral disputes over such issues as the validity of candidates, violations of media neutrality and contested election results. This will influence the country’s new path to democracy, as they will have the last word on how free and fair these elections are.

Specialists from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters, were in Tunisia to provide international observers final pre-election advice. At the request of the Tunisian Bar, the Venice Commission organises, from 19 to 23 September 2011, a Training Seminar on electoral disputes. This seminar delt with disputes that may arise on: the validity of candidatures, the respect of the rules on the electoral campaign and the results of the election.

On 20-25 October 2011, Venice Commission experts returned to Tunisia to provide legal advice to the 40 members of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) while they observed the elections of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia on 23 October 2011.

Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation makes pre-electoral visit to Tunisia

A five-member, cross-party delegation of observers from the Assembly, headed by Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), visited Tunisia on 15 and 16 September 2011 ahead of the elections for a Constituent National Assembly. The delegation is met the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, as well as leaders of the main political parties and members of the Supreme Commission for the Completion of the Revolution’s Objectives. It also met election officials, NGOs and media representatives, as well as members of the EU electoral assistance team in Tunis. A full 20-member PACE delegation observed the election itself on 23 October.

Strengthening democracy in Tunisia: fair and balanced media coverage during elections

A three-day long ‘training of trainers’ session on fair media coverage during elections was organised from 6 to 9 September 2011 in Strasbourg, as part of the Council of Europe’s assistance to Tunisia. The training programme, organised by the Venice Commission and the Information Society and Media Division, was part of the assistance activities established by the organisation following Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland’s February visit to Tunisia.

Within the programme, the participants also met French and German journalists, as well as Secretary General and other representatives of the Council of Europe and the local authorities. This training is funded by the Dutch government.

TV report

A television crew from Tunisia’s national television station El Watania travelled to Strasbourg in August 2011 to report on the Council of Europe’s role in Tunisia’s transition to democracy.

Slaheddine Ben Mbarek, producer; Hassen Godbane, director ; Mehdi Ben Ammar, cameraman and Mahjoub Hammami, sound engineer, of the Tunesian national television station. With Gaël Martin-Micallef of the Venice Commission, before the Palais de l’Europe on 10 August.

Olfa Belhassine testifies

In July 2011, Olfa Belhassine, journalist for the Tunisian daily "La Presse", visited Strasbourg to report on the Council of Europe. “In a situation of transition, things are far from simple,” she said. She stressed the threat not only of Islamic fundamentalists, but also counter-revolutionaries supporting former president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for 21 years. “More than ever, we need journalists to reveal to the public what is happening here, and welcome Council of Europe support for press freedom and democracy.”

An award-winning journalist, Olfa Belhassine is not only a top reporter for the Tunisian daily "La Presse", but has also published articles on the Arab Spring this year in major French publications including "Le Monde" and "Libération".

Interview with Ridha Zguidane, Consul General of Tunisia


Following a press briefing on Friday 28 October 2011 about the elections in Tunisia, the Council of Europe's web TV was able to interview Mr. Ridha Zguidane, Consul General of Tunisia to talk about the results which were decided Thursday evening.

The Islamic party Ennahda won, but Mr. Zguidane reassures that there is no need to fear their victory. He described Tunisia today as a laboratory for democracy and he is confident for the future. Mr. Zguidane praises the important cooperation with the Council of Europe to prepare the elections and he sees many other opportunities for more cooperation in the future.