Disagreements in the Debate sessions in the Tunisian Parliament to pass a draft agreement between Tunisia and the Qatar Fund for Development (QFFD) have exceeded the permissible limit. As Sahbi Samara, MP close to the Ennahda movement, violently assaulted Abeer Moussa, head of the Free Constitutional Party, in front of everyone in Parliament.
The approval of the Tunisian Parliament to establish a headquarters for the Qatar Fund for Development with the support of Ennahda Movement and the Dignity Coalition deputies, did not end the controversy over the agreement, as the Democratic Bloc and the Free Destourian Party deputies strongly reject it. The political circles are awaiting the position of President Qais Saeed, while the features of the relationship with Doha, which celebrated Saeed earlier, are on the line.
Saeed and the final word..
Tunisia’s parliament on Wednesday approved the draft agreement by a majority of 122 votes, while 82 MPs boycotted the vote. The dispute dates back to 2016, when Qatar granted Tunisia $250 million to help finance development projects, when a memorandum of understanding was signed at that time to establish an office for the Qatar Fund for Development in Tunisia, which the Tunisian parliament refused to vote in 2019.
The final word belongs to the President, as he is responsible for signing bills and agreements to enter into force. Saeed had previously refused to sign projects passed by the Ennahda-led parliamentary majority, such as the prime minister’s cabinet reshuffle and passed by Parliament since last January, as well as amendments to the constitutional court law, which has been stalled for years.
On the other hand, after the failure of drop the draft agreement in parliament, calls by political parties for President Qais Saeed to not sign it have escalated. This is in anticipation of the decision of the Provisional body responsible for checking the constitutionality of bills, which a group of parliamentarians is preparing to challenge this bill.
MP Mabrouk Kerchid called on the president not to sign what he described as the most dangerous agreement in Tunisia’s history.
“The ball is now in the court of Provisional body responsible for checking the constitutionality of bills before the final word comes to President Saeed, who must bear his responsibility by signing the draft agreement or abstaining from that, and I call on him not to sign it,” Kerchid says.
The Tunisian MP called on national judges to correct the government’s 2019 mistake against the Tunisia’s legal system, particularly the constitution, by returning this agreement to parliament for discussion, amendment, rejection if necessary and return it to the government until it is amended in accordance with Tunisian legislation. He also warned against interference that could harm the Provisional body responsible for checking the constitutionality of bills in its judgment.
The Qatar Fund for Development has been active since 2002, and Youssef Chahed, the former Prime Minister, signed the agreement in 2018 during the reign of Caid Essebsi, the late President, and Mabrouk Karshid, Minister of State Properties at the time. The parliamentary committee discussed the agreement during the era of the government of Elias Fakhfakh.
Ennahda and the Qatari Project
Tunisian opposition parties accuse the parliamentary coalition supporting the Tunisian government, led by Ennahda, of trying to impose the agreement, which violates the country’s legal norms.
Zouhair Maghzaoui, People’s Movement MP, accused the Ennahda movement of selling Tunisia to Qatar by insisting on passing an agreement that he considered “suspicious and affecting national sovereignty.” while Samir Dilou, Ennahda MP, considered that the crisis is not In the agreement, “but the hatred of some of the opposition to the State of Qatar.”
In turn, Mabrouk Korchid, the representative of the National Bloc, has revealed the reasons for his resignation from the Assembly of the Representatives of the People. As he has confirmed that about a month and a half ago, he threatened to freeze his membership or to resign permanently because the parliament’s office is broken and it cannot engage any dialogue process that can benefit Tunisians.
He has stressed that he could not be a false witness because what happened recently was a big mistake, in reference to the agreement with the Qatar Fund for Development.
“ “The vote on the bill related to the opening of an office for the QFFD in Tunisia was the drop that overflooded the cup, and my rejection of this agreement does not stem from an ideological position or my involvement in the axes war, but because of my belief that this agreement will be ominous for Tunisia,” says Korchid.
Korchid has explained that a draft headquarters agreement for the QFFD in Tunisia was presented to the Ministerial Council in 2018 when he was Minister of State Properties and was rejected because it was not suitable for Tunisia, but in 2019, it was referred again and signed.
“As Minister of State property, I opposed the agreement with the Qatari Fund because it allows Qatar to own Tunisian agricultural lands,” Kerchid adds.
The law and the terms of the agreement
“Chapter Six states that the QFFD has the right to contract, acquire and dispose of movable and immovable funds, and can also participate as companies or investment funds affiliated with it in accordance with Tunisian legislation, which means the possibility of owning agricultural real estate without a license,” Wafaa Al-Shazly, Tunisian jurist confirms to the media.
“Chapter Eight stipulates that the office’s property and money, whether immovable or movable, are exempted from direct and indirect taxes, customs duties and fees due upon import and export, in addition to the re-export of materials that have not been used without paying fees or marine fees,” she asserts.
According to Al-Shazly, Chapter Nine gives the Fund the right to recover unused loans and operating expenses with interest in US dollars, and the Fund may transfer them from the Tunisian Republic to any other country or currency unconditionally, taking into account the banking procedures.
“The agreement contradicted Chapter Five of the Tunisian Investment Law of 2016, legally, which stipulates the freedom of the investor to own non-agricultural real estate and exploit it to complete direct investment operations, or to continue it,” the Tunisian jurist clarifies.
She also indicates that the dilemma lies in the fact that the Qatar Fund for Development stipulated in one of its chapters that the Tunisian state has no right to object to the use of the Qatari side by any foreign partner in the investment and project financing process.
Al-Shazly denounces the implications of the agreement by allowing any foreigner without the Tunisian state’s approval or expressing its opinion, which affects Tunisian sovereignty, stressing that “some want to enter Tunisia through this fund and seeking to strike Tunisian sovereignty.”
“The problem is that the force of the agreement and its legal obligation become stronger than the basic laws that prevent foreign ownership of agricultural lands, which was enacted by Tunisia during the reign of the late Habib Bourguiba, and the French colonizer was expelled and prevented from owning agricultural lands. Today Ennahda and its opponents secretly want to pass a colonial agreement par excellence, and this reminds us of the evacuation that happened in Tunisia 1964,” Al-Shazly emphasizes.
She also clarifies that granting the agreement the privilege of not litigated before the Tunisian judiciary is a violation of Tunisian law, and raises important questions. Does Tunisia consider the judiciary ineligible to hear cases resulting from QFFD activity on Tunisian soil? This agreement is a “treason agreement.”
The Tunisian General Labor Union has denounced the ratified law dedicated to Qatar Fund for Development, considering it a “mortgage to the country, a violation of its sovereignty and an opportunity to money laundering.”
Meanwhile, members of the national administrative body of the Tunisian General Labor Union have called for the ratified law to be overturned by objecting to its unconstitutionality because it harms Tunisia’s interests, stressing that they will confront it on the ground.
It is noteworthy that this agreement was signed on June 12, 2019 between Qatar and Tunisia, by Ziad Al-Adhari, the former Minister of Development and Investment, on the Tunisian side, and Khalifa bin Jassim Al-Kuwari, the Director of the QFFD, on the Qatari side. It aims to finance development projects in the fields of energy, education, training, scientific research, health, natural resources, agriculture, fishing, industry, housing, tourism, information and communication technologies, and economic empowerment.