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Keep Watch over Oil and Gas Assets on the Tumultuous Tunisian Border

Bottom Line: While the Tunisian military picks up momentum in the fight against terrorist forces in the Mount Chaambi border region with Algeria, and the two countries combine forces to patrol the area and set up buffers zones with Libya. We could see a surge of retaliatory attacks. In the meantime, the political crisis in Tunisia continues in stalemate, and the ruling Islamist Ennahda party will have to bow to pressure in order to survive without turning Tunisia into another Egypt.

Analysis: Our assessment is that Ennahda will be forced to bow to pressure from the protests for its own survival, but that this will not come about within the next 2-3 weeks. We are not changing Tunisia’s security risk ranking this week.  

Tunisia ProtestsThe Tunisian military continues to pick up momentum in the fight against terrorist forces (with help from Algeria) in the Mount Chaambi border region, and ruling Ennahda continues to attempt to convince a protesting public that it is serious about the Islamist threat. There has also been a reshuffle of defense, security and intelligence forces. Following the July replacement of Army Chief of Staff General Rachid Ammar on 22 August, the air force chief of staff and the director of military intelligence were also replaced. These moves appease the opposition significantly as they were highly critical of the country’s defense and intelligence make-up and have greater confidence now in the ability and political will to step up the fight against terrorism. These moves come with the first steps on 29 August to create buffers zones on the borders with Algeria and Libya.

So far, Ennahda has managed to keep the protests from leading to its downfall. The party’s move on 27 August to declare the largest Islamist movement in the country—Ansar al-Sharia—a “terrorist organization” is meant to appease secular protesters, but will also likely lead to an increase in radical recruits and explicit targeting of the Tunisian military.

Recommendation: We expect an increase in terrorist attacks along the Tunisian-Algerian border in the next 1-4 weeks. We also expect protests to continue over the government’s inability to provide security, and that the labeling of Ansar al-Sharia as a terrorist group will not disperse demonstrators. A stalemate now ensues with Ennahda agreeing to an all-party government, but refusing to meet protester demands for the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly or the dismissal of Prime Minister Ali Larraiedh. Ennahda’s backbone is slowly corroding, and fractures within the party are becoming more visible by the week due to the necessity of compromising on key issues with the opposition.

However, our assessment is that Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi will eventually find compromises that the protesters will accept, and that the opposition has no desire to foment collapse. This is being played out in an atmosphere of caution due to the situation in Egypt. We believe a resolution will be found before the end of the year, and find optimism in the fact that the highly influential UGTT trade union federation has the ear of both sides, and is playing a mediation role here. The most likely outcome of this will be a technocratic government.

It is imperative that a resolution come before next year. The economic indicators are already dire and earlier predictions for growth are now being revised. New forecasts put expected growth at 3.6% (down from 4%). At the same time, the budget deficit will likely be 7.4% of GDP, while earlier forecasts put it at 5.1%. Total debt will likely reach 48% (or higher) of GDP for 2013—2% higher than earlier predictions.

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