Dahlan is well acquainted with Tunisia. He was deported to Tunisia from Israeli detention in 1988. He would return to Ramallah in 2009. Tunisia had been a home for the PLO since the war in Beirut in 1982, then home of the Arab League.
Tunisia is a small country with limited resources and investment opportunities. Situated between two important Arabic-speaking North African countries i.e., Libya and Algeria, Nahda, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated political body took part in the government in the post-Arab Spring era. Dahlan was allegedly involved in the political architecture of the country to prevent Nahda from assuming full control.
“Mohammed Dahlan is known as the godfather of the normalization project with the Israeli entity.”
Haythem Kehili, Owner of Instalingo Translation Agency
Dahlan visited Tunisia for the first time in 1988 following his detention and deportation from Israel. The capital city, Tunis, was hosting the foreign headquarters of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Dahlan managed to continue orchestrating protests in the West Bank and Gaza against Israel, thereby earning Yasser Arafat’s trust. He stayed in Tunis until his return to Gaza in 1994. Tunisia was the first country in his ascending political career since he sought refuge there in the early 1990s. Subsequently, he gained trust among the PLO, and Arafat asked him to join Oslo meetings in 1993. In an interview, he called Tunisia his homeland, thanking its people for facilitating his and other PLO members’ stay there.
Dahlan was not interested in Tunisian politics until the deposition of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Tunisia was the birthplace of Arab Spring, which quickly spread. Tunisia showed that both Islamists and seculars could win seats in parliament, establishing a coalition and legitimizing Islamist movements.
Tunisia’s political evolution was also supported by the West. The 2016 Carthage Agreement created a working relationship between President Essebsi and Ennahda, giving rise to the optimistic idea that Tunisia was a burgeoning “island of democracy in a sea of autocracies.” Ultimately this resulted in a Nobel Committee rewarding the efforts to democratize Tunisia.
This did not sit well with the UAE, which sought to replicate what they did in Egypt in the spring of 2013 to Morsi. Funding the military to back protest groups and ultimately oust the democratically elected leader by force. Since Tunisia’s military did not have the same support, the use of social manipulation was the preferred tool.
An anonymous source told the Iranian press that the UAE was not only waging a proxy war against Islamists in the region but also was ready to spend billions of dollars to topple them. Nahda is a reference to the first Arab awakening brought on by the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1798. Arabs across Africa began to see religion and politics in a different, more modern light, during the Ottoman Empire. This historical context immediately threatened the assumed claims of family and autocratic rule in the Gulf region.
Local officials accused the UAE of instigating several political assassinations in the country in 2013. Failing to topple the Islamists, it was claimed that Dahlan began unifying opposition parties in a bid to beat Nahda in the elections. The UAE and Dahlan, allegedly, invested in Mohsen Marzouk, a politician and human rights activist, arranging meetings with UAE-backed figures like Khalifa Haftar and el-Sisi. This plan did not work and Nahda won the elections in 2016. This time, another allegation emerged, suggesting that Dahlan began planning to “destroy the political structure, spread chaos and thus the Tunisian experience.” It was rumored that Dahlan was funding certain social media pages and publications that were propagandizing in line with his aims.
“We support the Tunisian state and president in this positive agenda.”
Leader and founder of Ennahda, Ghannouchi’s visit to Ankara to confer with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in January 2020 began the process of active aggression. This may also have been triggered by the failure of the UAE and KSA proxy, Khalifa Haftar, of securing victory in Libya. Ghannouchi backed the GNA in neighboring Libya.
Sky News Arabia and Al Arabiya began to publish false stories about Ghannouchi. Insisting he was corrupt, with a personal wealth of $8 billion. This attack was also echoed on social media. Shortly after Said’s coup, Al Jazeera social media analysts looked at 12,000 tweets from 6,800 unique Twitter accounts using the hashtag “Tunisians revolt against the brotherhood” to discover that these emanated not from Tunisia but from Saudi and UAE-based sites.
Was Dahlan behind this?
Dahlan denied these allegations, saying that he has never visited Tunisia since the Arafat era, referring to his stay in the country in the early 1990s. However, Islamists were beaten in Tunisia through undemocratic means after the incumbent President Kais Saied sacked the prime minister, abolished the parliament, and declared that he would rule the country by presidential decree in 2021.
Following Saied’s switch to one-man rule, the Instalingo case shed light on Dahlan’s power in the country. Instalingo, a media company that produces content and translations for companies, was raided by the police. During the interrogation of employees, police asked about the content that was harshly critical of Dahlan. The owner of the company, Haythem Kehili said the investigation was carried out by men in plainclothes.
Dahlan’s nomadic nature, lack of loyalty to any flag, and mastery of political intrigue did not start in Tunisia. His background, knowledge, and contacts made him the ideal proxy for the UAE to manipulate the political situation in their favor. His specialty is to fabricate, support, and organize counter-democratic protests and movements. Which then requires military intervention by a UAE-approved strongman. Some have failed, others succeeded. In Tunisia, the home of Arab Spring, Dahlan, and his backers have succeeded.
Saied’s soft coup in July 2021 on Tunisia’s Republic Day can be seen as a sophisticated move meant to restrain the Islamists while projecting a democratic face to Europe and the world. The UAE moved quickly to support the destruction of democracy, stating “We support the Tunisian state and president in this positive agenda” two weeks after the coup. By October, Saied was seeking funding from his new masters in Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi.
The 63-year-old lawyer threatened to use weapons on protestors. TV stations played patriotic songs with images of the military. The crackdown on Qatar-funded media outlet Al Jazeera’s office, and pressure on Islamist parties, including the burning of Ennahdha party headquarters, look like a playbook from the 2013 coup in Egypt. This time the destruction of democracy was done via influence, organization, money, legal trickery, and dishonest social media without a single shot fired.
Whoever engineered the coup successfully extinguished the last Arab Spring democracy.
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