Geopolitics

A Tale Of Two Revolutions: Why Tunisia Is Looking So Much Rosier Than Egypt

Essay: After its first free election, Tunisia is not without its challenges. Still, the "post-revolution" situation there is already starkly more hopeful than in Egypt where the military continues to exert control in absence of a politic

Tunisians voting on Oct. 23 (FreedomHouse)
Tunisians voting on Oct. 23 (FreedomHouse)
Bahey el-din Hassa

CAIRO - I traveled to Tunisia last month to witness the country‘s first free elections. As I left Cairo, I had given in to an increasingly shared sense that Egypt had lost its way. I returned to find Egyptians even further engulfed in pessimism about the future.

The Oct. 9 Maspero massacre, which took the lives of more than two dozen Copts, has left many with an overwhelming feeling that the country is moving in a terrible direction, perhaps even to the brink of internal strife. But this does not seem to alarm the generals ruling the country, one of whom said recently in a private meeting that he feared Egypt would "go the way of Somalia."

If that's the case, why is the military's agenda topped by things like the chastity of Egyptian women (who were arrested in March and forced by military police to undergo "virginity tests' for the first time in Egyptian history)? Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has given a green light for the prosecution of human rights advocates on charges of high treason and harming national security. This, frankly, is shocking.

Contrast this to the public mood in Tunisia. While the people I met there disagreed about many things, all of them were optimistic about the future. From government ministers and media watchdogs to rights activists and trade unionists who led the uprising in the mining belt in Redeyef, all told me their country was moving in the right direction. Post-revolution Tunisia is not perfect, and it will certainly face major challenges in the future. But it is on the right path.

What accounts for this difference in public opinion? Tunisian rights advocate Ridha Raddaoui explained Tunisia's progress in simple terms: "We were lucky that our army was politically weak."

Different Islamists

I believe differences in three factors have distinguished Tunisia from Egypt in the post-revolution period: its army, its Islamists and its political elite.

The Tunisian army played a decisive role in the revolution by refusing to open fire on demonstrators and by stopping police officers who tried to continue the crackdown. But it did not assume control of the country after the departure of Ben Ali: power was immediately transferred to a civilian government.

Tunisia's Islamists are newer to politics and less opportunistic and reactionary than their Egyptian counterparts. They adopt political not religious platforms and refrain from making provocative demands, like the application of Islamic law or even special recognition for it in the constitution. Tunisian Islamists have not made it their mission to police Tunisians' morals or their private lives. This has made the conflict over identity in Tunisia less polarizing than in Egypt. Thus, Tunisians find it relatively easier to reach a consensus over the future shape of the country, even with the recent victory of the Islamist party Ennahda.

Finally, there is the political acumen of the Tunisian elite, as compared to their Egyptian peers. Although both countries witnessed leaderless revolutions, the Tunisian elite caught on early to the importance of not leaving a political vacuum that could be filled by counter-revolutionary forces. The political elites did not waste their energies on settling scores. Instead, they focused on building institutions, writing a constitution, and adopting legislation that, upon implementation, would address grievances of the past.

In Egypt, by contrast, political elites have wasted their time either seeking retribution against their enemies or cozying up to the military in hopes of sharing power. They are very good at issuing statements and staging demonstrations, but their words and actions have not created any new facts on the ground. Egypt's power structure has remained unchanged and the army, which rose to helm of politics six decades ago, is still in charge.

Since 1952, Egypt has only been ruled by leaders from a military background. As a result, the generals that took power after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak are more adept than other political players. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has managed to preserve the old regime, to divide its revolutionary opponents and drain their energies, and to revive the tired old formula of "It's either us or the Islamists."

Bahey el-din Hassan is director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Read the full article at Al-Masry Al-Youm

photo - FreedomHouse

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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