The Arab Spring and Women’s Rights in Tunisia

By on September 4, 2013   

Women have been central to the events that have shaken Tunisian politics since the Arab Spring in 2010-11. They have played roles as protesters and politicians, activists and academics, journalists and photographers, and whether poor or privileged, urban or rural. Tunisia has long occupied an important position in the Arab world since the historic promulgation of its progressive family law in 1956, which placed the country at the forefront of the Arab world in regard to women’s rights (Charrad 2007). In an extensive comparative survey of Arab countries in 2009, Freedom House ranked Tunisia first in the major categories that concern women’s rights, including “autonomy, security, and freedom of person,” and “political and civic voice,” (Kerry & Breslin 2010).

In this article, we address two related questions. In the first section, we consider how Tunisia came to occupy a premier position in regard to women’s rights through the promulgation of its Code of Personal Status (CPS) in 1956, well known throughout the Arab world, and the continuous amendments to the CPS over a half-century since then. In the second section, we discuss some of the current debates on women’s rights in Tunisia following the Arab Spring, including the mobilization of women around the controversial Article 28 in the draft of the new constitution. By “women’s rights,” we mean women’s rights in the law as it concerns personal status and family law. We focus on this aspect of the law because family law is, as lawyer and human rights activist Asma Khadar (1996: 2) stated unambiguously, “the gate of freedom and human rights for women” in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds. Family law has significant implications for women’s lives, including their ability to make life choices freely and to pursue educational and professional opportunities.

Code of Personal Status: A Post-Colonial Expansion of Women’s Rights

Family law, which encompasses rules and regulations concerning marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, continues to be the site of some of the most fundamental differences in women’s rights across the Middle East and North Africa. In Tunisia, the newly formed postcolonial state initiated reforms of family law following the country’s independence from France in 1956. This was an action from above, or a top down policy, which occurred in the absence of an organized women’s movement. As Charrad (2001: 219) has shown, the CPS was “not a response from the state to pressures from a women’s mass protest movement.” In promulgating the CPS, the government made decisions for the society as a whole without engaging the community or facilitating the perspectives of the citizenry through popular referendum or other channels of popular expression.

The reasons behind the promulgation of the Code in the 1950s are complex and a full analysis is beyond the scope of this paper. Charrad (2001: 201-232; 2007; 2011) has argued elsewhere that the CPS was part and parcel of an overall strategy of state building that targeted patriarchal networks, clans, and tribal groups. At the same time as they promulgated the CPS, members of the postcolonial leadership also abolished collective property that had been key to tribal networks, created a new form of administration throughout the territory by ignoring tribal allegiances, and advanced a discourse that was unabashedly anti-tribal. An inherent part of the project to create a national state that stood above local, kinship, sect or community loyalties, reforms of personal status law aimed to generate a new form of citizenship in which individual allegiances went to the nation-state. Women benefitted from this conception of citizenship in that they gained individual rights before the law and thus were less subordinated to the whims of husbands and kin.

Tunisia’s new CPS introduced significant changes in family law such as the abolition of polygamy, the end of men’s privilege of unilateral repudiation as a way to terminate a marriage at will, the ability of a woman to file for divorce, and the enhancement of women’s custodial rights over children. Inheritance laws, for which there are strict and clear provisions in the text of the Qur’an itself and thus constitute an especially sensitive issue, remained the least modified legislation. These reforms, mediated by nationwide institutions and a national court system rather than local authority structures, provided state protections for women. Even though educated women were in a better position to take advantage of the law, much knowledge about the CPS percolated through different strata of society, giving Tunisian women at large the possibility of utilizing what the new laws had to offer.

Reforms beneficial to women continued during the regime of Zine El Abedine Ben Ali who paraded women’s rights as part of a general portrayal of Tunisia as embracing modernity on the international scene. The reforms again were largely a top down policy, although women’s rights advocates started to make their collective voice heard in defense of women’s issues in the 1980s. Their actions were severely restricted, however, as were those of other associations in the 1990s and 2000s. Furthermore, women’s associations were composed of urban, elite women in Tunis whose interests were disproportionately represented in Ben Ali’s policy formulations to the relative exclusion of poor women (Khalil, forthcoming). Nevertheless, meaningful reforms occurred during that period. For example, as recently as in 2007, the minimum age of marriage was raised to 18 for both men and women, who could marry as early as 15 under the prior legislation (Charrad and Ha, forthcoming). Other reforms initiated under Ben Ali in the 2000s expanded women’s rights in regard to marriage contraction, alimony, and custodial rights over children.    

A long history of top-down policy formulations concerning women’s rights in Tunisia was abruptly interrupted in 2011 when Tunisia witnessed the collapse of the Ben Ali regime and the engagement of multiple sectors of society, including Tunisian women from diverse socioeconomic and political backgrounds.

The “Jasmine Revolution”

On January 14, 2011, former President Ben Ali resigned from office following weeks of protest across Tunisia. The self-immolation of a twenty-six year old Tunisian vendor, Muhammad Bouazizi, on December 17, 2010, started the uprising in the rural district of Sidi Bouzid. Protests then engulfed larger cities in Tunisia, including the capital of Tunis. By early January 2011, mass demonstrations were being regularly held in the name of freedom, an end to corruption, and in demand of Ben Ali’s immediate departure from office. Popular media dubbed the ousting of Ben Ali, and the protests that preceded it, the “Jasmine Revolution” (Arieff 2011).

A resounding feature of the protests was the presence of women who demonstrated as professionals, students, and citizens. Women participated as organizers and demonstrators and, consequently, gender equality has been central to discussions of Tunisian politics, most eminently as it relates to elections and the drafting of the constitution (Beardsley 2011). In the case of the former, a quota to include women on party lists for the October 2011 National Constituent Assembly (NCA) election was instituted into law by the transitional government (Dasgupta and Bangham 2012). This measure, drafted and supported by Tunisian women’s civil society groups, attempted to enhance gender parity in representation though it was limited because the law did not specify how high on party lists women were to appear. Consequently, many parties ignored the spirit of the law by meeting the requirement to include women on party lists but offering them the lowest positions on the list (Associated Press 2011).

Regardless of their position on party lists, women were nevertheless successful candidates in elections and ascended to positions in the NCA in 2011. The Islamist party Ennahda acquired the largest number of seats in the assembly and boasted 42 female candidates of a total of 49 total women elected to the 217-member NCA (Byrne 2011). Ennahda Executive Council member Mounia Brahim emphasizes the mixed trajectories of Islamist women in politics by saying, “Look at us. We’re doctors, teachers, wives, mothers – sometimes our husbands agree with our politics, sometimes they don’t. But we’re here and we’re active” (Marks 2011). The election results and the Islamist women’s leadership call our attention to the diversity of women’s organizations, efforts, and affiliations. They should lead us to question the religion/secular binary as a lens by which to understand women’s interests and movements in Tunisia. The involvement of Islamist women in politics in Tunisia resonates with studies that show how women who identify with Islam regard it as a significant source of their political engagement and subjectivity in other parts of the Arab world (Deeb 2011; Mahmood 2005; Salime 2011).

Following Ennahda’s electoral victory in Tunisia, widespread concern was expressed about whether the power of parties not only sympathetic to but actively supportive of a more extensive role for religion in Tunisian jurisprudence might imperil the liberal legislation in place since the 1950s and enshrined in the CPS. There were tenable fears that Ennahda’s success at the polls in 2011 heralded a broader influence of religion in the country to establish what Hamad (2013) called “Tunistan,” or an Islamic state. The preeminent presence of women, particularly Islamist women, in the newly elected assembly profoundly shaped the tenor of debates about the constitution that was drafted over the course of the following 16 months. It has been in the context of the constitution drafting that we have witnessed a transformation of Tunisian politics from actions from above to a public debate about gender in which Tunisian women, Islamist and other, have been central figures.

Debates about Gender in the Constitution: Article 28

Heated debates in Tunisia regarding gender have concerned political representation and, most recently, references to women in the newly drafted constitution. The popularly elected NCA had as one of its mandates to draft a new constitution, drawing on elements from the preexisting 1959 constitution. The draft of the constitution became the site of struggle, popular outcry, and national dialogue in a way that signifies a restructuring of Tunisian politics and illustrates the significance of a burgeoning civil society. Article 28 entitled “Women’s Rights,” constituted one of the most debated and disputed articles in the first draft of the constitution, which was released on August 13, 2012. The article was generally translated as deeming women’s roles in the family as “complementary” to that of men (Draft Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia 2012; emphasis added).

Although multiple translations may be offered to intimate the meaning of “yetekaamul,” the Arabic term in contention, the term “complementary” (or “complémentaires” in French) has been the most frequent translation. In response to the first draft released in August 2012, thousands of women organized protests in the capital city of Tunis with a twofold purpose: to celebrate the 56th anniversary of the promulgation of the esteemed CPS and to sharply contest the vocabulary of Article 28 (Ghanmi 2012). Opponents of the “complementary” clause of Article 28 argued that the clause defined women only in relation to men and, in addition, only recognized women as married, further negating the multiple and diverse lifestyles of Tunisian women. The use of the term “complementary” inflamed many.

Women associated with organizations such as the Democratic Women’s Association, La Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme (LTDH), and L’Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développment (AFTURD), among others, pursued a variety of avenues to express their grievances with the article and to advocate for alternatives (Karam 2012). From demonstrations with dynamic slogans to the circulation of an online petition that acquired more than 30,000 signatures, women openly critiqued the draft and called for revisions to protect what many regarded as gains acquired during the post-colonial period (Avaaz 2012). Rights enshrined in the CPS became a reference and symbol of what could be threatened by the terminology of “complementarity.”

The range of Tunisian women’s activism was exhibited in turn by women supportive of Article 28. Islamist women, particularly Ennahda members in the NCA, voiced their support for the article. Some women argued that misunderstandings of the article prevailed in part through misrepresentation of its contents by opposition parties (Babnet 2012). Among the staunchest defenders of the article, Ennhada Executive Council member Farida Labidi declared that “One cannot speak of equality between man and woman in the absolute” (Cavaillès 2012). The multiple positions advocated by supporters and opponents of Article 28, and the nuanced conversations that ensued about the specific meanings of terms like “complementary” and “equality,” illustrate the ways in which women’s organizations and activists asserted themselves in debates in Tunisia during the post-revolutionary period in a way that departed significantly from top-down gender policy promulgation that prevailed in earlier eras (Charrad and Zarrugh, forthcoming).

As a sign of the efficacy of women’s organizing in Tunisia’s emergent civil society at this time, the “complementary” clause of Article 28 was omitted from the second and third drafts of the constitution released on December 12, 2012 and April 30, 2013, respectively. Ennahda made another concession in these latter drafts by excluding specific references to Shari’a law as the official and primary source of legislation in the country (Hamad 2013). In discussions of the final draft of the constitution, ambivalence continues to be expressed among opposition political figures who claim that articles still contain references to Islam as the state religion and limit freedom of expression (Al-Jalassy 2013). Until a final constitution is adopted, the status of women remains unclear. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that popular organizing, persistence, and an optimism about the possibilities for change encouraged both supporters and opponents of Article 28 to voice their positions not only to influence the reformulation of one of the country’s most foundational texts but also to articulate anew women’s status in contemporary Tunisia.

Conclusion

At the heart of this burgeoning civil society and activism following the Jasmine Revolution is the historical status of Tunisia as the bulwark of women’s rights in the region. Contemporary women’s rights discussions in Tunisia and elsewhere in the Muslim world cannot be understood outside the context of family law and personal status codes. In Tunisia, the liberal legislation of the post-colonial CPS continues to structure the arguments around women’s rights and status in the post-revolutionary constitution of Tunisia in 2013.  A major shift has occurred, however, even though we do not know how long it will be felt. From the outset of the protests in Tunisia in December 2010, there has been a structural change in Tunisian politics, particularly as it relates to gender. The mass demonstrations that witnessed the extensive participation of Tunisian women were a preliminary sign of the transformations to come through their participation in popular elections, their ascension to political power, and the debates to which they contributed in regard to the drafting of the constitution and contentious discourse as reflected in Article 28.

Whether Tunisian women continue to participate in public debates and what will be the fate of women’s rights in the country in the years to come remain as questions.  Although the door appears open to the possibility of Tunisia retaining its prominent place in the Arab world in regard to women’s rights, the opposite is also conceivable, depending on which political forces hold power in the state in the long run.

Mounira M. Charrad is Associate Professor of Sociology and Middle East Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Her book, States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco (University of California Press, 2001), won several national awards, including the Distinguished Book Award from the American Sociological Association and the Best Book on Politics and History Greenstone Award from the American Political Science Association. Her articles on state formation, law, citizenship, kinship and gender have appeared in scholarly journals. She has edited Patrimonial Power in the Modern World with J. Adams (2011), Patrimonialism, Global History and Imperial Rule, with J. Adams (forthcoming), Women’s Agency:  Silences and Voices (2010), and Femmes, Culture et Societe au Maghreb (1996).  Her recent publications include: “Equal or Complementary? Women in the New Tunisian Constitution after the Arab Spring,” with A. Zarrugh, Journal of North African Studies, forthcoming; and “Gender in the Middle East: Islam, States, Agency,”Annual Review of Sociology, 2011.  She received her undergraduate education from the Sorbonne in Paris and her Ph.D. from Harvard University. 

Amina Zarrugh is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. She has co-authored “Equal or Complementary? Women in the New Tunisian Constitution after the Arab Spring,” with M. M. Charrad, forthcoming in the Journal of North African Studies. Her research interests center on gender, nationalism, and religion in North Africa and the Middle East from a postcolonial perspective. Her dissertation focuses on regime violence in Libya and the mobilization of women in a family movement that developed in response to a contested prison massacre at Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli in 1996. She received her undergraduate education in sociology and government from the University of Texas at Austin.

References

Al-Jalassy, Mohammad Yassin. 2013. “As Constitution Talks Start in Tunis, Opposition Speaks Up” (Original: “Tunisia: Starting to Discuss the Constitution Amid Disagreements in the Constituent Assembly”). Al-Hayat. July 2, 2013. Date accessed: July 26, 2013. Translated Joelle El-Khoury.

Associated Press. 2011. “Few Tunisian parties risk running female candidates in top positions.” October 21, 2011. Date accessed: October 23, 2011.

Arieff, Alexis. 2011. “Political Transition in Tunisia.” Congressional Research Service. April 15, 2011. Date accessed: April 29, 2013.

Babnet. 2012. “Tunisie: La société civile dénonce l’art 28 de la Constitution comme une régression des acquis de la femme.” Babnet, August 13, 2012. Date accessed: April 17, 2013.

Beardsley, Eleanor. 2011. “In Tunisia, Women Play Equal Role in Revolution.” National Public Radio, January 27, 2011. Date accessed: April 30, 2013.

Byrne, Eileen. 2011. “The women MPs tipped to play leading roles in Tunisia’s new assembly.” The Guardian, October 28, 2011. Date accessed: April 30, 2013.

Cavaillès, Thibaut. 2012. “Amertume et colère des femmes tunisiennes.” Le Figaro, August 14, 2012. Date accessed: August 28, 2012. Translated by the authors.

Charrad, Mounira M. 2001. States and Women’s Rights: The Making of Postcolonial Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco, University of California Press: Berkeley.

— 2007. “Tunisia at the Forefront of the Arab World: Two Waves of Gender Legislation.” Washington and Lee Law Review 64: 1513-1527.

— 2011. “Central and Local Patrimonialism:  State Building in Kin-Based Societies.” Pp. 49-68 in Patrimonial Power in the Modern World, Annals 636 (1), edited by J. P. Adams and M. M. Charrad.

— and Hyun Jeong Ha. Forthcoming. “Sustained Reforms of Islamic Family Law: Tunisia under Authoritarian Regimes, 1950s to 2010.” In Family Law and Gender in the Modern Middle East, edited by A. Wing and H. Kassim. New York: Cambridge University Press.

— and Amina Zarrugh. Forthcoming. “Equal or Complementary? Women in the New Tunisian Constitution after the Arab Spring.” Journal of North African Studies 19 (1).

Dasgupta, Riddhi and George Bangham. 2012. The New Constitution of Tunisia: Choices and Decisions: The Wilberforce Society University of Cambridge. Booktango (ebook).

Deeb, Laura. 2006. An Enchanted Modern: Gender and Public Piety in Shi’i Lebanon. Princeton: Princeton University.

Draft Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia. 2012. Chapter 2, Article 2.28. Draft of August 13, 2012. Unofficial translation (from Arabic) by International IDEA. Language: English. Date accessed: April 20, 2013.

Ghanmi, Monia. 2012. “Tunisian women march for their rights.” Magharebia, August 15, 2012. Date accessed: May 25, 2013.

Hamad, Shukri. 2013. “Despite Flaws, Tunisia’s New Draft Constitution Promising” (original: “When Tunisia Is Made with Words: Is the Draft Constitution Revolutionary?”). As-Safir. June 26, 2013. Date accessed: July 26, 2013. Translated by Al-Monitor.

Karam, Souhail. 2012. “Thousands rally in Tunisia for women’s rights.” Reuters, August 13, 2012. Date accessed: May 15, 2013.

Kerry, Sanja and Julia Breslin (eds). 2010. Women’s Rights in the Middle East and North Africa: Progress Amid Resistance. New York: Freedom House.

Khadar, Asma. 1996. Quoted in the Association for Middle East Women’s Studies Newsletter 10, (4): 2.

Khalil, Andrea. Forthcoming. “Tunisian Women in the Arab Spring.” Journal of North African Studies 19 (1).

Marks, Monica. 2011. “Can Islamism and Feminism Mix?” New York Times, October 26, 2011. Date accessed: May 13, 2013

Mahmood, Saba. 2005. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton University Press.

Salime, Zakia. 2011. Between Feminism and Islam: Human Rights and Sharia Law in Morocco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

 

e-International Relations (www.e-IR.info) http://www.e-ir.info/2013/09/04/the-arab-spring-and-womens-rights-in-tunisia/

Tunisia close in eleventh place with a win over rivals Egypt at Men’s U21

 

Tunisians celebrate their victory over Egypt in the classic African clash in Izmir

Tunisians celebrate their victory over Egypt in the classic African clash in Izmir

Izmir, Turkey, September 1, 2013 – Tunisia prevailed against North African compatriots Egypt in the fight for thirteenth spot at the 2013 FIVB Men’s U21 World Championship. In a classic African clash the Tunisians who emerged victorious 3-2 (17-25, 25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 15-7) at Ataturk Hall in Izmir, Turkey on Sunday. Now Tunisia gained the 13th position and Egypt return home 14th.

This is the fifth time for Tunisia to finish in this position after 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2003, but their best ever performance was the 5th in 1993.

For the Egyptians this position is one step better than last edition. Their best was the ninth position in 2003.

Leading Tunisia’s scoring on the day was opposite spiker Adam Oueslati with 25 points, followed by outside hitter Malek Chekir 24 points, many of those points coming in clutch moments. Egypt’s leading scorer was middle blocker Mohamed Masoud who posted 19 points in a losing effort. Mostafa Abdelrahman charted 13.

Egypt started highly concentrating and won the first set with the quick attack strategy through their middle blockers. Tunisia coach changed the strategy and returned his middle blocker Elyes Garfi to his original position as he blocked well and came back to the Tunisians with the draw 1-1.

Again Egypt led in the third set before the Tunisians came back aggressively to win the crucial points of the fourth set and the tiebreak to earn a victory against their rivals. 

FIVB http://www.fivb.org/viewPressRelease.asp?No=42517&Language=en

Tamarod in Tunisia

Tunisia models their own Tamarod, which garnered over 180,000 signatures, after the Egypt, celebrated with chants of “Today Egypt, Tomorrow Tunisia.” The movement calls for the dissolving of the National Constituent assembly and for early presidential elections.

Upheaval in Egypt Sharpens Middle East Divisions

http://www.voanews.com/content/egypt-middle-east-islamists/1698914.html

Extension in State of Emergency Law

Tunisia: President Extends the State of Emergency

(May 08, 2012) On May 5, 2012, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki extended the execution of the State of Emergency Law throughout the country until July 2012. The previous extension occurred on March 31, 2012, and the latest action marks the fifth executive extension instituted in the past 14 months. Marzouki issued the decree after holding an in-depth discussion and consultation on the action with the Chief of the Constituent Assembly.

http://www.loc.gov/lawweb/servlet/lloc_news?disp3_l205403133_text

New update as of July 2013

President Moncef Marzouki,  Extended State of Emergency Law; three months from July 3, 21013.

Tunisia’s State of Emergency Stretches into Thirtieth Month

http://www.tunisia-live.net/2013/06/04/tunisias-state-of-emergency-stretches-into-thirtieth-month/

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki decided Monday to prolong the state of emergency in Tunisia for another month, marking the thirtieth consecutive month in which this declaration has been in effect. – See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2013/06/04/tunisias-state-of-emergency-stretches-into-thirtieth-month/#sthash.TFttXb93.dpuf
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki decided Monday to prolong the state of emergency in Tunisia for another month, marking the thirtieth consecutive month in which this declaration has been in effect. – See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2013/06/04/tunisias-state-of-emergency-stretches-into-thirtieth-month/#sthash.TFttXb93.dpuf
Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki decided Monday to prolong the state of emergency in Tunisia for another month, marking the thirtieth consecutive month in which this declaration has been in effect. – See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2013/06/04/tunisias-state-of-emergency-stretches-into-thirtieth-month/#sthash.TFttXb93.dpuf

Criticism over the sentence in Embassy Attack case

Tunisia presidency slams U.S. criticism over trial

AFP, Tunisia

The Tunisian presidency on Tuesday criticized as “unacceptable” Washington’s condemnation of lenient sentences given last week to 20 assailants of the U.S. embassy in Tunis, contradicting earlier comments by the justice minister.

“The [U.S.] comments are out of place, both from the political point of view and from the point of view of our relations with the United States,” presidency spokesman Adnene Manser told private radio station Kalima.

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/africa/2013/06/04/Tunisia-presidency-slams-U-S-criticism-over-trial-.html

Al Arabiya

Tunisian Soldiers Injured by land mine blasts

Landmine blast wounds Tunisian soldiers

Tunis – Three Tunisian soldiers have been wounded in a landmine explosion near the Algerian border where security forces are pursuing Islamist insurgents, the defence ministry said.

http://www.iol.co.za/news/africa/landmine-blast-wounds-tunisian-soldiers-1.1525776#.UauzBpyTVD4

Hundred Million Barrel Exploration Wells Worth Keeping An Eye On In 2013

Editors’ Note: This article covers a micro-cap stock. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.

The most likely result of drilling a “wildcat” exploration well is a dry hole. As I understand it the odds of success on an exploration well are something like one or two in ten if the well is being drilled in an area reasonably prospective for hydrocarbons.

The odds aren’t great. But the rewards often are.

My portfolio is focused on unconventional oil producers that are developing shale or tight oil reservoirs in North America. I like the unconventional producers because these companies don’t take exploration risk. These companies are drilling into defined resource plays and know they are going to find oil when they drill a well.

While these unconventional producers don’t have exploration risk, there are a couple of things that aren’t as attractive about them:

– Unconventional wells are not very prolific and decline rapidly which means that they offer only reasonable rates of return

– Without high oil prices ($85 plus) these wells don’t make much money at all

I liken unconventional development to a baseball player who consistently hits singles. The unconventional wells aren’t going to make a lot of money quickly, but over time the results are very satisfying.

“Wildcat” conventional exploration drilling is more like a homerun hitter. While the homerun hitter strikes out a lot the reward for exploration success can be many multiples of the cost of the well.

For a small company one big exploration success can result in multi-bagger returns for shareholders.

As with every year there are a few exploration wells being drilled in 2013 that could be “company makers”.

African Hydrocarbons (KNPRF.PK) – Exploration in Tunisia

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North African country Tunisia is one of the few remaining underexplored onshore regions in the world. For some perspective on how underexplored Tunisia is we can compare it to the Canadian province of Alberta. While the province of Alberta in Canada has had 500,000 wells drilled, Tunisia has had only 1,200.

It is pretty common knowledge that there are no large new conventional oil pools waiting to be discovered in Alberta. All of that easy fruit has been picked. Tunisia meanwhile still offers potential for massive conventional discoveries.

Tunisia is starting to get some more attention. One of the more noteworthy moves into Tunisia is being made by Shell (RDS.A). In 2013 Shell is planning to drill four exploration wells that will cost a combined $150 million.

If Shell finds something large in Tunisia it isn’t going to move the needle for a company of that size. The adventurous side of me has me more interested in companies that have more leverage to one large exploration success.

Canadian listed African Hydrocarbons is a pure play on Tunisia. The company has the potential to make investors multiples of their investment from the current share price should the current ongoing exploration program result in success.

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African Hydrocarbons partner Dualex (DALXF.PK) is currently preparing to drill its 3D seismic defined BNH-1 location on its Bouhajla North prospect in Tunisia. This prospect is the mirror image of the nearby (25 kilometers away) Sidi el Kilani field that has produced 50 million barrels of oil from only five wells.

Compare Sidi el Kilani to the North American tight oil plays that we are developing today which might require more like 200 wells to recover 50 million barrels instead of 5 (assuming 250,000 barrels per well).

You can see pretty easily why a large conventional vertically produced field is so much more profitable than resource play development. Five wells cost a lot less to drill than 200.

The BNH-1 well could hold a reservoir similar to the 40 to 50 million barrels of oil that Sidi el Kilani has. Africa Hydrocarbons has a 47.5% working interest in BNH-1.

 

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In addition to Bouhajla North, African Hydrocarbons actually has two larger but less well defined prospects on the acreage (Bouhajla Northeast and Bouhajla Southeast). Both of these additional prospects are huge but require additional seismic work.

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With the Sidi el Kilani producing field nearby there is plenty of infrastructure already in place, so even a modest discovery could be very profitable for African Hydrocarbons. Ideally the African Hydrocarbons team would like the BNH-1 well to result in a large discovery. But if it is something more modest the well could be turned into a cash flow engine to provide the funds to finance drilling of the next two wells on the block.

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As far as geo-political risk goes Tunisia is obviously not Alberta. But for a country situated in North Africa it is actually a pretty reliable place for foreign companies to operate. Nevertheless this is a volatile region of the world which is another risk to consider.

African Hydrocarbons is a pretty simple story. If BNH-1 hits on something similar to Sidi el Kilani then this stock is a multi-bagger for shareholders immediately. If BNH-1 is a dry hole then the company is likely going to have to do some creative financing to fund its next exploration well.

That is the fun of the old school “wildcat” business model. It is high risk and high reward.

WesternZagros (WZGRF.PK)

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There is Kurdistan, one last great onshore oil exploration frontier where finding a billion barrels of oil in a low cost easy to produce conventional reservoir is a real possibility.

Last week in a very controversial move, the Turkish state run oil firm struck a deal with Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurds and Exxon Mobil (XOM) to develop projects in Northern Iraq.

The Government in Iraq thinks such a deal is illegal and the Government of the United States doesn’t support it. This is a sensitive issue in a volatile part of the world.

What the deal is going to do is give that oil developed in Kurdistan a direct route out of Iraq and into the world market. That could make oil found in the region much more valuable in the near term.

It also is another signal that Exxon is planning to be a big presence and settle in for a long term stay in Kurdistan. And that has to be good news for neighboring independent producers which have already made big discoveries in the region and have additional high impact exploration wells to drill.

WesternZagros is one such neighboring company in Kurdistan. WesternZagros inked its first Kurdistan contract way back in 2004. The company holds a 40% working interest in two valuable Production Sharing Contracts.

The first contract is on the block called Garmian where WesternZagros is partners with Gazprom (GZPFY.PK) (40%) and Government of Kurdistan (20%). The second contract is on the block called Kurdamir where WesternZagros is partners with Talisman (TLM) (40%) and the Government of Kurdistan (20%).

On the Kurdamir block WesternZagros already has a giant oil discovery. The Kudamir-1 and Kurdamir-2 exploration wells have identified almost 1 billion contingent barrels of oil.

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Discoveries like that can’t be made in North America these days.

There is a saying in the oil industry that “big oil fields tend to get bigger over time”. That is why I’m watching the upcoming Kurdamir-3 well which is being drilled in 2013 and could significantly further increase the estimates of oil in place.

Kurdamir-3 was spud on February 25 and is expect to take four months to drill. The well is being drilled on the southwest flank of the Kurdamir structure, around 3 km and 5 km from its Kurdamir-1 and Kurdamir-2 discovery wells, respectively.

This well is testing the potential for another 200 to 250 million contingent barrels of oil in place. If successful that is another step change in value for WesternZagros shareholders and would have to put the company in the sights of Exxon who has the means to efficiently develop discoveries of this size.

 

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The Garmian block also has had a successful discovery with the Sarqala-1 well which has produced over 1 million barrels of oil since starting production in October 2011. There are several follow up exploration wells planned for this block.

WesternZagros has already found a lot of oil, but the company has only drilled four wells and is still really just getting started in Kurdistan. In total the company is chasing exploration targets that are in total prospective for 4.7 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

Kurdamir-3 is the next big potential catalyst for this company hunting elephant sized discoveries.

http://seekingalpha.com/article/1473071-hundred-million-barrel-exploration-wells-worth-keeping-an-eye-on-in-2013?source=feed

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