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January 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Second round of parliamentary polls recorded low turnout as judicial crackdown on opposition leaders and former political officials intensified, and country faced risk of payment default.

Opposition and civil society mobilised before second round of legislative elections. On 12th anniversary of former President Ben Ali’s departure, thousands 14 Jan rallied in capital Tunis against President Saïed’s power grab and deteriorating economic conditions. Powerful labour union UGTT 19 Jan announced it had started consultations with civil society groups including Tunisian Human Rights League, Bar Association and Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights to work on national initiative to “save the country from the crisis and put it back on democratic tracks”. Second round of parliamentary elections held 29 Jan with 11.3% turnout, as low as in first round of voting in Dec. Opposition coalition National Salvation Front leader Ahmed Nejib Chebbi same day urged united front against Saïed.

Legal repression of dissent intensified. Justice Minister Leila Jaffel early Jan filed complaint against opposition figure and lawyer Ayachi Hammami under Sept 2022 decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online. Judiciary 9 Jan froze bank accounts of at least 100 people close to Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party on charges of money laundering. Tunis Court 17 Jan sentenced Saïed’s former chief of staff, Nadia Akacha, to 14 month-imprisonment in absentia for criticising Saïed in leaked audio recordings.

Country faced payment default. Ratings agency Moody’s 28 Jan cut Tunisia’s long-term foreign-currency and local-currency issuer ratings to Caa2 from Caa1 and changed outlook to negative. As shortages of many commodities, notably gasoline, medicines and daily products, continued, International Monetary Fund did not reschedule board meeting initially planned for Dec to approve new loan program for Tunisia, meaning country risks payment default in March or April 2023.

December 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Record-low turnout in legislative elections increased President Saïed’s political isolation amid worsening economic and social situation.

Legislative elections saw record-low turnout, opposition urged Saïed to step down. Only 11,22% of voters cast ballots in legislative elections held 17 Dec. In response, main opposition coalition, National Salvation Front, 18 Dec said Saïed had no legitimacy and should quit office, called for mass protests to demand early presidential elections. Election commission in following days announced only 23 candidates had secured seat; remaining 131 seats to be decided in run-off elections expected early Feb.

UGTT hardened stance toward Saïed, IMF postponed decision on rescue package. In clearest challenge to Saïed to date, powerful labour union UGTT 3 Dec openly questioned electoral process, saying it had “no colour and taste” as result of new constitution; also denounced “lack of transparency” on reform program negotiated with International Monetary Fund (IMF). UGTT 26 Dec threatened street protests and sit-ins in rejection of 2023 austerity budget and 28 Dec announced two-day strike by transport workers in late Jan. In last-minute move, IMF postponed board meeting scheduled for 19 Dec on four-year $1.9bn rescue package for Tunisia, citing need to give govt more time to finalise reform program. Amid inflation nearing 10% and shortage of many food commodities, European Investment Bank around mid-Dec approved €220mn loan including €150mn in emergency food support. Algeria 1 Dec pledged $200mn low-interest loan and $100mn financial assistance to Tunisia.

In other important developments. Police around 19 Dec detained Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda VP, former PM Ali Larayedh, over terrorism allegations. An-Nahda immediately denounced political attack to cover “failure” of polls, and party supporters 23 Dec protested in front of justice ministry in capital Tunis to demand Larayedh’s release.

November 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Despite opposition boycott and amid shrinking space for dissent, authorities proceeded apace with plans to hold legislative elections in December.

Electoral process went on despite opposition boycott. Electoral commission 3 Nov announced 1,058 candidates, including 936 men and 122 women, cleared to run in legislative elections set for 17 Dec, with seven constituencies lacking any candidates. Electoral campaign launched 25 Nov.

Authorities continued to use court and other means to stifle dissent. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi 10 Nov appeared before court in Sousse city as part of investigation into money-laundering and incitement to violence; anti-terror judge in capital Tunis 28 Nov questioned him for second time over terrorism allegations. After Business News media outlet 10 Nov published article critical of PM Najla Bouden’s track record, Justice Minister Leila Jaffel next day sued Business News chief editor Nizar Bahloul under new decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online. Afek Tounes opposition party leader Fadel Abdel Kefi said police 16 Nov prevented him from leaving country without any judicial warrant; interior ministry official same day said Tunis court had issued judicial decision to prevent Kefi from travelling abroad on unclear basis. In Zarzis town, security forces 18 Nov used tear gas to disperse demonstrators demanding renewed search for 18 Tunisian migrants who went missing in Mediterranean Sea in Sept.

Partners stepped up budget support to Tunisia amid ongoing economic crisis. Notably, European Union 13 Nov granted additional €100mn and France 19 Nov announced €200mn loan. Moves come as International Monetary Fund is expected to greenlight $1.9bn four-year program in Dec.

October 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed’s plan to hold parliamentary elections in December continued to face opposition, including boycott calls, and govt reached preliminary deal with International Monetary Fund amid ever-worsening economic and fiscal crisis.

Opposition protests gathered thousands and more parties announced election boycott. Three political parties including Al Massar (Social Democratic Path) 3 Oct announced they will join group of at least 13 other parties boycotting parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 Dec. Thousands 15 Oct joined opposition coalition National Salvation Front protest in Tunis demanding Saïed’s resignation and accountability for economic crisis; anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party same day held parallel anti-govt demonstration. Meanwhile, Saïed 7 Oct said he may amend electoral law ahead of parliamentary elections to avoid attempts by would-be candidates to buy sponsorship – each candidate must gather 400 signatures of registered voters. Electoral commission President Farouk Bouasker 20 Oct ruled out any amendment, citing lack of time.

Tensions persisted within interior ministry. Military court in Sfax city 6 Oct ordered arrest of police trade union sec gen, Nabil Ayari, following clashes between police unionists and other security forces in Sept; Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine has been in conflict with police unionists since August over control of security apparatus.

Govt and IMF reached preliminary agreement for loan conditioned on painful reforms. Govt around 15 Oct reached preliminary agreement with International Monetary Fund (IMF) over $1.9bn rescue package; approval by IMF’s executive board conditioned on reforms, including decrease of energy subsidies and privatisation of some state-owned companies by year’s end. Meanwhile, economic and fiscal crisis hit new low as gas stations around 8 Oct began running out of fuel, sparking long queues at petrol stations.

September 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Amid shrinking space for dissent, President Saïed unilaterally changed electoral rules ahead of Dec polls and tensions rose between interior ministry and police unions.

Opposition parties announced boycott of upcoming elections as Saïed issued new electoral law. Main opposition coalition National Salvation Front (which comprises Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party), and anti-Islamist, anti-revolution Free Destourian Party, 7 Sept separately announced boycott of legislative elections scheduled for 17 Dec, citing Saïed’s plan to unilaterally draft new electoral law. Saïed 15 Sept issued new electoral law, reducing political parties’ role by making voters choose individual candidates rather than party lists. Five left-wing parties 19 Sept also announced election boycott, denouncing Saïed’s “coup against the [2014] constitution”. African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights 22 Sept ruled Saïed’s 2021 decision to suspend parts of 2014 constitution violated African human rights charter, ordered return to constitutional democracy within two years.

Crackdown on dissent persisted, tensions ran high between interior ministry and police unionists. Saïed 16 Sept issued decree criminalising spreading “false information and rumours” online, with prison sentences of up to ten years; international NGO Reporters without Borders 20 Sept said decree “threatens press freedom” and aims to “create a climate of fear”. Police 19, 21 Sept questioned An-Nahda leaders Rached Ghannouchi and Ali Larayedh over terrorism allegations; Ghannouchi decried move as “attempt … to eliminate a political opponent”. Clashes 1-2 Sept erupted as security forces violently removed sit-in tents installed in Tunis airport by police unionists to protest Saïed and Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine’s alleged plan to bring together all police unions into single structure; about 200 police officers 28 Sept protested in Sfax city to demand release of eight police unionists detained 23 Sept for alleged involvement in clashes.

Amid economic crisis, govt and social partners agreed on public sector wages. After annual inflation rate reached 8.6% in Aug, govt and main workers’ union (UGTT) 15 Sept agreed on 3.5% increase in public sector wages; move could facilitate International Monetary Fund rescue program. Hundreds 25 Sept protested in Tunis against shortages of some foodstuffs, especially sugar and milk, caused by country’s inability to pay for imports.

August 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

New constitution giving President Saïed nearly unchecked powers came into force, and administrative court dealt blow to Saïed’s moves to control judiciary. After administrative court early to mid-Aug dismissed all three appeals against results of 25 July constitutional referendum, electoral commission 16 Aug announced final results, saying 31% of electorate took part in referendum with 94.6% of them voting yes. Saïed next day ratified new constitution, which expands presidential powers, and pledged in televised speech to establish constitutional court and to issue new electoral law ahead of legislative elections set for Dec; electoral commission 18 Aug said electoral law must be promulgated by mid-Sept for elections to be held on time. Opposition coalition National Salvation Front 18 Aug rejected new constitution, deeming it and all laws and institutions that emerge from it as illegal; also reiterated its call for “rescue government” to lead country into early presidential and legislative elections. Meanwhile, administrative court 9 Aug suspended dismissal of 49 of the 57 judges whom Saïed had unilaterally fired in June, citing “lack of legal and factual grounds” for dismissal. Govt in following days worked to block implementation of court’s ruling, claiming on 14 and 20 Aug that all 57 judges face criminal charges. Crackdown on dissent continued. Authorities 3 Aug arrested member of dissolved parliament, Rached Khiari, on charges including “insulting the army” and “conspiring against state security”; Khiari went into hiding in 2021 after accusing Saïed of receiving U.S. funding during his 2019 presidential campaign. Military court 16 Aug sentenced journalist Salah Attia to three months in prison on charges including “accusing a public official of illegal acts without proof” and “denigrating the army”. Govt and country’s main workers’ (UGTT) and employers’ (UTICA) unions 15 Aug started talks over economic reforms required by International Monetary Fund for rescue program. Morocco 26 Aug recalled ambassador to Tunisia hours after Saïed met with Western Sahara independence movement leader, Brahim Ghali, in capital Tunis (see Western Sahara).

July 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Voters in low turnout constitutional referendum overwhelmingly backed new constitution granting President Saïed almost unchecked powers. Over 94% of voters in 25 July referendum supported new constitution allowing president to appoint govt without parliamentary approval and making him virtually impossible to remove from office; turnout officially at 30.5%, but main opposition alliance National Salvation Front 26 July accused electoral board of “inflating” turnout figures. Opposition parties and civil society groups earlier in month harshly criticised draft constitution published by Saïed in late June, prompting him to make cosmetic adjustments 8 July. Notably, journalists’ union and NGOs Tunisian League for Human Rights and Al-Bawsala 7 July denounced lack of checks and balances on president’s powers. Chair of constitution-drafting commission appointed by president, Sadok Belaïd, also came out publicly against project: Belaïd 3 July said Saïed had ignored commission’s proposals and imposed his own project. Influential Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) 2 July expressed reservations, but gave members freedom to approve or reject project amid lack of internal consensus. Hundreds of protesters 23 July gathered against referendum in capital Tunis. Meanwhile, authorities 5 July froze Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi’s and former PM Hamadi Jebali’s assets and bank accounts as part of investigation on terrorism and money laundering. Official negotiations between International Monetary Fund and Tunisia on economic aid program launched 4 July, but UGTT continued to signal its opposition to austerity measures and liberalisation reforms that deal would likely entail. Saïed 4-5 July visited Algeria in bid to ease tensions with neighbouring country after Algerian President Tebboune in May made series of statements seen as hostile to Tunisia. Following trip, Algiers 14 July announced it would supply Tunisia with more electricity, next day reopened shared border after two-year closure.

June 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political tensions continued to run high as President Saïed conducted mass dismissal of judges, moved forward with constitutional reform project and pursued economic reform despite protests. President Saïed 1 June revoked 57 judges on various charges, including “disrupting investigations” into terrorism cases and “corruption”. Powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) 3 June denounced justice ministry’s “terrorism campaign” against judiciary, and Tunisian Judges Association 6 June launched week-long strike, later extended it three times into July. Saïed 4 June started national dialogue on new constitution; UGTT and main political parties, including Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, boycotted initiative. Different political forces 18-19 June organised protests against Saïed’s “coup” and constitutional referendum due 25 July, drawing thousands into streets of capital Tunis. Head of constitution drafting committee Sadok Belaïd 20 June submitted draft constitution to Saïed for approval; Saïed 30 June published draft constitution enshrining strong presidential system. Meanwhile, UGTT 16 June staged public sector nationwide strike, bringing country to a standstill, to protest Saïed’s economic policies as govt seeks to secure major loan from International Monetary Fund; 27 June called for new nationwide strike without giving date. Repression of dissent continued. Military court of Tunis 13 June issued arrest warrant against journalist Saleh Attia on charges of “harming the army” and “inciting Tunisians to violence” after he criticised govt in interview with Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera. Police 23 June arrested former PM Hamadi Jebali on money-laundering charges; judge 27 June ordered his release. Authorities around 27 June reportedly charged 33 people including head of An-Nahda and speaker of dissolved parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, with belonging to terrorist organisation in relation to 2013 killings of two prominent politicians.

May 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed pushed ahead with plan to draft new constitution despite mounting opposition, while economy remained in doldrums. Saïed 9 May appointed all seven members of new Independent High Authority for the Elections (ISIE), including three he chose directly. ISIE 13 May presented to Saïed draft electoral calendar leading up to constitutional referendum scheduled for 25 July. Saïed around 20 May issued decree creating consultative commission tasked with drafting new constitution, and establishing National Dialogue Committee to lead consultations with some stakeholders. Several politicians in following days denounced moves, with MP Hichem Ajbouni saying drafting commission lacked inclusiveness, while powerful labor union UGTT 6 and 23 May confirmed boycott of national dialogue which “marginalises the active national political and social forces”. Pro- and anti-Saïed protests continued. A few hundreds 8 May gathered in capital Tunis in support of Saïed’s “course correction”, said “traitors should be accountable”. In largest demonstration in several months, thousands 15 May gathered in Tunis at initiative of civil society platform Citizens Against the Coup and new opposition alliance National Salvation Front to protest Saïed’s tightening grip on power. In audio recordings leaked late April-early May, voice alleged to be that of former chief of Presidential Cabinet, Nadia Akacha, described Saïed as “mentally unstable”; Akacha immediately dismissed leaks as fakes and prosecutors 4 May announced investigation to determine recordings’ authenticity. Economy remained in disarray, with value of Tunisian bonds collapsing on international financial market in May. Amid rising inflation, milk producers and other farmers 7-10 May protested in rural areas to demand increase in prices of agricultural products (which are determined by govt), claiming they no longer cover production costs. UGTT 16 May said Algeria currently considering cutting gas supplies to Tunisia if latter has not paid its gas debt by late July; 23 May called for national strike over wages and economic crisis.

April 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed declared new voting system and seized control of election commission, threatening electoral level playing field and entrenching one-man rule. Saïed 6 April unilaterally declared new voting system ahead of Dec elections: voting to take place in two rounds and electorate to vote for individuals rather than lists. Presidential decree reforming election commission issued 22 April: Saïed to select three of existing nine members to serve in new seven-member panel along with three judges (chosen by judiciary, which Saïed has also taken over) and information technology specialist. U.S. State Dept 26 April expressed “deep concern” over Saïed’s move to restructure election authority. Meanwhile, anti-terrorism police 1 April summoned several members of now-dissolved Parliament – including Parliament Speaker (and Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party President) Rached Ghannouchi – for questioning after they voted in late-March online session to cancel all measures decreed by Saïed since July power grab; MPs reportedly under investigation for “seeking to change the form of government”. Saïed early April held consultations with powerful labour union UGTT, employers’ association UTICA, National Bar Association and NGO Human Rights League in preparation for long-awaited national dialogue aimed at “building the new Republic”; UGTT Sec Gen Nourredine Taboubi 13 April said union would only participate in inclusive dialogue after Saïed ruled out talks with political opposition. Hundreds 10 April joined protest organised by An-Nahda and civil society platform “Citizens Against the Coup” in capital Tunis, denounced Saïed’s power grab and demanded return to constitutional path. In bid to form united front against Saïed and re-establish constitutional and democratic processes, opposition Al-Amal party leader Nejib Chebbi 26 April launched “National Salvation Front” alliance of five political parties, including An-Nahda, and five civil society organisations. Military court 8 April sentenced journalist Amer Ayyad and politician Abdellatif Aloui to four and three months in prison, respectively, for criticising Saïed during TV program in Oct 2021. Govt 30 April said authorities arrested ten suspects for planning terrorist attacks against security forces.

March 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political crisis escalated as President Saïed dissolved parliament after suspended lawmakers defied him in plenary session. In most direct challenge to Saïed since his July 2021 power grab, suspended parliament 30 March held online plenary session, voted to repeal presidential decrees suspending their chamber and giving Saïed near-total power; Saïed hours later announced dissolution of parliament, denouncing move as “coup attempt”; also accused lawmakers of conspiracy against state security and ordered investigations into them. Earlier in month, thousands 13 March joined opposition Free Destourian Party (FDP) protest in capital Tunis to call for early legislative elections; thousands 20 March rallied around Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party and “Citizens against the Coup” civil society platform in Tunis to commemorate independence anniversary and protest Saïed’s power grab. Saïed’s online consultation on constitutional reform failed to mobilise massively: only about 500,000 people participated by closing date of 20 March. Saïed next day praised initiative as “success”, said results of consultation will feed into constitutional revision. Military courts continued to target civilians, notably sending Abderrazak Kilani, lawyer of An-Nahda Deputy President Nourredine Bhiri, to pre-trial detention 2 March for “disturbing public order” and “insulting public officials” following verbal altercation with police officers in Jan. After dissolution of top judicial watchdog in Feb, temporary Supreme Judicial Council sworn in 7 March; nine of 21 members directly appointed by Saïed. Amid price increases and shortages of basic goods, Saïed 10 March declared “war” on food speculators; several traders and retailers arrested in following days; NGO Amnesty International 25 March said new anti-speculation law, which went into effect 21 March, threatens free speech by criminalising spread of “false or incorrect news”. Fitch Ratings agency mid-March downgraded Tunisia’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating to “CCC” from “B-”. Meanwhile, firefight 20 March erupted between suspected jihadists and police in Kairouan region (centre), leaving no casualties.

February 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed dissolved top judicial watchdog, tightening his grip on judiciary. Saïed 6 Feb announced dissolution of Supreme Council of the Judiciary, body tasked with ensuring judicial independence, accusing it of “bias”, “corruption” and delaying politically sensitive investigations; police next day blocked Council’s access in capital Tunis. In response, Association of Tunisian Judges 9 Feb launched two-day strike; some 1,000 judges and lawyers 10 Feb protested decision in Tunis. Move also drew international condemnation. G7 and EU member states’ ambassadors in Tunisia 8 Feb said decision tampers with “functioning of the judicial system and respect for its independence”; UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet same day condemned “clear violation of Tunisia’s obligations under international human rights law”. Saïed 12 Feb issued decree formally dissolving Supreme Council, setting up provisional judicial council de facto under his control; also granted himself power to dismiss judges, block their promotion or nomination. Some 2,000 people 13 Feb protested decree in Tunis as part of march organised by Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party. Saïed 24 Feb said he will outlaw foreign funding for civil society organisations, citing need to stop foreign interference. A dozen NGOs and rights groups next day jointly denounced “desire to monopolise power”, said move would “undermine human rights and freedoms”. Military court 18 Feb sentenced member of suspended parliament Yassine Avari in absentia to ten-month imprisonment on charges of insulting president and army after Ayari decried Saïed’s move to freeze parliament in July 2021 as coup. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 Feb accused authorities of using 2015-established state of emergency to place individuals in “secret detention”, warned practice on the rise under Saïed; Saïed 18 Feb extended state of emergency until year’s end.

January 2022

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Opposition to President Saïed continued to intensify amid growing concern over human rights. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Jan criticised Saïed’s newly released political roadmap, which sets legislative elections for Dec, said it “does not break with individual rule and exclusion”, and called on authorities to resume “social dialogue”. Civil society activists from “Citizens against the coup” initiative 23 Dec-12 Jan went on hunger strike to protest “total removal of liberties”. UN Human Rights Office 11 Jan voiced “serious concern” about deteriorating human rights situation, urged authorities to promptly release or formally charge Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda Deputy President (and former Justice Minister) Noureddine Bhiri and another man arrested late Dec on terrorism allegations; Bhiri hospitalised 2 Jan after starting hunger strike. On occasion of 11th anniversary of former President Ben Ali’s departure, hundreds 14 Jan demon-strated against Saïed’s power grab in capital Tunis despite gathering ban; police cracked down on protest using sticks, water cannons and tear gas, leaving several people injured; An-Nahda 19 Jan said party member Ridha Bouziane had died in hospital from injuries sustained during protest, but court same day said man’s body bore no visible signs of violence. Saïed 15 Jan launched online public consultation on reforms aimed at informing drafting of new constitution; over 30 civil society groups around 24 Jan criticised process, called for inclusive dialogue instead. Saïed 19 Jan suspended salaries and privileges of independent body High Judicial Council members citing need to combat corruption in judiciary; Association of Young Magistrates 25 Jan denounced “smear campaign” against judicial independence. Chief of Presidential Cabinet Nadia Akacha 24 Jan resigned citing “fundamental differences in opinion” over country’s interests. Interior ministry 28 Jan said police 10 Jan arrested woman coming from Syria for allegedly planning terrorist attack in Tunisia.

December 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed extended suspension of parliament by one year, sparking renewed opposition. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Dec called for early elections, said Saïed’s “excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap” since July power grab posing threat to “democratic gains”. Diplomatic mission heads of G7 countries and EU 10 Dec jointly called for “swift return to functioning democratic institutions” and respect of “fundamental freedoms”. Saïed 13 Dec extended state of exception and suspension of parliament for one year, and announced timeline for transition: electronic public consultation on constitutional and political reforms to begin 1 Jan; national committee to sum up proposals and submit project for revision of 2014 constitution by 22 March; constitutional referendum to take place 25 July, and legislative elections 17 Dec. Almost all political forces expressed opposition. UGTT next day hit back by claiming Saïed had asked union to accept austerity plan that includes 10% pay cut and subsequent five-year salary freeze for civil servants, and end to state subsidies for basic items; also threatened strikes in coming weeks. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi 16 Dec rejected “unconstitutional and illegal” extension of parliament freeze, reiterated call for “immediate cancellation of exceptional measures”. On anniversary of 2010-2011 uprising that toppled then-President Ben Ali, around 200 pro- and 2,000 anti-Saïed demonstrators 17 Dec held separate protests in capital Tunis; no security incidents reported. Meanwhile, An-Nahda activist 9 Dec self-immolated inside party’s headquarters in Tunis, killing himself and causing fire that seriously wounded two others. Court in Tunis 22 Dec sentenced in absentia former President Marzouki to four years in prison on charges of “undermining the external security of the state”; Marzouki in Oct had pressed France, where he lives, to oppose Saïed’s rule. An-Nahda 31 Dec said plainclothes security officers had same day captured party’s deputy president and former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri in Tunis and taken him to undisclosed destination, condemned “dangerous precedent”.

November 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Opposition to President Saïed continued to gain steam and rights groups expressed concern over military trials of civilians. Thousands 14 Nov gathered in front of suspended parliament in capital Tunis to protest Saïed’s special powers, as hundreds of police blocked off area; protesters tried to remove barriers and briefly clashed with police. Newly created “Citizens against the Coup” platform, which 8 Nov released roadmap calling for parliament to be reinstated and early presidential and parliamentary elections to be held in 2022, had initiated demonstration. Meanwhile, authorities 8 Nov ordered reopening of landfill in Agareb locality near Sfax city, prompting local residents to protest citing health and environmental concerns; National Guard fired tear gas, reportedly leaving one demonstrator dead. Tensions remained high in following days, with clashes between security forces and protesters reported in Agareb 9-11 Nov. NGO Amnesty International 10 Nov warned of “alarming increase” in number of civilians facing military courts since Saïed’s power grab in July, with more cases recorded in past three months than between 2011 and 2018; also highlighted cases of four civilians brought before military courts for “peacefully expressing opinions critical of the govt”. Judiciary 4 Nov issued international arrest warrant for former President Marzouki on charges of “plotting against the external security of the state”; Marzouki in Oct pressed France, where he lives, to oppose Saïed’s rule. Saïed 18 Nov said he will organise electronic referendum on constitutional revisions. Macro-economic situation remained dire. Following credit downgrading of main public banks by credit-rating agency Moody’s in Oct, some foreign suppliers demanded 50% cash down payment, which could lead to shortages of basic goods, inflation and drop in foreign exchange reserves.

October 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Both supporters and opponents of President Saïed’s power grab demonstrated in large numbers, illustrating growing polarisation. Tens of thousands 3 Oct marched across country in support of Saïed’s seizure of almost total power. In response, over 5,000 anti-Saïed protesters, largely mobilised by Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda and Islamo-populist Dignity Coalition, 10 Oct gathered in capital Tunis; five journalists injured during protest, while heavy police presence prevented any march down capital’s main avenue. Saïed 11 Oct unveiled new govt of 24 ministers, including many political newcomers, also nominated his close ally Taoufik Charfeddine as interior minister – a position he had previously held in Sept 2020-Jan 2021. Saïed 14 Oct dismissed members of assembly speaker’s cabinet, which critics said is equivalent to dissolving assembly. After former President Marzouki 9 Oct urged Paris to suspend its support for Saïed’s “dictatorial regime”, Saïed mid-Oct said he will withdraw Marzouki’s diplomatic passport, and judiciary 15 Oct opened investigation into Marzouki’s comments. Authorities 3 Oct detained MP Abdellatif Aloui and TV anchor Ameur Ayed for allegedly “conspiring against state security and insulting the army” after they strongly criticised Saïed in TV programme 1 Oct; 17 Oct arrested MP and former minister Mehdi Ben Gharbia on tax fraud and money-laundering charges. Saïed 21 Oct promised to launch “national dialogue” over country’s political and electoral systems but vowed to exclude “those who stole the people’s money and traitors”. Internationally, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 19 Oct urged Saïed to restore constitutional order, said “parliament cannot stay closed indefinitely”; and EU parliament 21 Oct passed resolution calling for swift return to “full-fledged democracy”, urging Saïed to “engage in an inclusive national dialogue”. Amid economic turmoil, credit rating agency Moody’s 14 Oct downgraded country’s sovereign rating from B3 to Caa1, signalling growing concerns over Tunis’ ability to secure much-needed funding amid myriad challenges.

September 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Despite mounting opposition, President Saïed set to ignore large parts of constitution and rule by decree with no end date, further cementing authoritarian drift. After Saïed’s adviser 9 Sept said president was planning to suspend constitution and change it through referendum, powerful labour union UGTT, which had kept low profile since Saïed’s power grab in July, 11 Sept rejected idea, instead called for early legislative elections so that new parliament can be tasked with constitutional reform; several political parties expressed similar views. Hundreds 18 Sept gathered in capital Tunis in first protest against Saïed’s power grab. Saïed 22 Sept enacted exceptional measures organising executive and legislative powers, under which he can issue “legislative texts” by decree and appoint cabinet members; any constitutional clause running counter to Saïed’s new powers suspended. President’s office same day said Saïed would form committee to help draft constitutional amendments, while members of frozen parliament would lose salaries and benefits. Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda, largest in parliament, immediately said moves amount to cancelling constitution; four other parties and UGTT next day condemned “dangerous step”, said “president has lost his legitimacy by violating the constitution”. Over 100 senior An-Nahda officials 25 Sept resigned from party, citing its failure to confront what they called “imminent tyrannical danger”. Thousands 26 Sept rallied in capital Tunis calling for president to resign. Saïed 29 Sept named geology Professor Najla Bouden Romdhane as PM. Meanwhile, Saïed faced mounting international pressure to restore constitutional order. Notably, in unprecedented move, ambassadors from Group of Seven advanced economies (G7) 7 Sept urged him to quickly appoint new head of govt and return to “constitutional order, in which an elected parliament plays a significant role”.

August 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

In worst political crisis since 2011, President Saïed extended parliament’s suspension indefinitely, consolidating his power grab. Following late-July move to dismiss govt, suspend parliament and assume public prosecutor’s powers, Saïed 5 Aug said there was “no turning back”, dismissed “dialogue except with the honest” and pledged “rights and freedoms” would not be violated. Several prominent civil society organisations same day jointly called on Saïed to swiftly release roadmap for ending exceptional measures. Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi 11 Aug acknowledged public anger over country’s economic and political situation, pledged his Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party – which was part of coalition govt and largest group in parliament – would “engage in self-criticism” and review its policies to match Tunisians’ aspirations; also stressed situation does not justify taking “step back from democracy”. Saïed 23 Aug however extended suspension of parliament “until further notice”. Dismissal of senior govt officials continued, including Economy Minister Ali Kooli and Communications Technology Minister Mohamed Fadhel Kraiem 2 Aug. Reshuffle of top security officials also under way: Saïed 18 Aug reportedly appointed new director general of national security and new commander of National Guard, while interior ministry next day appointed nine senior officials including new intelligence chief. Meanwhile, authorities 6 Aug placed senior An-Nahda official and former Minister Anouar Maarouf under house arrest over alleged abuse of authority; 12 Aug arrested 14 individuals including public officials and issued arrest warrants for three others, including former industry minister, for alleged corruption; former head of anti-corruption body Chawki Tabib placed under house arrest 20 Aug after security forces earlier same day took control of body’s headquarters in capital Tunis. NGO Amnesty International 26 Aug said at least 50 people, including judges, senior state officials and civil servants, arbitrarily barred from travelling abroad over past month, noted total number facing travel bans likely to be far greater; Saied 16 Aug said travel bans form part of efforts to prevent people suspected of corruption or of posing security threat from leaving country. Egypt 3 Aug expressed support for Saïed’s “historic measures”, while U.S. 13 Aug urged “swift return to...parliamentary democracy”, stressed “need to appoint a PM-designate”.

July 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed invoked constitution to dismiss PM and suspend parliament, escalating months-long political crisis. Saïed 25 July used Article 80 of country’s constitution, which grants president greater powers in emergency situations, to dismiss PM Hichem Mechichi and freeze parliament for 30 days, also said he would assume executive authority and public prosecutor’s powers, and strip lawmakers of their immunity. Tens of thousands immediately gathered in capital Tunis to applaud move. Earlier same day, thousands had protested across country against govt’s handling of health and economic crises and biggest party in parliament, Islamist-inspired An-Nahda, on occasion of Republic Day – which marks abolition of monarchy in 1957 –, leading to scuffles with police. Saïed 26 July sacked defence minister and acting justice minister, next day ordered dismissal of over 20 senior govt officials including military Attorney General Taoufik Ayouni. Parliament Speaker and An-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi 26 July decried Saïed’s move as “coup”, said parliament should be in session, and called on Tunisians to “defend the revolution”; clashes same day erupted between Saïed and An-Nahda supporters in front of army-barricaded parliament building. Mechichi 26 July said he would hand over power to individual chosen by Saïed. Saïed 30 July vowed he would “not turn into a dictator”. Authorities 30-31 July detained MPs Yassine Ayari, Maher Zid and Mohamed Affes; all three had accused Saïed of “coup”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 27 July urged resumption of parliament; U.S. 30 July called on Saïed to “quickly lift emergency measures and unfreeze parliament”, next day urged him to outline swift return to “democratic path”. Earlier in month, health ministry 9 July said health system had “collapsed” amid spiralling COVID-19 cases and deaths, and Mechichi 20 July sacked Health Minister Faouzi Mehdi. Parliament 12 July approved economic recovery law which promotes integration of informal sector into formal economy and allows Tunisians to open foreign currency bank account under certain conditions.

June 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Violent protests erupted on outskirts of capital Tunis over alleged police brutality and price hikes, while attempts to solve political crisis remained stalled. Protesters 8-16 June clashed with police in several underprivileged peri-urban areas of Tunis, notably Sidi Hassine neighbourhood, after man died in police custody 8 June and video showing police stripping and beating 15-year-old circulated on social media next day. UN human rights office in Tunisia 14 June expressed concern over “serious and repeated violations” by police since early 2021 and some 100 civil society activists 18 June demonstrated in Tunis against police brutality. Amid continued economic crisis, some 2,000 people, mainly supporters of opposition Free Destourian Party (fuelled by nostalgia for former President Ben Ali), 5 June protested in Tunis against govt’s decision to scrap state subsidies on some basic commodities in exchange for International Monetary Fund’s aid package; scuffles reported between protesters and police. Meanwhile, relations soured between President Saïed and main trade union and political power broker UGTT after Saïed 15 June turned down UGTT’s national dialogue initiative, instead calling for dialogue over constitutional reform and electoral code; UGTT 18 June alleged Saïed was seeking dismissal of PM Mechichi prior to national dialogue and wanted to restore presidential system. Court of Cassation 15 June ordered release of media mogul and former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui after over six months in pre-trial detention on charges of money laundering and tax evasion

May 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Presidency remained locked in power struggle with parliament and govt, while security forces conducted counter-terrorism operations in west. UK-based media Middle East Eye 23 May alleged unknown supporters of President Saïed had 13 May exhorted him to carry out “constitutional coup” by declaring “national emergency” to disempower govt; Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, which is part of coalition govt and largest group in parliament, 25 May called for investigation; Saïed next day met PM Hichem Mechichi and Defence Minister Brahim Bartagi, said he did not intend to stage coup and commended “complementarity of institutions”.  In joint “call of last hope”, six retired military officers 27 May urged Saïed to break political deadlock and initiate national dialogue. Amid continued economic crisis, govt and International Monetary Fund (IMF) early May discussed possibility of new assistance program; IMF reportedly reiterated need for Tunisia to formulate “social compact” reform plan first. Govt 17 May said U.S. would grant Tunisia $500mn in aid to finance infrastructure and other projects. As part of anti-terrorism operations, security forces overnight 16-17 May killed five suspected jihadists in Chaambi mountains near Algerian border (west). After violent conflict broke out in Gaza Strip (see Israel/Palestine), hundreds 19 May protested in capital Tunis and several other cities in support of Palestinians, calling on govt to outlaw normalising relations with Israel.

April 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Power struggle pitting presidency against parliament and govt continued. President Saïed early April refused to ratify Parliament’s late March amendments to Constitutional Court’s law, saying constitutional deadline to create court had expired; bill aimed to reduce majority required to elect Constitutional Court members from 145 to 131 MPs in bid to reactivate process of setting up court, which has been delayed since 2015. In latest escalation of dispute with PM and acting Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi over division of powers, Saïed 18 April reiterated that his presidential powers as armed forces commander cover internal security forces, drawing criticism from PM Mechichi and largest party in Parliament, Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda; latter 20 April denounced Saïed’s “violation of constitution” and his “attempts to involve security forces in political conflicts” as threat to democracy. Despite Saïed’s statement, Mechichi subsequently appointed Lazhar Loungou as new interior ministry’s director for special services. Opposition MP Rached Khiari 19 April accused Saïed of treason for allegedly receiving from U.S. $5mn to fund election campaign in 2019; military court next day reportedly opened investigation into case, and 22 April summoned Khiari to appear before court on accusations of “undermining national security”. Security forces 1 April killed three suspected jihadists, including Hamdi Dhouib, senior figure of Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated group Jund al-Khilafa, in two operations in centre west near Algerian border. Mechichi 30 April said Tunisia would seek $4bn loan from International Monetary Fund early May in “last opportunity” to save economy.

March 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Deadlock within executive branch persisted, while rights groups denounced police repression. Parliament speaker and Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi 10 March joined calls for new national dialogue to address political crisis and recurrent disputes over constitution; move comes amid President Saïed’s refusal to swear in PM Mechichi’s new cabinet since Jan. Main trade union and political powerbroker UGTT, which has spearheaded calls for national dialogue, 26 March said Saïed had committed to participating in UGTT’s national dialogue. Meanwhile, MP Hassouna Nasfi, leader of parliamentary coalition La Réforme, same day said he had collected 104 of 109 signatures needed to hold vote of no confidence against Ghannouchi. Hundreds 6 March protested in capital Tunis to demand release of LGBTQI+ activist Rania Amdouni, after Tunis court 4 March sentenced her to six months in prison on charges of “insulting police”. In joint statement, dozens of human rights organisations and political parties in Tunisia and abroad – including France’s Human Rights League and Tunisian Organisation Against Torture – 16 March called for her immediate release, said 2,000 civil society activists were currently imprisoned and denounced “police and judicial downward slide”. Appeals court next day released Amdouni. President of secular Free Destourian Party and MP Abir Moussi along with dozens of supporters 9 March stormed Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) office in Tunis, accusing association of terrorism and demanding it be dissolved; Moussi had for weeks organised sit-in protest demanding IUMS dissolution outside organisation’s offices in Tunis and country’s second largest city Sfax. Police 30 March fired tear gas on protesters after hundreds tried to storm govt building in southern city of Tataouine to protest govt’s failure to provide jobs. In first presidential visit to neighbouring Libya since 2012, Saïed 17 March met newly sworn-in Libyan PM Abdelhamid Dabaiba and Presidency Council Chairperson Mohamed al-Menfi in Libyan capital Tripoli to discuss bilateral relations and trade.

February 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Amid socio-economic crisis, political standstill continued, while protesters took to street in capital Tunis to demand compromise and denounce police brutality. Amid deepening constitutional crisis, President Saïed 3 Feb reiterated refusal to swear in 11 ministers whom PM Hichem Mechichi appointed in Jan, citing breach of constitution over alleged lack of deliberation prior to cabinet reshuffle; in attempt to circumvent Saïed, Mechichi 15 Feb appointed outgoing ministers as interim heads of vacant portfolios. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, which is part of Mechichi’s coalition govt and largest group in parliament, 27 Feb gathered some 20,000 supporters in Tunis to call on Saïed to compromise. Following countrywide demonstrations over deteriorating socio-economic crisis in Jan, NGO Human Rights Watch 5 Feb said police had used “violent tactics to quash protests” and called on authorities to investigate death of protester. Thousands next day took to streets in Tunis to denounce police violence; march coincided with eighth anniversary of politician and human rights defender Chokri Belaïd’s assassination. Amid delays in implementation of Nov agreement between govt and activists from oil-rich Kamour area in south, who demand redistribution of hydrocarbon wealth, army 11 Feb prevented protesters from closing valve of Kamour oil pumping station; protesters 24 Feb staged general strike across Tataouine governorate. Court 24 Feb released on bail media mogul and Qalb Tounes party leader Nabil Karoui, arrested in Dec on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. Explosive device 3 Feb killed four soldiers during counter-terrorism operation in Mount Mghila area (centre west) near Algerian border.

January 2021

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Amid deteriorating socio-economic crisis, riots and protests erupted across country, leaving at least one dead. After govt 14 Jan implemented new COVID-19-related nationwide lockdown, street riots overnight 15-16 Jan erupted in capital Tunis and over 15 other locations across country, mainly in underprivileged peri-urban areas; discontent fueled mainly by deteriorating economic and social conditions exactly ten years after former President Ben Ali’s overthrow. During five consecutive nights of unrest, police clashed with rioters, fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse them amid sporadic reports of vandalism and looting; protester injured in 18 Jan clashes, reportedly by tear gas canister, died 25 Jan. Govt 18 Jan said police had arrested over 600 people, sparking several days of daytime peaceful protests in Tunis and other cities against govt, economic crisis and arbitrary arrests. Tunisian Human Rights League 25 Jan said over 1,200 people had been arrested since unrest started. Riots subsided while daytime protests were still ongoing by month’s end. Amid tensions between President Saïed and PM Hichem Mechichi, Mechichi 5 Jan dismissed Saïed’s close ally, Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine, and 16 Jan reshuffled cabinet, naming 11 new ministers. In response, Saïed 25 Jan said he will not organise oath-taking ceremonies for new ministers, saying some are suspected of corruption or may have conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, parliament next day approved Mechichi’s cabinet reshuffle as police turned water cannon on hundreds of anti-govt protesters to hold them back from parliament. Authorities 27-28 Jan said letter addressed to Saïed and received 25 Jan contained suspicious powder that caused staffer who opened it to be hospitalised, denounced possible poisoning attempt. Authorities 8 Jan said they had arrested five individuals suspected of planning to carry out “terrorist operations in Tunisia”, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb senior figure.

December 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Upsurge in political tensions marked tenth anniversary of popular uprising which toppled former President Ben Ali. Dispute between centre-left Democratic Trend (DT) and populist Karama coalition MPs 7 Dec escalated into brawl in parliament, leaving one DT deputy wounded; violence reportedly erupted after DT MPs accused Karama deputy of making misogynistic comment and called for investigation. Five major parties in parliament same day called for parliamentary immunity to be lifted to allow prosecution of Karama MPs involved in violence. DT leader Mohamed Abbou 9 Dec called for dissolution of parliament and urged President Saïed to deploy army to protect strategic sites to avoid “state collapse”. MP from second largest parliamentary group Qalb Tounes 10 Dec accused those who “try to dissolve parliament” of “coup d’Etat”. Main trade union and political powerbroker UGTT 15 Dec called for national dialogue to prevent deepening of political, social and economic crisis; following meeting with UGTT, Saïed 30 Dec committed to launch national dialogue in coming weeks “to correct the revolution that has deviated from its goals.” Parliament Speaker and Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi next day declared support for UGTT initiative. Authorities 24 Dec arrested Qalb Tounes leader Nabil Karoui on charges of money laundering and tax evasion. On tenth anniversary of beginning of popular uprising against Ben Ali, protesters disillusioned with political class 17 Dec gathered outside parliament in capital Tunis to ask for assembly’s dissolution. Security forces 17 Dec dispersed sit-in of families of those killed and wounded during 2010-2011 uprising at govt square in Tunis. Military same day fired warning shots to disperse protesters asking for jobs and local development as they were blockading trans-Tunisian gas pipeline facilities in Awlad Marzoug town, Kasserine province (centre). Islamic State (ISIS)-affiliated militants 20 Dec kidnapped and beheaded shepherd in Jebel Salloum area, Kasserine province near Algerian border.

November 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Oil production resumed in Kamour area in south, ending four-month blockade. Govt and protesters – who blockaded oil and gas fields in southern Kamour area in July to protest against lack of redistribution of hydrocarbon wealth – 6 Nov reached agreement on reopening of oil and gas pumping station in exchange for employment opportunities and regional development; oil production resumed next day. Favourable terms of agreement fuelled calls for similar measures in other regions including Gabès, Gafsa, Kairouan, Kasserine and Tozeur. Notably, workers’ union in Kairouan 21 Nov called for general strike 3 Dec. Court of Auditors 10 Nov said Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda and media mogul Nabil Karoui’s liberal Heart of Tunisia party, both pillars of current parliamentary coalition, violated electoral law in 2019 by signing contracts with foreign communication agencies and paying these services through non-declared bank accounts; in joint statement, several civil society organisations 14 Nov called for legal action.

October 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Violent protests erupted in centre, and political tensions persisted. Dozens of residents 13 Oct clashed with police in town of Sbeïtla, Kasserine province in centre as they protested death of man previous night during destruction by local authorities of informal newspaper kiosk where he was sleeping; protesters reportedly broke into several govt buildings, erected roadblocks and threw stones at police who attempted to disperse them; PM Mechichi same day dismissed governor of Kasserine province and several other local officials and deployed military personnel to town, while authorities arrested head of municipal police. In capital Tunis, dozens 8 Oct demonstrated against draft security law, saying it would give security forces virtual impunity and might lead to increased police brutality. At govt’s request, parliament 12 Oct suspended discussion on draft law. Following President Saïed’s criticism in late Sept of PM Mechichi for appointing as advisers two close collaborators of former President Ben Ali, tensions between two leaders remained high. Notably, Mechichi 5 Oct dismissed Cultural Affairs Minister Walid Zidi after he criticised new COVID-19 restrictions; during formation of govt in Aug, Saïed had stepped in to support Zidi’s appointment. After authorities early Oct implemented night curfews in several regions amid rise in COVID-19 infections, govt 28 Oct announced nationwide night curfew, ban on inter-regional movement and school closure.

September 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Parliament approved new govt, while Islamic State (ISIS) launched deadly attack on security forces. Parliament 2 Sept approved PM-designate Hichem Mechichi’s technocratic govt with 134 votes out of 217; move followed weeks of power struggle between President Saïed and major parties in parliament after Saïed late July tasked Mechichi with forming new technocratic govt, disregarding balance of forces in parliament; Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda, largest group in parliament, eventually backed Mechichi citing country’s “difficult situation”. Three suspected jihadists 6 Sept attacked national guard checkpoint in Akouda town near Sousse city, killing one officer and wounding another; security forces subsequently killed all three and arrested dozens suspected of involvement; ISIS next day claimed responsibility for jihadist attack.

August 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political crisis continued amid intensifying polarisation between Islamists and anti-Islamists. After PM-designate Hichem Mechichi 10 Aug said he would form cabinet composed of “independent expertise”, Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda, largest group in parliament, immediately rejected idea and reiterated call for “political” govt reflecting balance of forces in parliament. However, Mechichi night of 24-25 Aug announced technocratic govt, citing need to “focus on the economic and social situation”; parliament 25 Aug said it would hold confidence vote 1 Sept. Prominent business association UTICA 18 Aug called for economic emergency law to “preserve the economic sovereignty” as economic situation continued to deteriorate amid COVID-19 pandemic, with economy shrinking by 21.6% in second quarter of 2020 compared to same period last year and unemployment rate reaching 18% by mid-Aug.

July 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political crisis peaked with collapse of govt following weeks of tensions between PM Fakhfakh and Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda. National anti-corruption authority 13 July submitted report on PM Fakhfakh’s revenues to national judiciary and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi over allegations of conflict of interest. Group of 105 MPs led by Ghannouchi’s An-Nahda (member of ruling coalition) 15 July tabled no-confidence motion against Fakhfakh’s govt, prompting him to resign same day. Fakhfakh, who remained head of caretaker govt until new one is formed, next day reshuffled cabinet and dismissed all An-Nahda ministers, also pledged to review appointments made by An-Nahda in central and local govt. President Saïed 25 July designated Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi as new PM and tasked him with forming new govt by 25 Aug. Group of 89 MPs led by Abir Moussi’s Free Destourian Party 16 July tabled no-confidence motion against Parliament Speaker Ghannouchi; in parliamentary session 30 July, motion fell short of 109-vote majority with 97 MPs voting against Ghannouchi. In south, several strikes and sit-ins brought production of phosphates to near halt. Notably, demonstrators asking for jobs in energy and related companies 16 July closed pipeline in Kamour area.

June 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political tensions, fuelled notably by ongoing conflict in Libya, continued within ruling coalition. Parliament 3 June held plenary session on allegations that parliamentary speaker Rached Ghannouchi, president of Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda (member of ruling coalition), undermines Tunisian neutrality in Libya’s conflict; allegations fuelled by Ghannouchi’s May phone call with Libya’s Turkey-backed PM Serraj and his continued good relationship with Turkish President Erdoğan. During session, opposition Free Destourian Party tabled motion to refuse any military intervention in Libya; motion was rejected but gathered support from ruling coalition members Long Live Tunisia and Movement of the People. In 8 June interview, Ghannouchi called for cabinet reshuffle to remove both parties from ruling coalition. Following weeks of peaceful demonstrations over dire economic situation in southern city of Tataouine, hundreds of protesters 21-22 June threw stones at police and blocked roads there to demand jobs and release of local protest movement figure Tarek Haddad, arrested 20 June; police fired tear gas while authorities deployed army outside state institutions.

May 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political fissures widened between Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda and other parties while debate over type of political system to adopt intensified. An-Nahda party faced increasing pressure amid fear of being marginalised by new political front comprising partner and opposition parties: 11 MPs of total 38 belonging to parliamentary coalition partner Qalb Tounes resigned in May; President of Free Destourian Party and MP Abir Moussi 22 May organised parliament sit-in targeting An-Nahda president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi. General Tunisian Labour Union Sec Gen Noureddine Taboubi 18 May called for popular referendum to change political system; move seen as endorsement of presidential system proposed by President Saïed and against current parliamentary regime supported by An-Nahda. Ghannouchi 19 May in telephone call congratulated Libyan PM Fayez al-Sarraj on capture of strategic Wutiya airbase in western Libya and stressed need for political solution to conflict; seven opposition parties next day denounced Ghannouchi’s actions as dragging Tunisia into Libya’s conflict and requested President Saïed’s intervention.

April 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Following two-week dispute between Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi, President Saïed and PM Fakhfakh, parliament 4 April approved govt request for emergency powers to contain spread of COVID-19 and mitigate economic impact. Interior Ministry 4 April announced soldiers and national guard forces in Kasserine governate killed two members of Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate, Jund al Khilafa. Interior Ministry 16 April announced it foiled alleged plot to spread COVID-19 among security forces; two men arrested in Kebili governate, including suspected member of militant group.

March 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Two suicide bombers 6 March attacked security post near U.S. embassy in capital Tunis killing themselves and one policeman.

February 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

PM Fakhfakh 19 Feb formed coalition govt comprising mainly independent ministers, to which parliament gave vote of confidence 27 Feb with 129 votes to 77; govt excluded Qalb Tounes, party of media mogul Nabil Karoui, which has second-largest parliamentary bloc with 38 MPs, and populist forces Karama coalition (fifteen seats in parliament) and Free Destourian party (seventeen seats). An-Nahda 17 Feb announced (and later retracted) intention to halt negotiations to form new govt. Interior Ministry 11 Feb announced discovery of terrorist training camp in Kasserine governorate in west and seizure of materials for manufacturing explosives. Govt 25 Feb announced joint operation which killed two members of Islamic State affiliate, Jund al Khilafa.

January 2020

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political polarisation grew as attempts to form govt failed. Parliament 10 Jan rejected govt proposed by PM-designate Habib Jemli, with only 72 of 217 MPs voting in favour. President Saïed 20 Jan named former finance minister and candidate in 2019 presidential election Elyes Fakhfakh as new PM and tasked him with forming new govt by 15 March. Fakhfakh opened consultations with ten party leaders to build majority of 109 MPs needed to form govt. Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda 27 Jan threatened to reject govt if consultations did not include all parties in parliament. Fakhfakh 29 Jan unveiled policy priorities of his future govt, indicating tackling poverty, inequality and unemployment as urgent goals. President of Free Destourian Party (FDP) and MP Abir Moussi 14 Jan called for dismissal of Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda president Rached Ghannouchi from parliament speaker position for treason following his visit to Turkey, where he met with Turkish President Erdoğan 11 Jan. Supporters of radical right-wing political group Karama coalition 16 Jan assaulted Moussi and other FDP members in parliament building.

December 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

PM-designate Habib Jemli 12 Dec asked President Saïed to push back 15 Dec deadline to form govt by one month until 15 Jan. Jemli continued consultations with party leaders to build majority of 109 MPs needed to form govt.

November 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Following legislative elections in Oct, new parliament 13 Nov elected Rached Ghannouchi, president of Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda, as speaker. An-Nahda, exercising its right as winner of most seats in Oct legislative polls, 15 Nov nominated former agriculture secretary of state, Habib Jemli, as PM and President Saïed same day tasked him with forming govt.

October 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

In second round of presidential elections 13 Oct, constitutional law professor with no political affiliation Kaïs Saïed won with 72.7% of votes, beating media mogul Nabil Karoui. In light of Karoui’s incarceration, Saïed 5 Oct stopped campaigning to ensure level playing field and avoid cancellation of second round. Appeal court 9 Oct freed Karoui, giving him several days to campaign. Saïed sworn in as president 23 Oct. In legislative elections 6 Oct, Islamist-inspired party An-Nahda won most seats with 52 out of 217, ahead of Karoui’s liberal party Heart of Tunisia, which won 38, according to preliminary results. An-Nahda launched consultations with several parties represented in parliament and independent MPs to form majority in parliament and then govt. PM Chahed 29 Oct dismissed foreign affairs and defence ministers and secretary of state for diplomacy, reportedly after consultation with President Saïed. Unidentified assailant killed French tourist and injured soldier with knife in Bizerte in north 14 Oct. Security forces arrested suspect next day, his motivations remained unclear.

September 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Two political outsiders won most votes in first round of presidential election 15 Sept and will face off in second round 13 Oct; authorities could use incarceration of one, Nabil Karoui, as grounds for cancelling second round or nullifying results, risking constitutional void and power vacuum, as interim presidency ends 24 Oct, and street protests if rival camps mobilise supporters. Kaïs Saïed, constitutional law professor with no political affiliation, came first with 18.4%, followed by imprisoned media businessman Nabil Karoui with 15.6%. Turnout was low at 49%. Parties continued campaigning ahead of 6 Oct legislative elections. Former President Ben Ali, who fled country in Jan 2011, died in Saudi Arabia 19 Sept.

August 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Following death of President Essebsi 25 July, preparations accelerated for presidential elections 15 Sept and legislative elections 6 Oct. Electoral commission 14 Aug approved 26 of 91 candidacies submitted for 15 Sept early presidential elections, including front-runners businessman Nabil Karoui, PM Chahed, Defence Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi, former President Marzouki, and Islamist party An-Nahda’s VP Abdelfattah Mourou. PM Chahed 22 Aug said he had delegated his powers to Public Service Minister Morjane to focus on his campaign and ensure fair elections. Police 23 Aug arrested Karoui on charges of money laundering and tax evasion and banned his TV channel Nessma TV from reporting on elections; Karoui’s party next day claimed PM Chahed orchestrated arrest. Electoral commission 24 Aug said Karoui’s candidacy remained valid despite arrest. Interim President Ennaceur 2 Aug prolonged nationwide state of emergency for one additional month and 30 Aug extended it until 31 Dec. Govt 3 Aug said security forces had killed two suspected jihadists in Gafsa in south.

July 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Essebsi died 25 July bringing forward presidential elections due later in year to Sept, and Islamist militancy continued to threaten security. Following “severe health crisis” in June, Essebsi was discharged from hospital 1 July in “normal health”, but readmitted 24 July and died next day, aged 92, of repetitive faintness. Same day Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur sworn in as interim president, to hold post for no longer than 90 days; first round of presidential election planned for 15 Sept. Legislative elections to be held 6 Oct. Essebsi 20 July had refused to ratify electoral law amendments that parliament passed in June that would have imposed tougher eligibility criteria for presidential candidates and which would have barred presidential front-runner businessman Nabil Karoui. Prosecutor 9 July charged Karoui with money laundering, and imposed on him asset freeze and travel ban. Govt 4 July said death toll from 27 June attacks in capital Tunis claimed by Islamic State (ISIS) had risen to two. Police in Tunis 2 July surrounded Islamist militant and alleged mastermind of June attacks, who detonated his suicide vest, killing himself but no others. Citing security concerns, PM Chahed 5 July banned women from wearing full face veil in public institutions. ISIS 17 July released video allegedly filmed in Tunisia calling for militants to carry out attacks.

June 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Ahead of presidential and legislative elections scheduled for late 2019, tensions heightened as ruling majority tried to bar potential candidates, President Essebsi suffered “health crisis” and two suicide bombings rocked capital Tunis. Parliament 18 June voted through amendments to 2014 electoral law so that new law, if implemented, would render three would-be presidential candidates opposed to ruling coalition ineligible: philanthropist Olfa Terras Rambourg, owner of private TV channel Nabil Karoui and former official of former President Ben Ali’s party Abir Moussi. Amendments set conditions for candidacy, ruling out citizens who received “unfair political publicity” or distributed “aid to the population” during year preceding election or have record of human rights violations. Pro-govt media welcomed vote as victory against political corruption. But more than 40 MPs 20 June reportedly signed petition against amendment. Several jurists said this move could delay elections, notably if Essebsi refuses to sign new law. Armed group early 27 June shot at broadcasting station at Mount Orbata in Gafsa in centre. Hours later jihadists carried out two suicide bomb attacks in capital Tunis, killing one police and injuring four people; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed both. Same day, Essebsi, 92, suffered “severe health crisis” and was hospitalised in Tunis; health reportedly improving end-month.

May 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Ahead of legislative elections in Oct and presidential in Nov political alliances continued to shift and debates intensified. Several politicians joined PM Chahed’s new party Tayha Tounes, including former ministers Lassâad Zarrouk and Afif Chelbi early May, and al-Moubadara party leader Kamel Morjane 22 May. Several public figures gained prominence as potential presidential candidates; in opinion poll released early May, law professor Kaïs Saïed won most votes with 22.4%, owner of private TV channel Nabil Karoui came second with 21.8%; former official of former President Ben Ali’s party Abir Moussi came third with 12.4%; PM Chahed came fourth with 7.4%. Sec Gen of president’s party Nida Tounes 8 May called for delay of elections to prevent political scene from fragmenting further. Ben Ali mid-May posted first political message since his ouster in 2011, thanking thousands of Tunisians who had sent him “love letters” and encouraging “my people to overcome the difficulties”. Member of UN panel of experts on Libya with dual Tunisian and German nationality Moncef Kartas, charged 10 April with “spying for foreign parties” and jailed despite UN immunity, was released 21 May; Kartas reportedly left Tunisia for Germany next day. National guard 1 May arrested al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-affiliated militant Raed Touati at Mount Chaambi in west.

April 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political rivalry between Islamists and anti-Islamists continued ahead of legislative and presidential elections in Oct and Nov, as escalation in neighbouring Libya raised security concerns. Govt 5 April prolonged state of emergency citing persistent threat of terrorism and said it had reinforced military along Libyan border in south east to prevent “terrorist infiltration”. President Essebsi’s Nida Tounes sought to elect central committee and representatives for Nov 2019 legislative elections, but party leadership struggle between head of parliamentary bloc Sofian Toubel and president’s son Hafedh Caïd Essebsi saw each hold their own separate congress 6-7 April; both congresses elected separate central committees. President Essebsi 6 April said he would not stand for re-election in Nov vote. After arresting member of UN panel of experts on Libya 26 March, authorities 10 April charged him with “spying for foreign parties”.

March 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Political manoeuvring continued ahead of elections planned for late 2019. Electoral commission 6 March said legislative elections would take place 6 Oct and first round of presidential election 10 Nov. Several centrist politicians joined PM Chahed’s new political party. Authorities detained UN official tasked with investigating alleged violations of UN arms embargo on Libya in Tunis 26 March on suspicion of spying. UN late March asked Tunisia to free UN official, stressed he had diplomatic immunity.

February 2019

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia