CrisisWatch

Tracking Conflict Worldwide

CrisisWatch is our global conflict tracker, an early warning tool designed to help prevent deadly violence. It keeps decision-makers up-to-date with developments in over 70 conflicts and crises every month, identifying trends and alerting them to risks of escalation and opportunities to advance peace. In addition, CrisisWatch monitors over 50 situations (“standby monitoring”) to offer timely information if developments indicate a drift toward violence or instability. Entries dating back to 2003 provide easily searchable conflict histories.

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January 2024

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Crackdown on free speech continued with judicial harassment of journalists, and IMF for first time placed Tunisia on so-called black list.

Repression of dissent continued. Tunis court 10 Jan gave journalist and columnist Zied el-Heni six-month suspended prison sentence for allegedly insulting minister during radio broadcast, and released him from prison, where he had been held since 28 Dec. Authorities 3 Jan arrested Al Jazeera journalist Samir Sassi on suspicion of belonging to “terrorist organisation”, before releasing him few days later. Interior ministry note leaked on social media 13 Jan requested opening of investigation against twenty public figures (most of whom are likely to stand in presidential election due to be held by year’s end) on allegations of money laundering. 

Protesters took to streets on different occasions. Demonstration in support of Palestinians 11 Jan took place in front of South Africa embassy in capital Tunis; protesters expressed support for Pretoria’s genocide case against Israel at International Court of Justice. Hundreds of people 14 Jan demonstrated in Tunis to mark anniversary of 2011 uprising that led to ousting of then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and to demand release of jailed opposition leaders. Demonstrations 17-18 Jan broke out in El Hencha village, north of Sfax city, after boat carrying 37 residents attempting to cross Mediterranean Sea went missing.

In another important development. Tunisia 5 Jan appeared on International Monetary Fund’s “negative list” of countries with over eighteen-month delay in completion of consultations with financial institution. President Saïed late Jan extended state of emergency by eleven months until 31 Dec 2024. 

December 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Local elections recorded low voter turnout amid boycott by parties across political spectrum; repression of govt critics continued.

Local council elections underscored voter disaffection. First round of local elections, which will determine composition of second chamber of parliament, took place 24 Dec; some 150 intellectual and political figures mid Dec signed petition calling for election boycott, saying vote would participate in “consolidation of the system of repression and oppression”. Election Commission 27 Dec placed turnout at 11.84%, highlighting high level of voter disaffection; second round scheduled for Feb 2024.

Crackdown on businessmen and journalists continued. Authorities 12 Dec issued arrest warrant against Adel Grar, former managing director of Al Karama Holding (responsible for sale of companies confiscated during 2010-2011 revolution), for allegedly using his position to obtain unjustified advantage and improperly disposing of public or private funds. Police 28 Dec arrested journalist Zied el-Hani and judge later issued arrest warrant against him for defamation against trade minister. Opposition Free Destourian Party mid Dec said authorities banned demonstration in support of party president Abir Moussi, who has been in detention since 3 Oct following scuffle with staff of president’s palace.

In other important developments. Shortages of basic commodities persisted, leading to tense scenes in queues, filmed and broadcast on social networks. Notably, Tunis region 7 Dec ran out of fuel for several days due to delayed delivery by tanker, and many bakeries around Tunis mid Dec were unable to make bread due to shortage of flour. Meanwhile, interior ministry said National Guard and military personnel 27 Dec killed three “terrorists” in mountainous area of Kasserine near Algerian border.

November 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

In surprise move, President Saïed objected to bill criminalising normalisation with Israel, while authorities detained several high-profile businessmen on corruption allegations.

Saïed changed tack on bill to criminalise normalising relations with Israel. Parliament 2 Nov started debating draft law criminalising recognition or establishment of relations with Israel. Parliament Speaker Brahim Bouderbala same day suspended session, citing Saïed’s concern that bill could harm Tunisia’s foreign affairs and security, and Saïed next day confirmed he objected to bill. MP and rapporteur for Rights and Freedoms Committee, Mohamed Ali, 6 Nov said U-turn came after U.S. threatened “economic and military sanctions”.

Security forces arrested several prominent businessmen. Police 7 Nov arrested Marouane Mabrouk, head of country’s largest oligopolistic group and one-time son-in-law of former President Ben Ali, as well as former Transportation Minister Abderrahim Zouari, representative in Tunisia of French car company Peugeot. Judiciary few days later issued arrest warrants against them, notably for corruption and money laundering. Authorities 14 Nov also arrested coordinator of leftist Al Qotb party, Riadh Ben Fadhel, allegedly in relation to his buyback of Ben Ali’s cars. Moves came as mandate of special commission set up in 2022 expired, having failed to collect up to €4bn allegedly looted by businessmen under Ben Ali.

In other important developments. Interior ministry 7 Nov said security and defence forces had apprehended all five individuals convicted of terrorism who late Oct escaped from Mornaguia high-security prison. New clashes between security forces and sub-Saharan African migrants reported 24 Nov in Al Amra neighbourhood on outskirts of country’s second largest city of Sfax, with unclear casualties; police and national guard in following days allegedly locked area down searching for gun and ammunition reportedly lost during confrontation.

October 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Rare prison break prompted govt to dismiss top intelligence officials; crowd torched Jewish mausoleum amid escalation of violence in Gaza Strip.

Five Islamist convicts broke out of prison. Five Islamist prisoners convicted of killing policemen and two secular politicians 31 Oct escaped from Mornaguia prison near capital Tunis. Interior ministry announced dismissing two top officials in intelligence services, while justice ministry sacked director of Mornaguia prison.

Crowd rampaged through Jewish site. As violence escalated in Gaza amid Israel-Hamas war (see Israel/Palestine), thousands 17 Oct gathered in centre of Tunis to condemn Israeli attacks on Gaza Strip and denounce bias of French and other Western media in favour of Israel, demanding departure of French ambassador; rioters same day burned down 16th century El Hamma Jewish mausoleum near Gabès city (south). President Saïed hours later summoned National Security Council, said “the battle today is against international Zionism”, not Jewish people. As protests continued, parliamentary committee 24 Oct approved draft law criminalising normalisation of relations with Israel.

Repression of dissent continued with detention of prominent opposition leader. Presidential guard and police 3 Oct arrested Abir Moussi, president of Free Patriotic Union opposition party, in front of presidential palace as she tried to file appeal against recent presidential decree related to local elections; judge 5 Oct ordered her imprisonment on suspicion of “assault intended to cause chaos”. Around 1,500 supporters of Moussi 15 Oct took to streets of Tunis to demand her immediate release.

Tunis handed back EU money, dealing a blow to controversial migration pact. After European Commission late Sept announced €127mn for Tunisia in support of implementation of “strategic partnership” on economy and migration signed in July, Saïed 2 Oct rejected funds, dismissing “derisory” amount running counter to July agreement. Commission 12 Oct confirmed that Tunis had returned €60mn in budget support. Meanwhile, 2024 draft budget released 16 Oct made no mention of International Monetary Fund deal, and Saïed 17 Oct dismissed economy minister.

September 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Authorities continued to silence govt critics, controversy over EU-Tunisia migration deal persisted, and President Saïed kept hard stance against austerity despite risk of economic collapse.

Judicial harassment of An-Nahda officials continued. Authorities 5 Sept arrested Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party’s interim president Mondher Ounissi and senior official Abdel Karim Harouni as part of investigation into alleged illegal financing from abroad. Security forces same day also arrested former PM and An-Nahda leader Hamadi Jebali at his home in city of Sousse, released him after 7-hour interrogation by judicial unit responsible for financial corruption cases.

EU-Tunisia migration control deal continued to face pushback. In heated debate at EU parliament, EU lawmakers 12 Sept discussed EU-Tunisia migration control deal signed in July; several MEPs accused EU Commission of failing to recognise mounting evidence of Tunisian authorities’ abusive treatment of sub-Saharan migrants, while others denounced deal’s failure to reduce migration flows. European Ombudsman 15 Sept announced asking EU Commission to clarify how it plans to ensure respect for human rights in migration-related actions resulting from agreement. Meanwhile, Tunis mid-Sept denied entry to EU parliament’s foreign affairs committee delegation; committee later “condemned” decision and demanded “detailed explanation”.

In other important developments. Amid persistent risk of economic collapse, Saïed 8 Sept called on Central Bank to purchase treasury bonds to help finance budget directly, in spite of Central Bank Governor Marouane Abassi’s previous warning that move could lead to higher inflation and greater pressure on banks’ liquidity. Saïed 15 Sept also pressed PM Ahmed Hanachi, who took office 1 Aug, to set up commissions in every ministry to review public sector hiring processes, in likely attempt to break political parties’ patronage networks.

August 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Grain and bread shortages turned into crisis, and govt reached agreement with Libya to share responsibility for rescuing migrants expelled by Tunis to border zones.

Bread shortages turned into crisis. Govt 1 Aug issued decree banning privately-owned bakeries – employing around 20,000 people across country – from purchasing subsidised flour, blaming country’s grain and bread shortages on their selling of bread at higher price than govt-subsidised baguette. Move prompted most privately-owned bakeries to close doors, while around 200 bakery owners 7 Aug protested in front of trade ministry in Tunis. Trade ministry 19 Aug cancelled decree and agreed to restore subsidised flour supply to private bakeries.

President Saïed dismissed PM, showing continued rejection of IMF program. Saïed 1 Aug sacked PM Najla Bouden and appointed little-known former central bank executive Ahmed Hachani as replacement; move indicates Saïed’s continuous rejection of International Monetary Fund loan terms, including economic reform program that Bouden had tried to advance.

Tunisia and Libya agreed to rescue migrants stranded along border. UN Sec Gen António Guterres 1 Aug called on Tunis to stop expelling migrants into desert border areas and demanded “urgent relocation of those stranded along the border to safe locations”. Interior Minister Kamel Fekih 2 Aug conceded authorities have pushed back “small groups” of sub-Saharan migrants trying to enter Tunisia into desert no man’s land, but labelled claims of collective deportations and mistreatment of migrants as “false allegations”. Libyan authorities 8 Aug reported death of at least 27 sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia-Libya border zone. Tunis and Tripoli next day reached agreement to share responsibility for providing shelter to at least 300 migrants stranded in shared border zone. Meanwhile, EU-Tunisia migration control deal faced pushback. In confidential note leaked early Aug, German Federal Foreign Office argued Germany and other EU member states were not properly consulted before EU Commission and Tunisia mid-July signed migration deal.

July 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Security forces expelled Sub-Saharan migrants to desert areas while European Union reached migration control deal with Tunis.

Authorities expelled Sub-Saharan migrants to border areas amid spike in tensions. Clashes between Tunisians and Sub-Saharan migrants 3 July left one Tunisian man dead in coastal city of Sfax. As disturbances went on for several days, with local rights activists reporting beatings and arbitrary detentions of migrants by locals, authorities allegedly expelled around 1,200 sub-Saharans from Sfax and took them further south to remote areas near borders with Libya and Algeria. NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) 6 July said migrants left “with little food and no medical assistance” at Tunisia-Libya border. Paris-based weekly news magazine Jeune Afrique 12 July reported death of two migrants in Haouza area near Algeria, and Libyan authorities late July announced finding several bodies of migrants on border with Tunisia. UN experts 18 July urged authorities to “halt any further deportations”, saying “collective expulsions are prohibited under international law”, and reiterated concern about “reports of racist hate speech in the country”.

EU, Tunisia signed partnership largely focused on migration control. European Commission President Ursula von Der Leyen and President Saïed 16 July signed partnership agreement, with European Union (EU) allocating €105mn to Tunisia to reinforce border management and speed up repatriation of irregular Tunisian migrants. HRW 19 July urged EU to suspend migration control funding to Tunisian security forces, citing latter’s “serious abuses” against Sub-Saharan migrants.

In other important developments. Tunis Court of Appeal 13 July released political opponents Chaïma Issa and Lazhar Akremi, who had been detained since Feb as part of crackdown on govt critics; next day banned them from traveling abroad and appearing in public following prosecutor’s office’s request. On two-year anniversary of Saïed’s power grab, over 300 people 25 July rallied in capital Tunis to denounce crackdown on fundamental freedoms and demand release of political prisoners.

June 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Authorities continued to silence dissent, and European Union (EU) proposed financial assistance while urging Tunis to tighten border control.

Opposition protested continued harassment of govt critics. Islamist-inspired AnNahda party 12 June confirmed three imprisoned party leaders on hunger strike to protest “detention conditions and non-respect of fundamental rights”; one of them, Sahbi Atig, early June reportedly spent several days in intensive care due to deteriorating health. Hundreds of main opposition coalition National Salvation Front supporters 18 June protested in capital Tunis to demand release of President Saïed’s opponents, including coalition’s co-founder Jaouhar Ben Mbarek and AnNahda leader Rached Ghannouchi. Authorities 20 June detained prominent journalist Zied Heni near Tunis for allegedly “insulting the head of state”, released him on bail two days later.

EU offered financial aid to Tunis to boost economy, tighten border control. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 11 June visited Tunis along with Italian PM Giorgia Meloni and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, said EU may loan over €1bn to help Tunisia boost its battered economy and tighten border control. Ahead of meeting, Saïed 10 June said Tunisia would not accept to act as other countries’ border guard. German and French Interior Ministers Nancy Faeser and Gérald Darmanin 19 June met with Saïed in Tunis to discuss migration and security issues; France announced nearly €26mn in aid to combat irregular migration. Families of jailed judges and politicians late June accused EU of whitewashing Saïed’s authoritarianism in hope he can stem migration to Europe.

Anti-migrant sentiment persisted, notably in Sfax. In joint statement, human rights and other organisations 2 June condemned violence against sub-Saharan migrants and urged authorities to protect migrants and combat discrimination. Tensions continued to run high in coastal city of Sfax, a hub for migrant crossings to Europe. Notably, clashes 17-18 June reportedly broke out between Sfax residents and migrants, causing property damage, while hundreds 25 June demonstrated in Sfax against presence of irregular migrants.

May 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Attack at Jewish pilgrimage site left several dead, while renewed violence erupted against sub-Saharan migrants; court sentenced most prominent opposition leader to prison.

Gunman killed four in attack on El Ghriba synagogue. National guard member 9 May opened fire upon worshippers attending annual Jewish pilgrimage at El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba island, killing two security personnel, two civilians and wounding a dozen others before security forces shot him dead; assailant earlier same day also killed colleague. Interior Minister Kamel Fekih 11 May said targeting of synagogue was premeditated, but referred to it as a “criminal” rather than terrorist act, meaning regular judiciary will carry out investigation.

Violence against migrants turned deadly. Armed individuals around 22 May attacked 19 sub-Saharan migrants near Sfax city, killing Beninese man and injuring at least four others; authorities in following days arrested three Tunisian nationals in relation to case and opened judicial enquiry. Over 20 rights organisations 29 May condemned “context of uninterrupted speeches of incitement, hatred and racism against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa” since President Saïed in Feb linked migrants to violence and criminality.

Judicial harassment of govt critics continued unabated. Authorities 6 May arrested Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party official Sahbi Atig, notably on allegations of money laundering and illegal possession of currency. Anti-terrorism court in capital Tunis 15 May sentenced Saïed’s most prominent critic, An-Nahda president and founder Rached Ghannouchi (who has been in preventive detention since April), to one year in prison on terrorism-related charges. Appeals court in Tunis 16 May increased prison sentence for journalist Khalifa Guesmi from one to five years on charges of disclosing national security information. Journalists 18 May held sit-in protest near Tunisian Journalists’ Union headquarters in Tunis to denounce “one of the heaviest sentences in the Tunisian media’s history” and “dramatic escalation in the persecution of the media and journalists”.

April 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Authorities detained Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, while President Saïed cast doubt on IMF bailout.

Amid opposition protests, authorities arrested most prominent opposition leader. Hundreds 9 April joined protest led by opposition coalition National Salvation Front in capital Tunis to demand release of over 20 opposition activists detained since Feb. Authorities 17 April arrested Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party leader and former parliament speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, charged him with “conspiracy against the state”; move came few days after Ghannouchi said efforts to “eradicate” Islamist opposition threatened to unleash civil war. Interior ministry 17 April also banned An-Nahda from holding meetings, and police in following days raided and shut down its headquarters in Tunis as well as several regional offices, raising spectre of formal ban on party. After U.S., EU, France, Türkiye and others condemned Ghannouchi’s detention, govt 19 April said “Tunisian justice will not yield to pressure”.

Saïed’s absence from public stage fuelled rumours of power vacuum. Saïed’s 12-day absence reportedly caused by minor heart attack late March-early April sparked concern about succession as 2022 constitution provides that head of constitutional council, which has never been installed, takes over presidency in case of permanent power vacuum.

Saïed cast doubt on International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue package. In clearest rejection to date of terms of stalled $1.9bn bailout package, Saïed 6 April said he would not accept IMF’s “diktats”. EU Commission 27 April said EU financial assistance would be conditioned to deal with IMF.

March 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

Opposition protested President Saïed’s increasingly authoritarian drift, while violence against African migrants caused international outcry.

Saïed continued to assert control over public institutions. Saïed 8 March vowed to dissolve municipal councils elected in 2018 and replace them with “special councils” to be elected under new rules. New parliament 13 March held first session in absence of independent and foreign journalists, who were barred from attending, and elected former president of Bar Association Brahim Bouderbala as speaker; opposition coalition National Salvation Front (NSF) same day said it did not recognise legitimacy of parliament elected with 11.3% turnout. Interior Minister Taoufik Charfeddine 17 March resigned, citing family reasons; Saïed same day replaced him with hardline supporter, Tunis Governor Kamal Feki.

Opposition protested wave of arrests targeting govt critics. As part of campaign of arrests launched in Feb, authorities 2 March detained leader of Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party Habib Ellouze, allegedly on terrorism charges. Main workers’ union UGTT 4 March rallied thousands of protesters in capital Tunis to denounce politically motivated detentions and rising cost of living as well as to urge Saïed to accept UGTT’s dialogue initiative. NSF next day also protested wave of arrests and Saïed’s power grab; 27 March started open sit-in in Tunis to demand release of all political detainees.

International institutions condemned attacks on sub-Saharan Africans. After Saïed’s comments linking migration and crime in Feb triggered violent attacks on sub-Saharan African in Tunisia, several countries including Guinea, Mali and Côte d’Ivoire early March began repatriation of nationals who submitted voluntary return applications. World Bank early March suspended partnership framework with Tunisia for 2023-2027 “until further notice”, deeming Saïed’s remarks “completely unacceptable”, while U.S. State Dept 6 March expressed “deep concern” about reports of arbitrary arrests and violence against migrants.

February 2023

Middle East & North Africa

Tunisia

President Saïed’s comments unleashed wave of violence against sub-Saharan Africans, and authorities carried out spectacular arrest campaign targeting critics and opposition figures.

Unprecedented violence targeted sub-Saharan Africans. Police mid-Feb arrested sub-Saharan African migrants across country, reportedly detaining around 300 people. President Saïed 21 Feb said influx of irregular sub-Saharan migrants aimed at changing country’s demographic make-up and must be stopped, linking migrants to violence and criminality. African Union 24 Feb expressed “deep shock and concern at the form and substance of the statement”. Incidents of mob violence against Black people in following days reportedly left dozens injured across country.

Authorities went on arrest spree of political and media figures. Security forces 11-13 Feb arrested influential businessman and former confidant of ousted President Ben Ali, Kamel Eltaïef; senior leaders of Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, Abdelhamid Jlassi and Noureddine Bhiri; fierce opponent of Saïed, Khayam Turki; former Judges Taïeb Rached and Béchir Akremi; and general director of private radio station Mosaïque FM, Noureddine Boutar. Leaders of opposition coalition National Salvation Front, Issam Chebbi, Jahwar Ben M’Barek and Chaima Issa, also detained 22-23 Feb. Saïed 14 Feb accused those recently detained of conspiring against state security, saying “traitors who seek to fuel the social crisis” are responsible for rising prices of food commodities. Civil society and foreign partners condemned crackdown. Thousands 18 Feb joined main workers’ union UGTT for protests in eight cities across country, accusing Saïed of stifling basic freedoms including union rights. UN human rights office 14 Feb urged Tunis to “release immediately all those arbitrarily detained” including “in relation to the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion or expression”.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue program still under discussion. As unspecified G7 countries pledged to prevent Tunisian default, IMF continued to insist on steps needed to approach IMF’s Board for approval of four-year, $1.9bn loan program.

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