A 29 October suicide bombing in the heart of Tunis dealt a blow to much-improved security since the last violent jihadist attacks in 2015-16. In this Q&A, our Senior Analyst for Tunisia Michael B. Ayari says it has also hammered a new wedge into Islamist-secularist political divides.
As rivalry persisted between President Essebsi and PM Chahed, Essebsi tried to destabilise Islamist party An-Nahda, which has supported Chahed. Essebsi 29 Nov asked National Security Council – which includes PM and defence and interior ministers – to investigate An-Nahda’s alleged involvement in killings of two leftist politicians in 2013. Secretary general of Essebsi’s party Nida Tounes, Slim Riahi, 23 Nov lodged complaint against Chahed, accusing him of preparing coup; however military tribunal 10 Dec refused to hear case in absence of plaintiff. Chahed mid-Dec visited Saudi Arabia, met with King Salman, 15 Dec said Saudi Arabia had pledged financial aid worth about $830mn, including $500mn budget support. Protests erupted in interior. Leftist activists 14 Dec launched movement called gilets rouges, inspired by gilets jaunesprotests in France. Militants allegedly linked to Islamic State (ISIS) affiliate Jund al-Khilafa 14 Dec robbed bank in Sbiba city in west, taking equivalent of $100,000, then killed in his home Khaled Zoghlani, brother of soldier killed in similar circumstances in 2016. Govt 19 Dec said security forces had arrested all eight members of terrorist cell dubbed Jihad and Tawhid Battalion that had allegedly been planning attacks in central Sidi Bouzid province. National Guard 19 Dec reportedly killed Aymen Ben Younes Jendoubi, leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)’s local splinter group Okba Ibn Nafaa brigade, near Sakiet Sidi Youssef, Kef province in north. Leading figure in expat community from Côte d’Ivoire, Falikou Coulibaly, who had spoken out against racist violence, stabbed to death in capital Tunis 23 Dec. After posting online video in which he expressed frustration at economic problems and unfulfilled promises of 2011 revolution and called for revolt, journalist Abderrazak Zorgui set himself on fire and died 24 Dec in Kasserine in centre. Anti-govt protesters sympathetic to Zorgui’s complaints clashed with police for three consecutive nights in Kasserine and other cities; eighteen protesters arrested.
Le maintien ou le départ du chef du gouvernement tunisien, Youssef Chahed, est depuis plusieurs semaines au cœur d’une crise politique. Si les principales forces politiques et syndicales échouent à trouver un compromis, la formation d’un gouvernement dit de technocrates pourrait permettre de renforcer la confiance et d’apaiser les rancœurs.
La polarisation politique et la nostalgie, illusoire, d’un gouvernement centralisé fort planent au-dessus du septième anniversaire du déclenchement de la révolution tunisienne de 2011. La coalition au pouvoir devra mener les réformes qu’elle avait promises, mettre en place la Cour constitutionnelle et organiser des élections municipales, déjà reportées à de nombreuses reprises, si elle veut que la transition tunisienne reste l’exemple d’une transition réussie dans le monde arabe.
Corruption and clientelism are undermining democratic transition in Tunisia, a unique success story after the 2011 Arab uprisings. To put the country back on track, the government should launch a national economic dialogue including established business elites and emerging provincial business leaders.
To counter a growing jihadist threat, Tunisia must finalise, publish and implement a viable strategy that prioritises prevention, tackles the roots of radicalisation and appropriately enhances security forces' capacities. Success will require better institutional coordination, the appointment of a new counter-terrorism commissioner on a ministerial level and public consultations to win broader national consensus.
Polarisation over transitional justice after the 2011 fall of Tunisia’s old regime is obstructing basic progress. Accounting for past actions cannot include the early idea of “revolutionary justice”, but can become a tool to reconcile citizens, tackle corruption and give the economy a much needed new impetus.
Tunisia’s security apparatus is dysfunctional, at once fragmenting, asserting authority over democratic institutions, and failing to block significant jihadi advances. Without a comprehensive new strategy including reform of Tunisia’s internal security forces, the country will continue to stumble from crisis to crisis, and to swing between chaos and renewed dictatorship.
There is tension between the [Tunisian] police and the judiciary [about ISIS militants]. The police say it’s because the judges are terrorists themselves.
There is a fertile ground for social anger [in Tunisia] that needs to be taken into account. What will be interesting in the next days is how the youth movements will structure themselves.
Tunisia is in limbo between two different forms of government, deepening socio-economic difficulties for many citizens and putting the country’s security at risk. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group proposes that the EU and its member states use their influence to persuade Tunisia actively to promote economic growth and speed up government restructuring.
Pour les chercheurs d’ICG, Michaël Ayari et Issandr El-Amrani, le pouvoir tunisien doit parachever la transition démocratique sept ans après la chute de Ben Ali.
Originally published in Le Monde Afrique
Analysis on the politics behind the scenes of the ongoing protests in Tunisia.
Originally published in The Arabist
As dangerous signs of political polarisation mark the seventh anniversary of the 14 January 2011 Tunisian uprising, Crisis Group’s Tunisia Senior Analyst Michaël Béchir Ayari reflects on a growing but illusory popular nostalgia for strong, centralised government to get a grip on the country. He argues that to save the Arab world’s sole successful transition since 2011, the governing coalition should enact promised reforms, create a Constitutional court and hold long-delayed local elections.
Tunisia has struggled to stay on track during the turmoil of the Arab uprisings. A dedicated Tunisia analyst, unique field work and privileged access to influential actors helps Crisis Group play a leading role in shaping policies to ensure the country’s democratic transition stays peaceful.