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.
Govt 3 April said local elections would take place 17 Dec; protests same day flared across country, especially in marginalised regions such as Tataouine governorate in south, expressing multiple grievances including to demand job creation and development. Security forces mid-April noted rise in jihadists crossing from Libya into Tunisia in SE and reinforcement of groups linked to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Islamic State (ISIS) in Chaambi, Semmama, Salloum and Mghilla mountains on border with Algeria in west. Security forces 30 April launched operation against alleged terrorist group linked to AQIM in Sidi Bouzid (centre); one suspected militant blew himself up, another killed and three arrested.
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.
Tunisia’s presidential election highlights the multiple divides that trouble the country and region. Unless the winner governs as a truly national leader, representing all Tunisians and not just his base, current tensions could escalate into violence.
The growing link between cartels and armed jihadi militants along Tunisia’s borders with Algeria and Libya, combined with heightened ideological polarisation, could form an explosive mix ahead of Tunisia’s legislative and presidential elections.
Originally published in Al Huffington Post