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’s anti-corruption drive launched in May continued; 21 customs officers suspended 14 June. Judiciary 28 June said it froze assets of businessman and politician Slim Riahi on suspicion of “corruption and money laundering”. Govt 16 June reached agreement with protesters demanding job creation and development in Tataouine in south; govt promised 4,500 jobs in area including in oil companies. Protesters closed Bou Lahbal pipeline valves south of Douz 27 June, demanding jobs and local development, emulating protests in Tataouine in May. Two tribes clashed over land in Kebili province in south 8-10 June, about 70 injured. Young man stabbed and killed in Bir El Hafey near Sidi Bouzid in centre 22 June sparking tribal violence; security forces intervened, one policeman killed. Khalifa Soltani, brother of shepherd beheaded by jihadists in 2015, kidnapped 2 June in Mount Mghilla area in north east and found dead next day; Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility. Landmine reportedly laid by jihadists in Mount Salloum in west killed shepherd 16 June. Presidency 14 June extended state of emergency for four months. Govt 15 June announced suspension of 50 associations and dissolution of fifteen others for failing to disclose funding sources, including some linked to Qatar.
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