Tunisia, home to the first and arguably most successful of the 2011 Arab uprisings, appears to be backsliding in its transition to democracy. In mid-2021, President Kaïs Saïed consolidated powers in the executive through a series of steps widely regarded as unconstitutional. Opposition is growing though the president retains a strong social base. The polarisation could threaten stability, particularly as it intersects with persistent budgetary woes and popular discontent over economic and other inequality. Crisis Group works to help resolve these tensions in a country that remains critical for security in North Africa as a whole.

CrisisWatch Tunisia

Unchanged Situation

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”.

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In The News

19 May 2023
The Europeans feel that they are on the front line of instability in North Africa and in the Mediterranean. Euronews

Riccardo Fabiani

Project Director, North Africa

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Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia

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