A stable Tunisia remains critical for security in North Africa as a whole. Yet its proximity to Libya leaves it exposed to dangerous spillover, as shown by March 2016’s deadly attack by ISIS militants on the border town of Ben Guerdane. Even with ISIS’ relative decline in the Levant and Libya, there is a risk that some of the thousands of Tunisian foreign fighters could return and exploit simmering social unrest. Local elections planned for May 2018, the first since the 2011 revolution, will reveal whether the stability that has endured since the 2013 political deal between Tunisia’s two main parties can hold. Crisis Group works to identify conflict triggers ahead of the coming elections, including tensions over economic and socio-regional inequality, and aims to broaden the political consensus established in 2013.
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.
Police tracked down two suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Ben Guerdane region in south near Libyan border 19 March, shot one dead, other blew himself up. Security forces 31 March killed leader of ISIS-affiliated group Jund al-Khilafa (Soldiers of the Caliphate), Chawki Fakraoui, in Kasserine province in centre west. Signatories of 2016 Carthage Agreement – including Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and main political parties in governing coalition Nida Tounes and An-Nahda – 13 March agreed to create commission to draft new economic and social roadmap. President Essebsi 20 March called for reform of election law before 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections. MPs 28 March voted not to extend for another year mandate of Truth and Dignity Commission responsible for transitional justice process; vote challenged on numerous procedural grounds, including that it did not meet quorum as less than one third of MPs voted.
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.
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.
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.