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

Deteriorated Situation

Tensions erupted as authorities launched string of arrests of journalists, lawyers and activists, provoking widespread uproar. 

Repression of civil society sparked protests and stretched political tensions. Wave of arrests and attacks on activists, journalists and lawyers – including several regime critics – highlighted govt’s authoritarian drift. Notably, police 11 May stormed lawyer association and arrested media commentator and lawyer Sonia Dahmani, and later same day arrested journalists Mourad Zeghidi and Borhen Bsaies; hundreds protested next day in capital Tunis, demanding their release and date for presidential election, mandated for Sept-Oct 2024 but as yet unscheduled. Police 13 May again stormed association and arrested lawyer Mehdi Zagrouba, known critic of President Saïed; lawyers and rights groups alleged security forces tortured Zagrouba while in custody 13-15 May. Lawyers 16 May staged general strike and protested in Tunis to denounce torture of Zagrouba, while Interior Ministry denied accusations. Court 22 May sentenced Zeghidi and Bsaies to one year imprisonment on charges of publishing false news, prompting hundreds to demonstrate in Tunis 24 May. Meanwhile, amid continued migration crisis, govt also cracked down on immigration NGOs. Police early May raided premises of organisations involved in defence of migrants and arrested affiliated activists, including head of Mnemty anti-racist organisation Saadia Mosbah 5 May and asylum rights activist Sherifa Riahi 7 May over supposed financial crimes. Earlier, several hundred people 4 May demonstrated in eastern city of Sfax, demanding departure of migrants, while concerns also grew over presence of vigilante groups. 

Crackdown provoked international backlash and forceful govt defence. After EU, France, U.S. and UN expressed concern over repression, Saïed 15 May ordered Foreign Ministry to summon several foreign ambassadors to protest against external interference; 850 people 19 May demonstrated in Tunis supporting govt and protesting against alleged foreign meddling in domestic affairs. Earlier, Saïed 6 May blamed Western NGOs for migration crisis.

In another important development. Interior ministers of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia 2 May met Italian counterpart Matteo Piantedosi as part of new three-party grouping (see Algeria).

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In The News

25 Apr 2024
Italy is trying to reinforce the bilateral relationship to convince Tunisia to continue to collaborate on [irregular migration]. Jerusalem Post

Riccardo Fabiani

Project Director, North Africa
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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