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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

President Saïed extended suspension of parliament by one year, sparking renewed opposition. Powerful labour union UGTT 4 Dec called for early elections, said Saïed’s “excessive reluctance to announce a roadmap” since July power grab posing threat to “democratic gains”. Diplomatic mission heads of G7 countries and EU 10 Dec jointly called for “swift return to functioning democratic institutions” and respect of “fundamental freedoms”. Saïed 13 Dec extended state of exception and suspension of parliament for one year, and announced timeline for transition: electronic public consultation on constitutional and political reforms to begin 1 Jan; national committee to sum up proposals and submit project for revision of 2014 constitution by 22 March; constitutional referendum to take place 25 July, and legislative elections 17 Dec. Almost all political forces expressed opposition. UGTT next day hit back by claiming Saïed had asked union to accept austerity plan that includes 10% pay cut and subsequent five-year salary freeze for civil servants, and end to state subsidies for basic items; also threatened strikes in coming weeks. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party president and Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi 16 Dec rejected “unconstitutional and illegal” extension of parliament freeze, reiterated call for “immediate cancellation of exceptional measures”. On anniversary of 2010-2011 uprising that toppled then-President Ben Ali, around 200 pro- and 2,000 anti-Saïed demonstrators 17 Dec held separate protests in capital Tunis; no security incidents reported. Meanwhile, An-Nahda activist 9 Dec self-immolated inside party’s headquarters in Tunis, killing himself and causing fire that seriously wounded two others. Court in Tunis 22 Dec sentenced in absentia former President Marzouki to four years in prison on charges of “undermining the external security of the state”; Marzouki in Oct had pressed France, where he lives, to oppose Saïed’s rule. An-Nahda 31 Dec said plainclothes security officers had same day captured party’s deputy president and former justice minister Noureddine Bhiri in Tunis and taken him to undisclosed destination, condemned “dangerous precedent”.

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Reports & Briefings

In The News

27 Jul 2021
There has been no talk about Tunisian institutions or keeping up any kind of democratic governance; it's just being portrayed as people who have liberated themselves from an oppressive Islamist government. Washington Post

Elham Fakhro

Former Senior Analyst, Gulf States
23 Jul 2020
There have been extremely difficult moments in Tunisia, where the country seemed to risk tumbling into the worst scenario. But there have always been politicians and unions keeping channels of discussion open. Voice of America

Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia
16 Feb 2020
Le vote [du parti islamiste Ennahda] reflète les tensions au sein du parti. Notamment concernant la succession de Rached Ghannouchi à sa tête qui doit se décider lors d’un congrès cette année. Le Croix

Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia
26 Jan 2020
If the [Tunisian] government (...) can’t channel populist concerns about sovereignty, there risks to be a lot of instability and protests. VOA

Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia
25 Feb 2018
There is tension between the [Tunisian] police and the judiciary [about ISIS militants]. The police say it’s because the judges are terrorists themselves. BuzzFeed

Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia
14 Jan 2018
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. The New York Times

Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia

Latest Updates

Q&A / Middle East & North Africa

La Tunisie se rend aux urnes dans un contexte délétère

Le premier tour de l’élection présidentielle anticipée tunisienne aura lieu ce dimanche 15 septembre. Selon l’analyste principal de Crisis Group sur la Tunisie, Michael Ayari, les risques de déraillement du processus électoral et de violences sont réels.

Décentralisation en Tunisie : consolider la démocratie sans affaiblir l’Etat

De plus en plus clivant, le processus de décentralisation tunisien risque d’alimenter les tensions sociales et politiques. Pour qu’il tienne ses promesses de réduction des inégalités socio-régionales et d’amélioration des services publics, il doit faire l’objet d’un nouveau compromis prévoyant notamment le renforcement des services territoriaux de l’Etat.

Also available in English

Tunisia in 2019: a Pivotal Year?

Divisions within Tunisia’s political leadership are preventing the government from addressing the country’s political and socio-economic challenges. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support measures that will prevent further polarisation.

Also available in Français

Tunisia’s Political Polarisation Worsens after First Big Terrorist Attack in Two Years

A 29 October suicide bombing in the heart of Tunis dealt a blow to much-improved security since the last violent jihadist attacks in 2015-16. In this Q&A, our Senior Analyst for Tunisia Michael B. Ayari says it has also hammered a new wedge into Islamist-secularist political divides.

Also available in Français

Tunisie : dépasser les querelles pour restaurer la confiance

Le maintien ou le départ du chef du gouvernement tunisien, Youssef Chahed, est depuis plusieurs semaines au cœur d’une crise politique. Si les principales forces politiques et syndicales échouent à trouver un compromis, la formation d’un gouvernement dit de technocrates pourrait permettre de renforcer la confiance et d’apaiser les rancœurs. 

Also available in English

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