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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

Political tensions continued to run high as President Saïed conducted mass dismissal of judges, moved forward with constitutional reform project and pursued economic reform despite protests. President Saïed 1 June revoked 57 judges on various charges, including “disrupting investigations” into terrorism cases and “corruption”. Powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) 3 June denounced justice ministry’s “terrorism campaign” against judiciary, and Tunisian Judges Association 6 June launched week-long strike, later extended it three times into July. Saïed 4 June started national dialogue on new constitution; UGTT and main political parties, including Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party, boycotted initiative. Different political forces 18-19 June organised protests against Saïed’s “coup” and constitutional referendum due 25 July, drawing thousands into streets of capital Tunis. Head of constitution drafting committee Sadok Belaïd 20 June submitted draft constitution to Saïed for approval; Saïed 30 June published draft constitution enshrining strong presidential system. Meanwhile, UGTT 16 June staged public sector nationwide strike, bringing country to a standstill, to protest Saïed’s economic policies as govt seeks to secure major loan from International Monetary Fund; 27 June called for new nationwide strike without giving date. Repression of dissent continued. Military court of Tunis 13 June issued arrest warrant against journalist Saleh Attia on charges of “harming the army” and “inciting Tunisians to violence” after he criticised govt in interview with Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera. Police 23 June arrested former PM Hamadi Jebali on money-laundering charges; judge 27 June ordered his release. Authorities around 27 June reportedly charged 33 people including head of An-Nahda and speaker of dissolved parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, with belonging to terrorist organisation in relation to 2013 killings of two prominent politicians.

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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

Tunisie : éviter les surenchères populistes

Le nouveau gouvernement et président tunisiens représentent des forces politiques qui ont émergé lors des élections de la fin 2019, suscitant populisme, polarisation et tensions. Avec le soutien judicieux de l’Union européenne, la nouvelle classe politique devrait se concentrer sur l’économie et choisir la voie du dialogue et de la réforme administrative.

Also available in English

Tunisia Looks to Reset with the West

Tunisia’s new president risks heightened tensions and instability as he aims to tackle worsening socio-economic conditions. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2020 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU, as Tunisia’s main trading partner, to prevent strife by accommodating Tunisia’s will for greater economic self-determination. 

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.

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