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.
As war rages in Gaza, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to escalate, causing grievous harm to civilians and threatening stability across the Middle East. Crisis Group experts offer a 360-degree view of how various capitals in the region view this crisis and their own interests therein.
In surprise move, President Saïed objected to bill criminalising normalisation with Israel, while authorities detained several high-profile businessmen on corruption allegations.
Saïed changed tack on bill to criminalise normalising relations with Israel. Parliament 2 Nov started debating draft law criminalising recognition or establishment of relations with Israel. Parliament Speaker Brahim Bouderbala same day suspended session, citing Saïed’s concern that bill could harm Tunisia’s foreign affairs and security, and Saïed next day confirmed he objected to bill. MP and rapporteur for Rights and Freedoms Committee, Mohamed Ali, 6 Nov said U-turn came after U.S. threatened “economic and military sanctions”.
Security forces arrested several prominent businessmen. Police 7 Nov arrested Marouane Mabrouk, head of country’s largest oligopolistic group and one-time son-in-law of former President Ben Ali, as well as former Transportation Minister Abderrahim Zouari, representative in Tunisia of French car company Peugeot. Judiciary few days later issued arrest warrants against them, notably for corruption and money laundering. Authorities 14 Nov also arrested coordinator of leftist Al Qotb party, Riadh Ben Fadhel, allegedly in relation to his buyback of Ben Ali’s cars. Moves came as mandate of special commission set up in 2022 expired, having failed to collect up to €4bn allegedly looted by businessmen under Ben Ali.
In other important developments. Interior ministry 7 Nov said security and defence forces had apprehended all five individuals convicted of terrorism who late Oct escaped from Mornaguia high-security prison. New clashes between security forces and sub-Saharan African migrants reported 24 Nov in Al Amra neighbourhood on outskirts of country’s second largest city of Sfax, with unclear casualties; police and national guard in following days allegedly locked area down searching for gun and ammunition reportedly lost during confrontation.
The Europeans feel that they are on the front line of instability in North Africa and in the Mediterranean.
Tunisia’s socio-economic woes could get worse if it defaults on its debt. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2023 – Autumn Update, Crisis Group advises the EU to encourage a revised loan deal with the IMF but to pressure Tunis on governance and human rights.
Political tensions fuelled by President Saïed’s power grab and subsequent policies risk sending a crisis-ridden Tunisia over the edge. Saïed should organise a national dialogue and return to a negotiated constitutional order. In response, international partners should offer new economic perspectives for the country.
Tunisia faces multiple economic and social challenges following the suspension of parliament and the dismissal of the prime minister. This current state of emergency could fuel political turmoil and violence in the country. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2022, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to maintain bilateral cooperation with Tunisia and offer further economic incentives.
On 25 July, Tunisia’s President Kaïs Saïed invoked the constitution to seize emergency powers after months of crisis. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says compromise between Saïed and his parliamentary opponents remains possible, but so does grave violence.
Despite a marked decline in jihadist attacks in Tunisia since 2016, the government persists with repressive and unfocused counter-terrorism measures. The Tunisian authorities should make criminal justice and security reforms to prevent an upsurge in violence.
Tunisia’s new government and president represent political forces that emerged in late 2019’s elections, stirring up populism, polarisation and tensions. With judicious support from the EU, the new political class should focus on the economy and choose a path of dialogue and administrative reform.
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.
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.
The decentralisation process is polarising Tunisia and risks fueling social and political tensions. In order to fulfill its promise – to reduce socio-regional inequalities and improve public services – all sides must compromise on a new understanding of decentralisation that includes strengthening state services nationwide.
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