Since 2011, popular protests have forced four of the five governments in North Africa out of power. As these long-standing regimes fall, the resulting political vacuums are creating security challenges that could undermine internal efforts to promote reform. Weak or non-existent government institutions are being exploited by terrorists, human traffickers, and criminals—threatening the stability of immediate neighbors while having a direct impact on Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and U.S. national security interests. Yet, all this upheaval may also present an opportunity to advance deep, regional security cooperation that has been historically unattainable.

Across North Africa, instability is at its highest level since 2011. In Algeria, President Bouteflika’s resignation was a necessary step to democratization, but it remains to be seen if the political structure can survive protesters’ demands for reform and ensure a peaceful transition of power. In Libya, the hope for a compromise to end the stalemate between the internationally recognized government in Tripoli and armed opposition forces seems to be lost. In Egypt, President el-Sisi’s supporters have proposed constitutional changes that will concentrate executive power, alarming human rights and democracy advocates around the world. And amid all this turmoil, Tunisia is trying to consolidate its own democracy and reform its security institutions following decades of autocratic rule.

On May 1, USIP hosted a conversation with the Tunisian Minister of Defense Abdelkrim Zbidi, where he discussed the dynamics of North Africa and how the U.S. and Tunisia are working together to promote regional security. The event looked at the risks of continued upheaval, as well as how the current uncertainty opens the door for democratic reform that was not possible in pre-2011 North Africa. Take part in the discussion on Twitter with #USIPTunisia


Abdelkrim Zbidi
Minister of Defense, Republic of Tunisia

Thomas Hill
Senior Program Officer, North Africa, U.S. Institute of Peace

Michael Yaffe
Vice President, Middle East and Africa, U.S. Institute of Peace

Related Publications

 Thomas Hill on Libya and Tunisia in Transition

Thomas Hill on Libya and Tunisia in Transition

Thursday, August 8, 2019

By: Thomas M. Hill

The death of President Essebsi was a major loss for Tunisia, but the U.S. remains deeply invested in advancing democracy in the country. Alternatively, looking to the instability in Libya, Hill says, “The U.S. is not involved at all, [even though some] Libyans are pressing for the U.S. to do more … The most productive way the U.S. can be involved is not militarily or financially, but rather diplomatically.”

Democracy & Governance

The Current Situation in Tunisia

The Current Situation in Tunisia

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

As the Arab Spring’s birthplace and its sole fledgling democracy, Tunisia represents an encouraging yet incomplete victory against authoritarian rule and violent extremism. Tunisia’s sustained progress since the 2011 revolution makes it a strong democratic partner in a volatile region. However, an economic crisis, political disaffection, and the inherent difficulties of a major political and social transition continue to threaten the country’s stability.

Amid North Africa’s Turmoil, Tunisia’s Steady Transition Moves Forward

Amid North Africa’s Turmoil, Tunisia’s Steady Transition Moves Forward

Friday, May 3, 2019

By: Adam Gallagher

From Algeria to Libya to Sudan, North Africa has been roiled by protests and fighting in recent months not seen since the 2011 Arab uprisings. Those uprisings were sparked in Tunisia, which has continued a steady, if uneven, democratic transition in the years since. Despite the challenges posed by this regional turmoil, the small Mediterranean nation must continue to focus on domestic problems, said Tunisia’s defense minister, Abdelkarim Zbidi, this week at the U.S. Institute of Peace. What happens in Tunisia in the years to come will be important for the entire region.

Democracy & Governance; Fragility & Resilience

View All Publications