Tunisia’s transition to democracy remains incomplete and under stress. Since the presidential measures to suspend the parliament, dismiss the government and draft a new constitution were enacted in 2021, socioeconomic conditions have continued to deteriorate, and risks of unrest have increased. Meanwhile, the ambitions of the 2011 revolution for rule of law, accountability, economic prosperity and human dignity are far from being realized. USIP works with Tunisians to improve national and local governance and security, rebuild trust and strengthen civil society.
Nonviolent action can be a powerful way to bring about peaceful transitions from autocratic rule to democracy. But even when initially successful, movement leaders often face significant challenges, from frustrations that grievances are not addressed quickly enough to counterrevolutions aimed at restoring the authoritarian status quo. This report examines two recent transitions—the 2011 Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and Armenia’s 2018 Velvet Revolution—and presents recommendations for improving the likelihood that change initiated through nonviolent action leads to robust and lasting democracy.
On Monday, Tunisians voted on a new constitution proposed by President Kais Saied that vastly expands the powers of his office. While turnout was low, many Tunisians “support what the president is doing … they are voting based on one specific objective, which is to improve economic and social conditions,” says USIP’s Elie Abouaoun.
A year after Tunisian President Kais Saied began a series of moves that expanded presidential powers, a new constitution further empowering the presidency has been approved by referendum. Amid a dire economic crisis, many Tunisians expressed support for Saied’s moves, as the promise of the 2011 uprising evaporated over the last decade. While the referendum passed with 94 percent of the vote, only 30 percent of Tunisians participated. Once heralded as the sole democratic success of the Arab uprisings, Tunisia’s democratic future trajectory is more uncertain than ever following the constitutional referendum.
Last July, Tunisian President Kais Saied suspended parliament in what many observers called a bloodless coup. Saied’s supporters — of which there are many — claim that this extreme executive action was necessary to root out rampant government corruption and ineffectiveness. Polling at the time showed widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of parliament and the prime minister; many Tunisians felt that their high expectations following the 2011 popular revolution were not realized and that the country was heading in the wrong direction.
Last summer, “Tunisians had really reached a breaking point in their frustration with the previous government” and welcomed President Kais Saied’s dissolution of parliament, says USIP’s Leo Siebert. But that hope “is now shifting to apprehensiveness that things might not be going in the right direction.”
Dans le meilleur des cas, les processus de dialogue national promettent d’apporter un élan décisif à la transformation inclusive du conflit. Ce rapport examine les dialogues dans six pays: la République Centrafricaine, le Kenya, le Liban, le Sénégal, la Tunisie et le Yémen. Ces divers processus montrent les possibilités de favoriser le dialogue, de forger des accords et de progresser vers la paix; et le rapport offre des conseils détaillés sur les possibilités et les aspects pratiques pour ceux qui envisagent d'organiser un dialogue national.
Dr. Elie Abouaoun, director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, testified on October 14, 2021 at the the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism's hearing on "Tunisia: Examining the State of Democracy and Next Steps for U.S. Policy."
Long heralded as the sole success story of the Arab uprisings, Tunisia was thrown into political tumult on July 25 when President Kais Saied dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament and removed politicians’ immunity from criminal prosecution. The decision followed days of protest and long-term malaise, with Tunisians angered over the government’s COVID response, endemic corruption, a lagging economy and, more broadly, the inability of the post-Ben Ali political system — particularly political parties — to deliver for citizens. While many Tunisians supported Saied’s move, they and the international community await what comes next and how it will impact the North African country’s long-term political and economic trajectory.
The story by now is well known. Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in December 2010 sparked an unprecedented wave of protests across Tunisia and the broader region. Less than a month later, the country’s longtime dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, fled to Saudi Arabia. That was 10 years ago today. And while Tunisia is often lauded as the “lone success story” of the uprisings that swept across the region, its democratic transition remains in limbo. A decade later, Tunisians have seen hard-won improvements in political freedoms, but a lagging economy and sclerotic politics have stunted the realization of many of the protesters’ demands—and kept them in the streets.