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.
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 progress since the revolution in 2011 makes it an important democratic partner in a volatile region. However, a persistent economic crisis, political disaffection, and the inherent difficulties of a major political and social transition continue to threaten the country’s stability. Elections in late 2019 swept in a new mosaic of smaller political movements reflecting the public’s deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and the stalled transition. This broad array of new parties has struggled to form a cohesive government capable of overcoming complex partisanship.
Since uprisings swept the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, Tunisia has long been regarded as the lone democratic success story. But nearly 10 years later, volatile party politics and authoritarian legacies continue to plague the transition. The October 2019 election cycle, marked by low voter turnout, demonstrated Tunisians deep disenchantment with the political class for its failure to address the grievances that sparked the ouster of longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. After the elections, a government was not formed until February 2020. But months later, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh resigned over allegations of conflicts of interest. In recent weeks, the political landscape has shifted rapidly. USIP’s Leo Siebert examines the political wrangling and Tunisia’s post-election political struggles.