Twelve years after the Jasmine Revolution, new turmoils shake Tunisia 

Beatrice Ala
Tunisian President Kais Saied rose to power in October 2019. In the first years of his mandate, he enjoyed significant popularity. In 2021 he gave himself full constitutional authority. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Getty Images)

Revolution and repression are a constant in the latest years of the history of Tunisia. 

The country was the crib of the so-called Arab Spring, the Revolution that sparked in 2011 and put an end to several dictatorships and autocratic rulers in the Arab world. After Mohammed Bouazizi, a street seller, set himself on fire in Sidi Bouzid in an extreme act of protest against the corruption of the establishment, the spark of the revolution rapidly ramped up in the neighboring countries. Several leaders were cast out or exiled from their countries: President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for over 20 years, was one of them.

Political analysts often refer to Tunisia as the only country where the Arab Revolution actually bore positive results and the establishment of democracy; but twelve years later, nothing seems to have changed in the country of jasmines. 

Tunisian President Kais Saied rose to power in October 2019. He enjoyed significant popularity despite political stalemate and the Covid-19 epidemic that deeply prostrated Tunisia’s economy. 

In 2021 he gave himself full constitutional authority, removed members of the administration, halted the work of parliament, and eventually dissolved it—actions that opponents and experts saw as a coup. Saied is in fact pulling all the strings to convey to himself all the political power: in addition to launching a wave of repression and arbitrary arrests against politicians, journalists, and activists critical of his regime, he also concentrated much of the executive and legislative functions in his person. 

Twelve years later, history seems to repeat itself.

The Jasmine Revolution has produced noticeable changes in Tunisia, but President Kais Saied’s role in the new turmoils is ambiguous and the political and social unrest is undeniable. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

On April 13, the murder of Nazar Issaoui, a young Tunisian who last week chose to set himself on fire in an act of protest against police harassment, brought the wave of repression and arrests launched in Tunisia by President Kais Saied to its most dramatic climax. Issaoui’s decision is inextricably similar to that of Bouazizi, whose suicide in December 2010 led to the Arab Spring-inspired upheavals in Tunisia. 

The crackdown on domestic dissent was also accompanied by a rise in racial discrimination against sub-Saharan migrants by the Tunisian leader, which sparked violent protests and drew condemnation from the international community, including that of the African Union.

But Saied’s takeover is widespread and more and more targeted. A special attack was aimed at the opposition Ennahda party, and culminated on April 17 with the arrest of its leader Rachid Ghannouchi. The 81-year-old politician, main opponent of Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed, led the Assembly of People’s Representatives until its dissolution in July 2021 by Saïed. He is now sentenced to one year in prison after being charged with “conspiracy against state security” for comments he made in a public gathering. The day after his arrest, his party’s locations were shut down all throughout Tunisia. An extraordinary era of the incorporation of an Islam-related party in the democratic process, which started after the 2011 revolution, comes to an end with the police and judicial attack against Ennahda.

President of Ennahdha Tunisian islamist party Rached Ghannouchi giving a speech in Tunis. He was arrested last month and condemned to prison. (Source: Thierry Bresillon/Getty Images)

The detention of Rached Ghannouchi raises concerns about more than just the future of civil liberties in Kas Saïed’s Tunisia. It entails a significant diplomatic obstacle: the alliance between Tunis and Algiers. There is a long history between the Algerian government and the leader of the Tunisian Islamic-conservative movement: in 2011, after the Tunisian revolution, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika received Mr. Ghannouchi in Algiers four times, a frequency that testifies to the closeness of the link. 

Algeria and Tunisia continue to have strong ties. The two nations have a similar perspective on a number of crucial regional problems, notably Western Sahara: the alignment of Tunis with the Algerian positions relating to Western Sahara – to the chagrin of Morocco – had already proven the effectiveness of these levers. 

Although Algeria and Tunisia share good relations, these political tensions do not ease the regional situation, and the repercussions of a diplomatic risky situation should also be taken into consideration. 

This framework is further complicated by the tragic economic crisis tormenting the country, which is causing inflation to run at a rate of 10.4%, unemployment to surpass the 15-percent mark, public debt to reach 89.2% of GDP, and daily shortages of basic foodstuffs. The effects of the Covid-19 outbreak and the conflict in Ukraine are still felt in the economy, which is a dangerous combination in a nation where a persistent food shortage is made worse by exposure to climate change and a tragic hydric situation, characterized by chronic shortages of water. Tunisia seems on the verge of a breakdown -politically, socially and economically speaking, and it’s gaining the concerned attention of the neighboring countries –EU included, always preoccupied about the consequences of instability in Arab states on migration flows. 

In conclusion, Saied’s strategy has resulted in a political-institutional framework that is currently on a trajectory toward authoritarianism. The country of the Jasmine Revolution is now on a difficult path, and the continuous overturns of the political power seem to neglect once again the sufferings of the population -until the next revolution.

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  1. Pingback: The last shipwreck of a migrant boat near Greece questions, once again, the responsibilities between the two shores in the Mediterranean - The New Global Order

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Twelve years after the Ja…

by Beatrice Ala time to read: 4 min