Shadows on Tunisian democracy

Since 2011, despite the violence and the continuous social tensions, a new constitution was promulgated in 2014 and free elections were held in order to elect  a new Parliament and a new President. Nevertheless, great concerns remain over the shadows that obscure the Tunisian future, not least the recent political crisis.

Crucial at this moment for the country is to solve the difficult balance between freedom of expression policy and the fight against terrorism. The deep social, regional and generational fragmentation, that seems to have worsened since the revolution, remains a priority to be urgently addressed in order to reduce inequalities (Noe, 2016). Thus the difficult political crisis across the country right now represents only the latest of a long series of difficulties that the country is facing. After a crisis that has dragged on for several months, Tunisia has seen last August 1 the fall of the executive led by former Prime Minister Habib Essid. Condition which became necessary as a result of the lack of confidence of the Parliament with 118 votes in favour and only 3 against. The caretaker government of Essid had already begun to creak in January. The turning point, however, came in July when the Tunisian Prime Minister demanded on July 20 to hold a parliament session for a vote of confidence(Gulf News, 2016).
The task of forming a government of national unity in which all parties have converged has fallen on the shoulders of Chahed Youssef.

Chahed Youssef is now the youngest Prime Minister of Tunisia, at the age of 41 years old. The choice of Chahed was not a smooth one, which suggests that Tunisia has to face a far more profound crisis than the economic one. The main problem seems to be that the new government is still far from having unanimous support. Strong disappointments and concerns are growing around a crisis that is affecting the four main parties in power.  AfekTounes and UPL (Free Patriotic Union) have openly stated their dissatisfaction and Ennahda has expressed his reservations about some profiles. The difficulty of building a unity government andensuring the unity in a deeply diversified context are now on the table. Many concerns have therefore been expressed about the effectiveness of this change. The distribution of power between the parties has now radically been transformed, but it remains to be seen whether the change will be useful to the much-desired stabilization of the country. In fact, Chahed government, with its 26 ministers, pulls together personalities belonging to different political orientations. As a case in point, the new cabinet includes members of the Nidaa Tunes Party, of the moderate Islamic Ennahda movement, of the social-democratic AfekTounes, some of the centrist party Al Moubadaraand, and finally, some of the General Union of Tunisian Workers. Within this government team, the primary purpose of the Prime Minister is to attach importance to the Agreement of Carthage, a document in which a roadmap is set together with the priorities, namely the 5 pillars: the fight against terrorism, economic growth, controlling the government budget, preventing pollution and protecting the environment.

The tasks proposed in the new governmental program obviously require a wide coordination as well as a stable social and security situation. Many analysts continue arguing that the clashes with terrorist groups and the continuous attacks are the main reason behind the deterioration of the domestic economy (Abdulrazaq, 2016). It is noteworthy that since the end of the revolution, Tunisia has been the main target of several terrorist operations conducted by different jihadist groups. Another major challenge is represented by Tunisia’s geographical position, which makes it the favorite spot for the potential return of the huge mass of Tunisia’s foreign fighters that joined Syria and Libya’s battlefields in the last months. The last defeats of Daesh in these countries makes the threat even more real than in the past. According to the Soufan Group, Tunisia makes up much of the rank of Daesh in these countries, exceeding 3000 people. The difficult security environment led inevitably to an inexorable economic decline. The former regime led by Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, already worsened the situation, making Tunisia’s debt increase by 58% in the last years(Younes, 2016). Another crucial issue is corruption, which in recent years worsened without ceasing, with Tunisia reaching 75th position in 2015, while in 2010 it stood at 59th, according to Corruption Perceptions Index. In recent years, civil society groups started launching initiatives to curb corruption as the set-up of the Commission of Inquiry on embezzlement and corruption and the national committee for recovery of ill-gotten assets placed abroad. Nevertheless, in May 2016 a survey revealed that 62% of citizens believe the government is not making enough efforts to fight corruption. Corruption together with the revitalization of the economy still seem to be the major problems affecting Tunisia’s executive. In the economy, a greater role is played by the terrorist threat, representing an ongoing concern for the country. On  August 29, when the new government was about to take its duties, three Tunisian soldiers were killed and a dozen injured in an ambush on Mount Semmama, the center-west of the country alongside the Algerian border, later claimed by the Okba bin Nafaa group, tied to Al Qaeda. A few hours later, other soldiers were victim of a mine explosion during a raid in the same area. Finally, a civilian was killed two days later, hit during a crossfire in an antiterrorism operation in which two terrorists remain killed. Therefore, the first meeting of the Council of Ministers, held on  August 31, had to address urgently the serious security concerns together with the country’s stall in the economy. Concerns over the two areas are closely linked as tourism is one of the primary sources of government revenue, accounting for 8% of the country’s GDP. Therefore, it is readily understandable that the economic downturn has been further exacerbated in 2015, when revenues from tourism industry went down 35% (Fortune, 2016). The international community is not stepping aside, given Tunisia’s crucial role for the stability of the entire area and its huge importance as an example of democracy. The IMF approved last June a 2.9 billion loan while the US signed a 500$ million loan guarantee, directed to build an economy that supports sustainable and inclusive growth (Libya Herald, 2016).

Despite these difficulties, the country has proven to be able to create the conditions to achieve the goal of democracy as a model. In fact, since the outset, the first free elections held on October 23, 2011 were conducted with a relevant turnout. Further democratic progressions could allow the establishment of an atmosphere of greater transparency and better governability.


Pilar Buzzetti

Master’s degree in Government and Policies (LUISS “Guido Carli”)




Abdulrazaq, T. (2016, January 18) Terrorism and tourism: Tunisia’s economic woes, Middle East Monitor, retrieved from

Noe.N. (2016, May 31) The problem with saving Tunisia, Huffington Post, retrieved from

Gulf News (2016, September 18) Tunisia’s interim president asks PM to form unity government, retrieved from

Soufan Group (2015, December) Foreign fighters, an updated assessment of the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq,

Younes N. (2016, July 21) Drowning in External Debt. Tunisia’s Economy Shows the Strain, Tunisia Live, retrieved from

Fortune (2016, July) After Islamist Attacks, Tunisia’s Tourism Struggles, retrieved from

Libya Herald (2016, September) Tunisia fears return of its terrorist nationals once Sirte has fallen, retrived from

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