Tunisia. According to CountryAAH, the total population in Tunisia is 11,818,630 people in 2020. Tunisian President Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali was re-elected in the November 24 presidential election, which is awaiting a further five-year term. Ben Ali, who took power in a coup in 1987 and has been re-elected three times since, received 94.4% of the vote. In the parliamentary elections held the same day, his party received Constitutional Democratic Assembly 152 of the 189 seats. The opposition accused Ben Ali of having strangled all political debate in the country. No independent election observers were admitted into the polling stations.
The American human rights organization Human Rights Watch reported in July that nearly 40 political prisoners in Tunisia had been held in isolation cells for up to 13 years, despite the country’s laws stipulating that prisoners may be isolated for a maximum of ten days. All the prisoners the group mentioned belonged to the banned Islamist party Nahda.
At the last moment, Ben Ali canceled the summit of the Arab League, which would have been held in the capital Tunis on March 29-30. The reason was said that the participating countries could not agree on the agenda, probably because of different views on relations with the US and Israel as well as on a possible democratization of the Arab world. Instead, the meeting was held May 22-23, but was marked by great contradictions.
After Ben Ali’s departure, Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi on 17 January formed a transitional government with many members of the old regime. After renewed opposition, and demands from the democracy movement for a real break with the past, he was forced to step down, and Parliament’s leader, Fouad Mebazaa, appointed Beji Caid Essebsi as the leader of a new transitional government. The ruling party RCD became paralyzed and according to demands of the rebels it was dissolved in March.
Elections to a new constitutional assembly were held in October 2011. It took place in peaceful forms. The Islamist Ennahda was the largest with 41.5 percent of the vote and 90 representatives, while the leftist Congrès pour la République (CPR) was the second largest with 13.8 percent. These two, together with the Ettakatol party, then formed a coalition government; a popularly elected Islamist-dominated government. The new assembly drafted a new constitution, as the basis for elections to the president and parliament. In December 2011, opposition leader Moncef Marzouki was elected by parliament to Tunisia’s president until new elections.
Developments in Tunisia after the regime change in 2011 have been characterized by increased political freedom and continued economic inequality. While liberal rights are being upheld, concerns have been expressed that they are under pressure, and that liberalization, not least linked to women’s positions, will be reversed under the influence of Islamists. Several proposals for the new constitution, as well as examples of interventions such as freedom of expression, have contributed to this turmoil.
From 2012, there was increased tension between Islamist and secular sections of social life, and even more far-reaching, jihadist groups have emerged, and on several occasions have joined forces in armed struggle with the military. In 2013, one of them, Ansar al-Sharia, was defined as a terrorist group.
The security situation was also aggravated by the murder of two prominent opposition politicians: In February 2013, Chokri Belaïd, leader of the Mouvement des patriotes democrates, was killed and Tunisia was thrown into a political crisis, with new demonstrations and clashes with the police. In July, eMohamed Brahmi, leader of the Movement du peuple, was killed in an assault.
In the fall of 2013, Ennahda relinquished power, and after a national dialogue, a technocratic transitional government, led by Mehdi Jomaa, was inaugurated in January 2014. In the same month, a new constitution was submitted to parliament, and passed by a clear majority.
In the new parliamentary elections in October 2014, Ennahda lost power when the secular party Nidaa Tounes gained the largest support, with 85 of a total of 217 representatives; Ennahda was second largest with 69. In the first free presidential election, Nidaa Tounes leader Beji Caid Essebsi won the second and decisive round in December 2014. After his death in 2019, Mohamed Ennaceur was appointed acting head of state. At the October 2019 presidential election, an independent, conservative candidate, Kais Saied, was elected, with support from Ennahda.
The time after the regime change in Tunisia has been partly tense. Civil society has played an important role in the democratic process. The Quartet du dialogue national has been particularly important, and in 2015 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts.
The development of a democratic regime after the uprising has made Tunisia an exception after the Arab Spring. In the other countries where riots broke out, these did not lead to the government, which has been maintained in Tunisia. Developments after 2011 have led to political liberalization, but expectations in particular in the economic and social spheres have not been met. This is especially true of the high unemployment rate. Social discontent is evident both in the big cities and in the regions, and especially among young people. In January 2018, discontent led to, among other things, increased riot fees in several parts of the country. The social challenges are particularly great in the marginalized regions of the west and southeast. These are areas adjacent to, and influenced by, developments in, Algeria and Libya, where Islamist groups have gained a foothold.
Tunisia is supposed to have more jihadists who have joined the Islamic State (IS) than any other country: According to authorities, there are around 3,000, while nearly ten times as many have tried to recruit and travel to Iraq and Syria. IS has taken responsibility for several terrorist attacks in the country, first of all the attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March 2015, then against tourists in Sousse in June, and against the President’s Guard in Tunis in November of that year. Measures against terrorism, both state of emergency and anti-terrorism laws, have resulted in restrictions on personal rights. The development in Tunisia in this area is affected by the conditions in the region; the war in Syria and especially the state resolution in Libya.
Therefore, among those who participated in the revolution in 2010/2011, it is widely believed that many of the objectives have not been achieved. This has increasingly influenced political developments. Extensions of the government in the form of national unity governments that have included several opposition parties (including the so-called Khartago agreement of 2016) have created a form of political stability, but at the same time frustration: the political differences have become more difficult to see and confidence in political parties have declined. Stability was also weakened by the dissolution of the alliance between Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda in 2018. At the same time, Nidaa Tounes was weakened through shelling, including the establishment of Tahya Tounes in 2019, with Prime Minister Youssef Chahed as leader.