A member of the Tunisian security forces stands guard at the site of a suicide attack in the Tunisian capital Tunis on 29 October, 2018. AFP/Fethi Belaid

What do we know about what happened, and who was behind the attack?

On 29 October, a suicide bomber set off an improvised explosive device in her backpack on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis – the city’s best-known thoroughfare, a few hundred metres from the ministry of interior and the French embassy. The explosion killed her and wounded twenty bystanders, including fifteen policemen who appear to have been the intended target. For now, no group has claimed responsibility for the bombing. The 30-year-old woman – an unemployed graduate with an English degree from a small village near Mahdia, on the Mediterranean, who occasionally worked as a shepherdess – left no indication as to her motive.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisia’s president, Béji Caïd Essebsi, ordering the army last year to break up protests over unemployment and corruption.CreditCreditHassene Dridi/Associated Press

What followed the Arab Spring was not always a grim descent into civil war or counterrevolution. In Tunisia, the North African nation of 11 million, where the uprisings began in 2011, politicians navigated their way through mistrust, polarization and terrorist attacks with pragmatic consensus politics.

But now that political consensus is fraying, and the broken social contract that lay behind the original uprisings remains unrepaired. Inflation has surged, unemployment is stubbornly high, and strikes and street protests are widespread. The fragility of this vital democratic transition is suddenly exposed.

In a recent television interview, President Béji Caïd Essebsi declared an end to the five-year understanding between the secular party he founded, Nidaa Tounes, which largely represents the political and business elite of the old era, and its rival Ennahda, a former underground Islamist movement.…  Seguir leyendo »

The bloody three month-long standoff over crude oil export terminals in eastern Libya earlier this summer served as a stark reminder that the  United Nations are nowhere nearer to finding a political solution than they were when they started nearly seven years ago. One often overlooked consequence of this bloody stalemate is that it casts a long shadow over Algeria and Tunisia with which Libya shares long and porous borders.

Seven years ago, Italian and Algerian officials warned France, the UK and the US of the huge risks for regional security were Libya to disintegrate. Backing the military operation, NATO paid no heed to such warnings, despite what had happened in Iraq since 2003.…  Seguir leyendo »

Il y a un an, une parole d’Etat, celle du président de la République tunisienne, Béji Caïd Essebsi, proposait de modifier deux dispositions très sensibles, explicitement codifiées en défaveur des femmes : celle de l’héritage et celle du mariage avec un non-musulman. Rappelons pour mémoire qu’en Tunisie, conformément à la loi coranique, une femme n’hérite que de la moitié de ce qui revient à son frère (verset 11 de la Sourate des femmes : « Dieu vous recommande, en ce qui concerne vos enfants : aux mâles l’équivalent de la part de deux femmes… »). De plus, en aucun cas elle ne peut prendre cette décision jugée hérétique d’épouser un non-musulman, et ce conformément à une circulaire de 1973 que le président Essebsi a promis d’effacer du paysage juridique.…  Seguir leyendo »

May’s municipal elections in Tunisia had many commentators speculating about the future of the country’s ongoing democratic transition. The results were roughly in line with expectations, with the “Islamist” Ennahda taking 27.5 percent of the vote, the “secular” Nidaa Tounes taking 22.5 percent and independent candidates taking 28 percent. At the same time, voter turnout, at 35.5 percent of registered voters, was disappointingly low.

Nonetheless, most observers agree the prospects for democratic transition in Tunisia are much better than they are for Egypt or Libya. Indeed, some have come to see the contrasting trajectories among post-Arab uprising countries such as Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as inevitable.…  Seguir leyendo »

As they went to the polls in the first ever free local elections in the Arab world after Lebanon, the Tunisian people offered their neighbours in the Maghreb and Europe a lesson in democratic politics. Those who voted inflicted heavy losses on the coalition of two political parties which has ruled the country for just over three years. The lay Nidaa, founded in 2012 by president Beji Caid Essebsi lost one third of its electors (900,000), its partner the Islamist Nahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi,  half (50o,000). Independent lists won a plurality of votes, 32.9%. Hope resides in the fact that 47% of new municipal councillors are women and 37% are under 35.…  Seguir leyendo »

A supporter, right, of an independent local party distributes election leaflets in l’Ariana, outside Tunis, 0n May 4. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

On May 6, Tunisia held its first democratic local elections more than seven years after the collapse of the authoritarian regime. While these elections signify an important step for local governance, the intense period of candidate recruitment that preceded them also offers a unique window into party decision-making.

During the two months before the elections, I conducted more than 40 interviews with party leaders at the national and local level and candidates from partisan and independent lists to explore how they recruited candidates. The results hint at why some parties and lists garnered more votes and how politics may be changing.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Tunisian policeman dressed in civilian clothing casts his vote April 29 during municipal elections at a polling station for the police and military in Tunis. (Hassene Dridi/AP)

On May 6, Tunisian citizens will finally head to the polls for the country’s first municipal elections since its 2011 popular uprising. Voters will cast ballots in all of the country’s 24 governorates for 7,212 available council seats in 350 municipalities, including 86 new municipalities created since 2015. Delayed twice since originally planned in 2016, these elections are another milestone in Tunisia’s tumultuous ongoing transition.

What’s at stake

Tunisia hosted a highly centralized political system under former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the ruling party, the Democratic Constitution Rally (RCD). Eighty percent of municipal council seats were legally guaranteed to members of the ruling party, and the president of the municipality was required to be a member of the RCD’s local coordination committee.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Tunisian boy cycles past street art in Erriadh, a village on the resort island of Djerba, south of Tunis in 2015. (Mosa’ab Elshamy/AP)

On Jan. 1, Tunisian police reportedly arrested four people in Tunis with marijuana in their car. Their arrests came almost exactly one year after Tunisia’s justice minister said the country was facing a crisis in its prison system, exacerbated in large part by the country’s harsh drug laws. These two events — and efforts to remove penalties for marijuana use — illustrate both the achievements of and obstacles to drug-sentencing reform amid broader efforts toward judicial and security-sector reform in post-revolutionary Tunisia.

Link between drug sentencing and prison overcrowding

In 1992, the Tunisian government enacted Law 52, which strengthened drug criminalization and imposed harsh mandatory prison sentences.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Fesh Nestannaw protest in Tunis. Photo via Getty Images.

Faced with a rising trade deficit and falling foreign exchange reserves, and already tied into a large conditional loan from the IMF worth $2.9 billion, Tunisia’s economy is in the midst of a stagflationary crisis of inflation and slow growth.

Restrictions on imports, new taxes and prices increases have spurred inflation. The collapse of tourism as a result of terrorist attacks in 2015 and the rise of oil prices are only making matters worse. Under the Finance Law announced in January this year, prices of consumer goods have been hiked and additional taxes have been imposed. The recent Fech Nestannaw [What are we waiting for?] protests over the 2018 budget call for a reversal of austerity measures.…  Seguir leyendo »

The dismissal of the governor of the central bank of Tunisia, the Banque de Tunisie, on 18 February 2018 was long overdue. It marks an important date in the history of a country trying to put down democratic roots in the face of mounting economic and political challenges. Chedly Ayari, who was 84, was not noted for his competence. He was replaced by Marouane El Abassi, a respected economist, whose integrity is unquestioned and has held senior jobs in Tunisia and the World Bank. The choice of El Abassi was made by the Prime minister, Youssef Chahed and supported by the president, Beji Caid Essebsi.…  Seguir leyendo »

Women shout slogans during demonstrations on the seventh anniversary of the toppling of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, in Tunis, Tunisia, on Jan. 14, 2018. (Youssef Boudlal/Reuters)

Seven years after Tunisia sparked the first protests in what has become known as the “Arab Spring,” and ousted its long-standing dictator, it is generating inspiration and anger yet again. How? By upending what many consider more difficult to overthrow than dictators-for-life: Islamic laws and taboos on marriage and inheritance.

In February, President Beji Caid Essebsi is expected to make good on a 2017 promise to make Tunisia the first Muslim country to grant equal inheritance to men and women. Islamic inheritance law typically gives men double the inheritance of women. Last year, Essebsi also lifted a ban on Muslim women in Tunisia marrying men outside their faith.…  Seguir leyendo »

Le photographe Ziad Ben Romdhane vit à Tunis. Avec « West of life », il s'attache à retranscrire la situation dans la région de Gafsa, située dans le sud-ouest du pays. Oumm Laarayes, Série "West Of Life" - 2015. Ziad Ben Romdhane

Dans des coins reculés du pays, il arrive que des gens racontent leur détresse comme une maladie dégénérative. Ils disent que le pire n’est pas tant de finir la tête à l’envers, mais d’avoir été conscient de l’issue trop longtemps à l’avance. Ils naissent, grandissent et tournent en rond. Plus le temps passe, plus les cercles rapetissent : à la longue, c’est comme s’ils faisaient la toupie.

La Tunisie de l’intérieur, du nord-ouest, des terres, du sud, de la périphérie des grandes villes est esclave d’une idée tordue : les autocrates du passé ont décrété que ces gens chiches pouvaient survivre quoiqu’il arrive.…  Seguir leyendo »

If Tunisia’s elite continues to fiddle while Carthage burns, the only fledging democracy in the Arab world risks self destructing or reverting to some form of authoritarian rule. It is seven years since the fall of the dictator Ben Ali. His fall decapitated the predatory ruling family and legalised political parties, not least the Islamist party Nahda. And it sparked revolts across the Arab world. However Tunisia faces a real revolution unless its leaders articulate and enact bold economic reforms which offer desperately needed hope to the country’s mass of unemployed and ill-educated young people.

The freedom of speech that followed the end of the old authoritarian regime has today too often morphed into freedom to blackmail and insult.…  Seguir leyendo »

Family members of Tunisians who died in the revolution seven years ago stage a protest on Thursday in the capital, Tunis. (Hassene Dridi/AP)

Another January brought another wave of protest in Tunisia. Responding to the government’s announcement of new austerity policies in the 2018 budget, protesters last week took to the streets in acts ranging from peaceful sit-ins to attacks on government buildings. The government responded by swiftly arresting hundreds of protesters, and palliative measures followed. Over the weekend, President Beji Caid Essebsi announced an increase in aid to needy families and plans to address the country’s inadequate pension and health-care systems.

We have seen this before. Perhaps more than an electoral democracy, post-revolutionary Tunisia is a protest economy. Facing the tumult of transition and an ever-deteriorating social safety net, Tunisians have expressed claims and grievances predominantly through demonstrations, sit-ins and strikes.…  Seguir leyendo »

The protests and rioting that have raged in parts of Tunisia since last week are sometimes branded, both inside the country and abroad, as signs of a new revolutionary moment similar to the 2010-2011 uprising that launched the Arab Spring. The images circulating, after all, give a sense of déjà-vu: young men burning tires at impromptu barricades, throwing stones at police; the army deploying to secure public institutions and banks, etc. This is indeed familiar: it has taken place at regular intervals, especially in winter months, for the last few years. As before, it will most likely die down: protestors are largely driven by specific socio-economic grievances, not a desire to overthrow the regime.…  Seguir leyendo »

La Tunisie connaît un nouvel épisode de contestation et de violence sociale. Le dernier en date, celui de janvier 2016, avait contribué à écourter la durée de vie du gouvernement de Habib Essid, remplacé par l’actuel premier ministre, Youssef Chahed, en août 2016. Si le sentiment diffus est celui d’un bis repetita, le contexte est plus délicat et les aboutissements plus incertains.

L’euphorie révolutionnaire qui a suivi le départ de Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, le 14 janvier 2011, n’est désormais plus qu’un vague souvenir. La realpolitik, l’inertie administrative et le marasme économique ont transformé les espoirs en désillusion, voire en résignation.…  Seguir leyendo »

Otra revuelta social ha empezado en Túnez, la enésima desde la revolución del 14 de enero del 2011. Coincide con su séptimo aniversario y es una nueva prueba para el gobierno y especialmente para el presidente Caid Essebsi.

Túnez no ha conseguido cambiar la tendencia en los principales indicadores económicos deteriorados ni cumplir con las expectativas de la gente que se levantó cuando Mohamed Bouazizi se autoinmoló por su dignidad.

La búsqueda del consenso y la negociación han permitido al país abrir los caminos para una transición hacia una democracia parlamentaria sin caer en el caos o la violencia. Pero las transiciones políticas son difíciles y requieren su tiempo.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisians demonstrate against a bill that would protect those accused of corruption from prosecution, on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis

La révolution tunisienne était censée être une rupture radicale avec le passé. Sept ans après, en janvier 2018, on est étonné de voir que plusieurs franges de Tunisiens restent attachées au passé, à ses vestiges et pratiques. Et ils le disent tout haut. Les rappels très insistants de Dieu, de Bourguiba et de Ben Ali ont sonné fort après la révolution, et ont inauguré aussitôt le temps des regrets.

On parle liberté, et on voudrait rétablir le despotisme ancien. On parle démocratie, et on voudrait faire de la place à une providence islamiste. En 1789, l’aristocratie et le clergé français, mutilés et vidés de leur substance, pouvaient-ils rétablir tout ce que les courants ont emporté ?…  Seguir leyendo »

In a recent interview, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made headlines with a striking claim that he will try to return his country to “moderate Islam” as part of his broader reform efforts. Though it is unclear what, if any, tangible changes this will produce, his remarks are part of a growing trend among leaders in the Arab world to use elements of the state-sponsored religious establishment, or “official Islam,” to counter extremist ideologies.

Some countries have been far more successful than others at harnessing the power of official Islam to challenge popular Islamist movements and limit radical ideologies. In a new article, we examine how regimes have used official religious institutions in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia after the 2011 uprisings shook the region.…  Seguir leyendo »