President’s Take: Hot Spots Near and Far

The year 2023 has seen peace and security challenges both far from the EU’s borders and closer to home. The latter, especially, have heightened in recent weeks and months, which have seen fighting in the South Caucasus and Kosovo, even as a second year of war in Ukraine stretches on. While the three crises are very different in nature, all suggest a worrying inclination on the part of some governments to seek solutions to disputes through force of arms. Insofar as this jarring trend involves a proliferation of new wars, large and small, it flies in the face of the decades of energy that the EU has invested in turning the page on past conflagrations in Europe and its neighbourhood.…  Seguir leyendo »

The recent visit to Tunisia of the president of the European Commission, Ursula Van der Leyen focused on stemming immigration, in one of the many examples of the European Union struggling to reconcile its policy of protecting the European way of life, defending its interests, and upholding the values on which it has been founded. This task is made more difficult by the day in the geopolitical background of tectonic movements and emerging powerful alliances.

In this context, small Tunisia might be seen as easy to bully – sorry, persuade, of the benefits of its “partnership” with the EU. The $1bn plus in loans and aid which the European Union has offered cash-strapped Tunisia displays a cynicism which does not sit kindly with the EU’s stated intentions to promote good economic governance and respect for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

The leader of the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, Rached Ghannouchi, was arrested in April. Photograph: Hassene Dridi/AP

“Historic” – that is how Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, described his meeting with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad on the eve of the Arab League summit in Jeddah earlier this month. Snaps of him standing alongside al-Assad and Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sisi during the summit were widely shared around the region, signalling Tunisia’s return to the grand old club of Arab dictatorships.

For all their internecine conflicts and rivalries, hidden and visible, Arab leaders are again united around one sacred goal: aborting their people’s aspirations for change. Muammar Gaddafi, Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali may no longer be on the stage, but their spirit lives on in a new generation.…  Seguir leyendo »

A 2022 demonstration against the decision by President Kais Saied of Tunisia to dissolve Parliament. Zied Ben Romdhane/Magnum Photos

I remember exactly when I knew that Tunisia was free.

It was February 2011, just weeks after a popular uprising had forced Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s longtime dictator, to flee the country. I was coming home for the first time in 10 years: My father was a prominent opponent of the regime, and it hadn’t been safe to stay. When I lived in Tunisia, I was used to being scrutinized and interrogated at the airport. But in 2011 a border officer welcomed me with an affable grin. In that moment, it was suddenly clear what the revolution had achieved.

In December of that year, my father, Moncef Marzouki, was elected president by the Constitutional Assembly.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kais Saied, Tunisia’s president, staged a power grab in 2021 © Kais Saied, Tunisia’s president, staged a power grab in 2021 | FT montage; AFP/Getty Images/AP

On a recent Ramadan day in April, just before sundown when Muslims break their fast, dozens of Tunisian policemen swooped on the home of Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the country’s biggest political party and took the 81-year-old man to jail.

Ghannouchi, the former speaker of parliament and head of the moderately Islamist Nahda party, was charged a few days later with plotting against state security and ordered to remain in custody pending trial. The security services took over Nahda’s Tunis headquarters and banned meetings in its other offices. Several of the party’s other senior officials have also been detained.

The Islamist leader is the most high-profile politician to have been arrested since Kais Saied, Tunisia’s president, staged a power grab in 2021 and began dismantling the country’s young democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

People hold signs and Tunisian flags to show support for detained Ennahda Movement leader Rached Ghannouchi in Tunis on Feb. 21. (Photo by Hasan Mrad/DeFodi Images via Getty Images) (DeFodi Images /DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

This op-ed was written by my father two weeks ago, as an explanation of the current situation in Tunisia. My father also wanted to present an outline of the opposition’s efforts to restore democracy and its proposals for solving the economic and political crisis. He is now, once again, at 81 years of age, behind bars in prison, having been arrested over a week ago on the trumped-up charges of conspiring against state security, just three days before the Eid celebration. His words are still relevant and his appeal all the more urgent. — Yusra Ghannouchi

Rached Ghannouchi is leader of the Muslim democratic Ennahda (Renaissance) Party, and elected speaker of the Assembly of People’s Representatives, the Tunisian parliament, since 2019.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisian President Kais Saied during a European Union–African Union summit, Brussels, February 2022. Johanna Geron / Pool / Reuters

Twenty months after Tunisian President Kais Saied suspended parliament in what amounted to an auto-coup, his autocratic rule is solidifying and entrenching itself. Whereas the regime’s repression once seemed ad hoc and intermittent, it is now systematic and far-reaching, including dozens of arrests of leading opposition figures and the use of military trials against dissidents. Saied has also targeted Black migrants residing in Tunisia, alleging “a criminal plot . . . to change Tunisia’s demographic make-up”. His embrace of a North African version of the racist “great replacement” theory has drawn plaudits from figures on the European far right, including former French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour.…  Seguir leyendo »

Opponents of Tunisian President Kais Saied protest in Tunis, September 2021. Zoubeir Souissi / Reuters

A year ago, Tunisia’s fledgling democracy—the last to survive after a series of popular uprisings swept the Arab world in 2011—faced a severe test after an extraordinary self-coup by President Kais Saied on July 25, 2021. Within a matter of hours, Saied fired Tunisia’s prime minister, suspended its democratically elected parliament for 30 days, and assumed all executive power. Saied justified his actions by citing Article 80 of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution, which allows a president who determines that the country is facing “imminent danger” to take “any measures necessitated by the exceptional circumstances”.

But what was initially described as a temporary emergency measure has now been extended indefinitely.…  Seguir leyendo »

Túnez: el desmantelamiento de una democracia


Un año después de la toma de poder del presidente Kais Saied, Túnez está dirigido por un individuo que está institucionalizando un sistema en el que puede gobernar solo sin oposición.


La tan alabada transición democrática de Túnez tiene muchos aspectos y el hecho de que no haya dado resultados económicos ha hecho que se cuestione entre una mayoría de tunecinos. Por eso, cuando un presidente populista como Kais Saied prometió cambiar el sistema y librar al país de su clase política, funcionó. El Presidente, desconocido para el público en general hace apenas unos años, y poco activo en la política tunecina durante la dictadura, encarnó la ira de una nación deprimida y la canalizó para iniciar un nuevo capítulo.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Monday, Tunisians have been going to the polls to vote on a new constitution proposed by President Kais Saied. At stake is nothing less than the fate of the Arab world’s most promising experiment in democratic governance. If Saied gets his way, Tunisia could send an ominous signal to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, where despotic rulers remain entrenched.

In 2011, a popular uprising in Tunisia sparked by a young fruit vendor’s suicide overthrew the dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had ruled for 23 years. The events in Tunisia triggered a wave of similar revolutions across the Middle East and North Africa, an upheaval that came to be known as the Arab Spring.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man stands outside the Supreme Judicial Council building in Tunis on Feb. 6. (Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters)

Early Sunday morning, Tunisian President Kais Saied announced his intent to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council, the body tasked with ensuring the independence of the country’s judicial system. This move, the latest in a series of efforts by Saied to consolidate power after he suspended parliament and declared a state of emergency in July 2021, comes after months of the president’s attacks on Tunisian judges.

These latest attempts by Saied to consolidate power come less than two weeks after the anniversary of the ratification of Tunisia’s post-uprising constitution, negotiated in the years following the country’s 2010-2011 Arab Spring uprising. While the new constitution was a momentous accomplishment for Tunisia, its future is uncertain at the moment.…  Seguir leyendo »

Watc List 2022. Middle East & North Africa. Tunisia: Toward a Return to Constitutionality

Crisis Group’s Watch List identifies ten countries facing deadly conflict, humanitarian emergency or other crises in 2022. In these places, early action, driven or supported by the EU and its member states, could save lives and enhance prospects for stability.

On 25 July 2021, when President Kais Saïed invoked Article 80 of the constitution to suspend parliament and dismiss the prime minister, he introduced a state of emergency that threatens Tunisia with unprecedented instability. The country faces a daunting set of economic and social challenges. Yet its leaders have limited means with which to tackle these problems or meet the population’s high expectations.…  Seguir leyendo »

A man shouts during a demonstration marking the ninth anniversary of the assassination of leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid in Tunis on Feb. 2. (Mohamed Messara/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

While we are distracted by the looming war in Europe, the “genocide Olympics” in China and the never-ending pandemic, the last hope for a successful Arab democracy in the Middle East is fading. Tunisia, the only real success story from the Arab Spring, is slipping into the autocratic abyss — and the United States is nowhere to be seen.

Last July, When President Kais Saied sacked the prime minister, dissolved the parliament and turned the military on his political opponents, the international community generally expressed cautious optimism that Saied would quickly hand back the power he had just grabbed. Despite warnings that he was perpetrating a “self-coup”, the Biden administration decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisian President Kais Saied announces the formation of a new government in Tunis on Oct. 11. (Tunisian Presidency/AFP via Getty Images)

On Sept. 29, President Kais Saied raised eyebrows in Tunisia by naming the little-known university lecturer Najla Bouden Ramadhane as prime minister. Though historic — Ramadhane would be the Arab world’s first female head of government — the appointment comes during the most turbulent times in Tunisia since the country’s 2011 revolution, which sparked the Arab Spring revolts. She takes her post two months after Saied dismissed her predecessor and dissolved parliament on July 25, leading many to fear he is taking the country back to one-man rule.

A sizable percentage of Tunisians have welcomed the president’s power grabs. A sputtering economy, persistent corruption and rising covid-19 cases have contributed to widespread disillusionment with political parties.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden Romdhan takes the oath during the country's new government swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 11, 2021, in Tunis. (Tunisian Presidency/Via Reuters)

On Sept. 29, Tunisian President Kais Saied named Najla Bouden Romdhan the country’s new prime minister, making her the first woman to serve in that role in Tunisia — and in the entire Arab world.

Romdhan’s appointment came after Saied launched a political crisis in late July when he dismissed the prime minister and shut down the parliament, followed by his Sept. 22 issuance of Decree 117, in which he gave himself extraordinary powers and suspended most checks on his authority.

Arab autocrats have long used support for women’s rights to deflect criticism of authoritarian rule. Yet, since the Arab Spring launched there a decade ago, Tunisia had made a successful transition to democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Tunisian President Kais Saied delivers a speech during his visit to Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, on Sept. 20. (Slim Abid/Tunisian presidency/AP)

On Sept. 22, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied issued Decision 117 — this effectively establishes a new constitutional order in which the president has granted himself extraordinary power, far in excess of anything Tunisia has experienced in its modern history. Decision 117 places itself above the existing constitutional order and essentially abolishes the entire system of government laid out in Tunisia’s 2014 constitution.

Decision 117 suspends much of the constitution adopted following the 2011 popular uprising against decades of dictatorial rule. This constitution was supposed to usher in a new form of democratic rule reducing the powers of the presidency, with parliament playing a more important role in governing the country.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman walks past graffiti that reads “Revolution” in Sidi Bouzid, central Tunisia, on Aug. 27. (Anis Mili/AFP/Getty Images)

On July 25, Tunisian President Kais Saied took actions that may end the country’s internationally celebrated constitution. He invoked the constitution’s emergency clause, fired the prime minister, suspended the legislature and declared himself the attorney general. Last Monday, he extended the temporary measures indefinitely. Some expect Saied to attempt to suspend the constitution and replace it with a new one, probably featuring a presidential system. Although it is difficult to gauge public opinion during a time of great uncertainty, Saied’s moves seem to have popular support. As a result, some observers have suggested that Tunisians have lost (or perhaps never had) interest in democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Many Tunisians – or at least the ones in the streets in the last few days – seem to have a more ambivalent relationship with democracy.’ Anti-government protests in Tunis, 25 July 2021. Photograph: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

Implicit in US and western support for pro-democracy movements and transitions around the world is an assumption that, given a free choice, a system of elected, representative government is what people will always naturally prefer. But what if this assumption is wrong? What if a majority believes democracy doesn’t work for them?

Emerging testimony from Tunisia, the latest country to face a crisis over how it is run, suggests many citizens welcomed the forceful suspension of a democratically elected parliament that had failed to address people’s problems and was widely reviled as a self-serving oligarchy.
Mohammed Ali, 33, from Ben Guerdane, seems to typify this view.…  Seguir leyendo »

Soldiers stood by in Tunis after President Kais Saied of Tunisia dismissed the government and froze Parliament this week. Credit EPA, via Shutterstock

On the morning of July 26, my colleagues and I — all of us democratically elected members of Parliament — found the Parliament building in downtown Tunis surrounded by army tanks and our access blocked on the orders of President Kais Saied.

In a televised speech the night before, Mr. Saied announced a host of measures, the most startling of which was suspending the work of the elected legislature. He stripped members of Parliament of their parliamentary immunity, sacked the prime minister and consolidated judicial and executive power in his hands. By doing so, Mr. Saied is seeking to overturn the results of an entire decade’s hard work by Tunisians who have fought for democratic reforms.…  Seguir leyendo »

People pass the Sidi Bashir mosque in the Bab el-Fellah area of Tunisia's capital Tunis on July 28. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

An escalating political crisis is now pushing Tunisia’s democracy to the brink. On Sunday, President Kais Saied fired the prime minister and suspended parliament, moves his critics have called a “coup.”

Saied’s decision is without precedent in Tunisia, the lone sustained democracy to have emerged from the Arab Spring. What happened Sunday is a major escalation in the long series of crises that have characterized the country’s post-revolutionary politics. With Tunisia’s health system collapsing under a tide of coronavirus infections, the economy in free fall and parliamentary blocs locked in stalemate, Saied invoked Article 80 of the constitution to claim unchecked executive authority for at least 30 days.…  Seguir leyendo »