Tunisia is a country located in the region of Northern Africa. Tunisia has been cited as a positive example among the countries shaken by popular revolts during the Arab Spring of 2011. The 2014 constitution is considered to be the most liberal in the Arab world. In the elections held the same year, a secular party, whose leader also won the presidential election, won. But the largest Islamist party now has the most mandate in parliament and cooperation between the parties is being tested. At the same time, the economy is running low and voters’ skepticism towards established politicians has grown.
Tunisia held its third parliamentary election in October 2019 since the dictatorship was overthrown until the end of 2011. The election has led to a very divided parliament. All the major parties had difficulty defending their mandate.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Tunisia, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Ennahda, which is usually described as a moderate Islamist party, lost 17 seats compared to the 2014 election, but nevertheless became the largest in parliament. In second place came the newly formed constellation Qalb Tounes, whose foreground figure Nabil Karoui when the election was held on October 6 was one of two candidates who passed on a decision in the presidential election. For Nida Tounes, who gathered liberal and secular forces and became the largest party in 2014, the 2019 parliamentary elections can only be described as a disaster.
The success of media mogul Nabil Karoui (Nabil al-Qaruwi) testifies that voters have lost confidence in much of the circles that have ruled the country since the fall of the dictatorship. But in that account you can also write down the support for the presidential winner: the author of the Kaïs Saïed (Qais Sa’id). He won even though he did not stand as the official candidate for a party. Both Saïed and Karoui can be seen as establishment critics. Saïed has expressed conservative views on issues such as homosexuality and women’s inheritance, but he has managed to create the image of being a serious and honorable aspirant in power. The public became acquainted with him as an expert TV commentator in connection with the constitutional changes in 2014, and before the 2019 presidential election, he promised to be faithful to the ideals that drove the uprising against the dictatorship in 2011.
The counter candidate Karoui had made himself known by more spectacular performances. His own TV media diligently monitored his involvement in charity work. When he was arrested before the election for tax evasion, many suspected that it was the power elite who wanted to prevent him from reaching the presidential post.
As president, Saïed has the backing of Ennahda, at least in the beginning. In the 2014 presidential election, Ennahda, after going back in the parliamentary elections that year, chose not to stand with its own candidate. In 2019 Ennahda had his own presidential candidate, but when he failed to get elected, the party declared his support for Saïed.
Saïed has succeeded veteran politician Béji Caïd Essebsi, who was elected in 2014 after holding several posts under President Bourguiba and serving as President under the overthrow of President Ben Ali. Essebsi had also been prime minister for a transitional period in 2011. Essebsi remained in the presidential post until he died in the summer of 2019.
The 2019 parliamentary elections confirmed that huge divisions exist, both between and within the major parties. This may at least in part be due to the fact that several of them have cooperated in office, and that the cooperation has not been successful with the voters.
After the 2014 parliamentary elections, Nida Tounes led a coalition government together with Ennahda, and two smaller parties. But internal contradictions within Nida Tounes resulted in the Secretary-General Mohsen Marzouk leaving the party in 2015 along with 22 of its MPs. Instead, they formed an independent group. Nida Tounes was thus no longer the greatest in Parliament, but Ennahda now had more seats. In 2016, Marzouk formed a new party, Harakat Machrou Tounes (Movement for the Tunisia Project), with the aim of challenging both Nida Tounes and Ennahda in the upcoming elections.
Government cooperation between Nida Tounes and Ennahda may have prevented an early collapse of the newly-launched democracy following the overthrow of Ben Ali. But the collaboration between them broke down in 2018, after four years, much as a result of Nida Tounes not being able to hold each other together. After the 2014 election, Nida Tounes controlled the 86 seats in parliament, but the internal disintegration that soon broke out led to a reduction in the bloc. In January 2019, with both presidential and parliamentary elections pending this fall, the split was completed when Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and his supporters formed a new political movement, Tahya Tounes (Leve Tunisia). There was no strong opposition when Ennahda, who had been able to counterbalance, had chosen to join the government.
One question now is, after the 2019 elections, how Ennahda as the largest party will act in the government coalition that, after many, was approved by Parliament in February 2020. 109 mandates (more than twice as many as Ennahda’s) are required as a basis for governing. The split of Ennahda’s old partner has resulted in three parties with parliamentary mandates, but the total support for Tahya Tounes, Machrou Tounes and Nida Tounes does not amount to more than 21 mandates.
Among the parties that succeeded better in the 2019 elections, it is also spreading big. There is everything from Islamist sympathies to definite secular views.
Recurrent waves of protest occur in Tunisia. A number of controversial laws that have been adopted in recent years may have contributed, such as a 2015 anti-terror law based on a broad definition of what should be considered terrorism. Despite popular opposition, an amnesty law was also adopted in 2017, which means that people who were involved in corruption in Ben Ali’s time do not escape punishment. Voter voting may have been the result. Almost 34 percent voted in the municipal elections in 2018. Even in the first round of the 2019 general elections, turnout was low, as was the parliamentary election.
Tunisia has escaped the explosion of violence that followed in the wake of the Arab Spring in many countries, but has been hit by terrorist acts that testify to the major security problems facing young democracy. In 2015, two attacks aimed at tourists occurred. One against a museum in Tunis claimed 23 lives and the other against the seaside resort of Sousse, 38 people were killed. The Islamic State (IS) extremist movement said it was behind both attacks. Tourists fled the country and travel agencies canceled trips.
Another attack followed in Tunis, when an explosion on a bus killed 13 members of the presidential guard. In 2016, ten security soldiers and seven civilians were killed in Ben Guerdane at the border with Libya. Some 30 Tunisian IS supporters who had attacked police and army soldiers in an attempt to bring about a local uprising were killed.
The new terror legislation that was passed in 2015 increased the ability of security forces to monitor and arrest suspects. The authorities have conducted thousands of raids and arrested many hundreds of people. An emergency permit introduced in connection with the terrorist attacks has also helped to give the security service more leeway. The exceptions laws have been extended in installments ever since. Some analysts claim that the security service and the power holders have taken advantage of the situation to also control regime critics and investigative journalists and that former President Essebsi and the governments have resorted to using methods from the country’s authoritarian past. Transparency in the work of the security apparatus is among the suggestions of a Truth Commission that investigated how Tunisia should dispose of the dark legacy (see Calendar).
Since the beginning of the 2010s, Tunisia has also been recruited by extremist Islamists along the border with Algeria, including in the mountainous Kasserine province, and Libya, where smuggling and the introduction of weapons is common. The security threat in Tunisia increased as IS established itself in Libya; in the wake of their successes in Iraq and Syria, it was reported that the extremist movement intended to include parts of the border area between the countries in its dominion (see also Foreign Policy and Defense). In addition, IS succeeded in recruiting many supporters from Tunisia, who are estimated to be the country in the world that contributed the most citizens to the jihadist forces in Iraq and Syria – as many as 6,000 according to some sources. Several terrorist attacks have been committed by Tunisians trained by IS, often in Libya. Following IS’s defeat in Iraq and Syria, radical return has been one of the risks discussed. There are reports of continued recruitment, to groups that sympathize with al-Qaeda.
High unemployment among young people and poverty, especially in the inner parts of Tunisia, is the breeding ground for extremism, and for dissatisfaction with the political parties (see also Social conditions). When a young man in the poor province of Kasserine in the west committed suicide in desperation after being denied a job, demonstrations and riots were triggered in early 2016. They spread to Tunis’s poor suburbs before the government took control of the situation. The fact that the government has since failed to reduce unemployment and reduce social divisions, and has not gained momentum for the economy, has diluted the dissatisfaction (see Economic overview).
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FACTS – POLITICS
al-Jumhuriyya al-Tunisiyya / Republic of Tunisia
republic, unitary state
Head of State
Kaïs Saïed (2019-)
Head of government
Elyas Fakhfakh (2020–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Ennahda 52, Qalb Tounes 38, Attayar 22, Karama 21, Free Constitution Party 17, Tahya Tounes 14, Machrou Tounes 4, Nida Tounes 3 (2019)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Nida Tounes 86, Ennahda 69, Free Patriotic Union (UPL) 16, People’s Front 15, Afek Tounes 8, Collection for the Republic (CPR) 4 (2014)
41% in the parliamentary elections, 55% in the decisive round of the presidential elections (2019)
presidential and parliamentary elections 2024