Tunisia, home to the first and arguably most successful of the 2011 Arab uprisings, appears to be backsliding in its transition to democracy. In mid-2021, President Kaïs Saïed consolidated powers in the executive through a series of steps widely regarded as unconstitutional. Opposition is growing though the president retains a strong social base. The polarisation could threaten stability, particularly as it intersects with persistent budgetary woes and popular discontent over economic and other inequality. Crisis Group works to help resolve these tensions in a country that remains critical for security in North Africa as a whole.

CrisisWatch Tunisia

Unchanged Situation

Authorities continued to silence dissent, and European Union (EU) proposed financial assistance while urging Tunis to tighten border control.

Opposition protested continued harassment of govt critics. Islamist-inspired An-Nahda party 12 June confirmed three imprisoned party leaders on hunger strike to protest “detention conditions and non-respect of fundamental rights”; one of them, Sahbi Atig, early June reportedly spent several days in intensive care due to deteriorating health. Hundreds of main opposition coalition National Salvation Front supporters 18 June protested in capital Tunis to demand release of President Saïed’s opponents, including coalition’s co-founder Jaouhar Ben Mbarek and An-Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi. Authorities 20 June detained prominent journalist Zied Heni near Tunis for allegedly “insulting the head of state”, released him on bail two days later.

EU offered financial aid to Tunis to boost economy, tighten border control. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 11 June visited Tunis along with Italian PM Giorgia Meloni and Dutch PM Mark Rutte, said EU may loan over €1bn to help Tunisia boost its battered economy and tighten border control. Ahead of meeting, Saïed 10 June said Tunisia would not accept to act as other countries’ border guard. German and French Interior Ministers Nancy Faeser and Gérald Darmanin 19 June met with Saïed in Tunis to discuss migration and security issues; France announced nearly €26mn in aid to combat irregular migration. Families of jailed judges and politicians late June accused EU of whitewashing Saïed’s authoritarianism in hope he can stem migration to Europe.

Anti-migrant sentiment persisted, notably in Sfax. In joint statement, human rights and other organisations 2 June condemned violence against sub-Saharan migrants and urged authorities to protect migrants and combat discrimination. Tensions continued to run high in coastal city of Sfax, a hub for migrant crossings to Europe. Notably, clashes 17-18 June reportedly broke out between Sfax residents and migrants, causing property damage, while hundreds 25 June demonstrated in Sfax against presence of irregular migrants.

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In The News

19 May 2023
The Europeans feel that they are on the front line of instability in North Africa and in the Mediterranean. Euronews

Riccardo Fabiani

Project Director, North Africa

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Michaël Béchir Ayari

Senior Analyst, Tunisia

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