Tunisia's Saied Unpicks Young 'Arab Spring' Democracy


Tunisia's Saied Unpicks Young 'Arab Spring' Democracy

It's been almost six years since the so-called Arab Spring shook the world. In that time, several of its countries have faced different challenges in their transition from autocratic rule to democracy. But few places have faced as many difficulties as Tunisia. In a country with a population under 11 million people, terrorism has become an issue of growing concern for its stability and future. Since the collapse of its previous government in January 2011, Tunisia has been governed by an interim council; a military commission; two caretaker prime ministers and one cabinet following legislative elections in October 2011. The last elections took place on July 21 2016 which saw an interim government replaced by another caretaker prime minister and his cabinet before the current government was formed in January 2017.

Political Repression and Instability in Tunisia

In the first few years after the Arab Spring, the country was governed by an interim council and then a military commission. The two governing bodies were unable to bring the country together and were criticised for their lack of democratic legitimacy. The lack of governmental stability meant that the implementation of the new Constitution was severely delayed, as was economic reform. This political instability led to economic instability as well. Additionally, the country faced significant terrorist threats, which significantly impeded tourism and investment. All three of these issues came together in a perfect storm of economic crisis. In 2011 and 2012, the country faced a significant economic crisis that resulted in high inflation and a large budget deficit. With the political instability, it was impossible to enact the reforms necessary to address these problems.

Terrorism in Tunisia

After the collapse of the Ben Ali regime, Tunisia faced increasing instability from violent Islamist groups. This was largely due to the low intensity of the conflict with the government before 2011. The Islamist movement had long been tolerated by Ben Ali as a means of suppressing secular activists, and so it was ill-equipped to deal with a major government crackdown after the revolution. The initial government response to Islamist violence was heavy-handed, often involving indiscriminate police raids on poor neighbourhoods in Tunis and other cities. In 2013, the Tunisian government signed a peace deal with the main Islamist group, although the violence continued to escalate. The murder of two politicians in 2013, including the Muslim cleric and opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi, was followed by the assassination of the left-wing politician and journalist Chokri Belaid in February 2013.

Economic Instability

The political instability in Tunisia meant that the country was unable to enact the necessary reforms to address its economic issues. Together with the terrorist threats to tourism, this led to a further decrease in investment until the country was on the verge of bankruptcy. The political instability also made it harder for the country to get the financial assistance that it needed to recover. This became problematic when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) decided that it could not assist the country until it enacted certain economic reforms. The lack of investment in Tunisia meant that the country failed to diversify its economy and build up its manufacturing sector. This meant that when the tourism industry collapsed, it had nothing to fall back on.


Tunisia's current situation is a great opportunity for the country to move forward and address the issues it has faced in the past few years. In order to do so, a few steps need to be taken. First, the government must implement the necessary economic reforms that the IMF has been asking for in order to get assistance. This will hopefully allow the country to recover from the economic crisis it is currently in. Secondly, the political climate must be normalised in order to bring the country together once again. A way to do this is to enact the new Constitution as soon as possible. Lastly, the government must tackle the issue of terrorism head on and eradicate the threat before it gets worse. In order to do so, it must enact the necessary laws and provide better protection for its citizens.