By Sofia Pegoraro, 25th July 2022
Twelve years after the Jasmine Revolution democratic stability in Tunisia is under threat after president Kais Saied removed government and suspended parliament in July 2021. After almost one year of suspended democracy, the virtuous example of democratic transition that Tunisia represented after the Arab Springs is at risk of being just a memory.
For experts making predictions in foreign policy can be a hard task, and many did not foresaw the current situation in Tunisia. However, many tensions were spreading.
Before the strong acts of July 2021, president Said in December 2021 promised a new program to exit the political crisis. The government’s inability to manage the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive sparked a wave of discontent among the population. This issue is to be added to high unemployment, especially damaging younger generations.
Suspending democracy step by step
On 25th July 2021 Saied removed the government dismissing prime minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament. Six months later, on 12th February 2022, he attributed broad powers to his role allowing him to appoint judges and prosecutors. The main reason behind this is the alleged corruption of the judiciary system in Tunisia.
The previously suspended parliament was dissolved in March 2022 after a Presidential Decree 2022-309.
The next significant step will be in July 2022, the scheduled date for the Constitutional Reform. In this process of rewriting of the Constitution no other major political actors have been involved up to this point. Saied launched an Internet questionnaire for Tunisian citizens in January 2022 to consult the population on the provisions for a new constitution. The questionnaire was a multiple-choice survey to which less than 7% of the population participated.
Keeping Tunisia democratic for the sake of people
Even if the state apparatus seems to be holding up, the situation in Tunisia remains critical. It is fundamental for the international order to keep Tunisia into democratic patterns.
Signals of hope come from New York. On 2nd March 2022 Tunisia voted in favor of the UN Resolution demanding that Russia immediately end its military operations in Ukraine. Europe needs Tunisia as a reliable partner, and a strong position like this is a positive signal for a relationship that needs to be preserved.
European interests in cooperation should always start from people. Tunisia from the European perspective is at the center of the complex migration processes, making it a land of departure, mainly to Italy. The existing political instability cannot be considered a push factor yet. Although, ensuring a stable EU-Tunisian relation will be both fundamental and strategic in order to not let Tunisia out of the system of migration flows management. This can only happen if the country does not collapse.
Young people: from active participants to forgotten and disenchanted
The Jasmine Revolution saw a significant participation of youth. According to the Institut National de la Statistique young people between age 15 and 29 were about 24.5% of the population that took active part in the Revolution. This shows commitment and civic engagement in a country that always left a seat at the table for them.
Twelve years after the Revolution things seem to have changed for the worst. While young Tunisians were actively involved in the process of democratic transition, their inclusion has been limited ever since its conclusion.
In 2021 youth unemployment reached 41% against the 34% of 2019. The feeling is that of a betrayed revolution that saw younger generations on the frontline only to leave them, after, as passive observers. With less investments in youth, they are slowly leaving the civil society realm. Everyday farther from the legal state, while keeping on living in a disappointing real state.
A new disaffection makes it hard to build a comprehensive system of popular opposition, in a Country that seems to be holding its breath.
The big question remains whether the democratic order will be restored, or if the authoritarian tendency will persist. People are waiting, observing and hoping for a peaceful resolution in Tunisia.