Threats to Tunisia’s emerging democracy

Threats to Tunisia’s emerging democracy

Last week, 31 parliamentary deputies of Tunisia’s ruling party Nidaa Tounes resigned, granting a parliamentary majority to the Islamist party Ennahdha and threatening the stability of the emerging democracy.

While Tunisia is about to receive a Nobel peace prize in a few weeks, the Nidaa Tounes party’s internal crisis is threatening the country’s newly acquired democratic stability.

The ruling party’s recent identity crisis comes from the emergence of two factions in the party battling over the succession of President Beji Caid Essebsi, 88. One bloc is lead by the Tunisian president’s son, Hafhed Caid Essebsi, and the other one refers to the supporters of the party’s secretary general, Mohsen Marzouk.

Accusations of nepotism within the party

Mohsen Marzouk, former leftist activist and secularist, accuses the president’s son of trying to control the party and attempting to create a new Essebsi dynasty. The members of the party who support Marzouk have resigned as a reaction to what they see as an attempt of nepotism, corruption, and the return of the autocratic style of the Ben Ali era.

Sabrine Ghoubantini , one of the deputies who resigned, declared: “there is no democracy within Nidaa Tounes.”

After the elections, the secularist party Nidaa Tounes had to create a coalition with the Islamist party, Ennahdha. However, it still maintained the majority of seats at the parliament. With the resignation of 31 out of the 86 deputies from the ruling party left his coalition partner Ennahdha with the majority of seats in parliament.

A vulnerable time for Tunisia where stability is essential

Nidaa Tounes’s crisis appears to disturb the work of the parliament at a crucial and vulnerable time for Tunisia; the ruling party’s stability is especially important because Tunisia crucially needs economic reforms to counter its economic crisis and security issues.

Tunisia’s tourism-dependent economy is gravely affected by the terrorist attack that occurred in the summer. Furthermore, nationwide unemployment is now over 15 per cent, and the rates of inactive youths run dangerously high – up to 48 per cent in the poor south and western regions of Tunisia.

Growing unemployment and economic crises are known to be triggers for revolts and protests, as was the case back in 2011 when Tunisia started the first Arab Spring revolt. Back then, frustration over corruption is what led the Tunisians to revolt, a problem that still remains rampant today.

What is worse, it is not a surprise that some figures show that Daesh is recruiting more people in Tunisia than from any other country. The appeal to join a terrorism organisation is linked to poverty and economic crisis.

As such, decisive reforms are essential in order to stimulate Tunisia’s economy and consequently to lower the risk of revolt and terrorism, and also to clean up corruption. The Nidaa Tounes party’s stability is important for the elaboration and implementation of those reforms, and for Tunisia’ stability.

Tunisia remains a symbol of hope in the Arab world

Moreover, the crisis of Nidaa Tounes risks to add to the already low degree of trust the Tunisian population have for the politicians in power. The combination of the lack of trust in the politicians in power, the shaky security situation, and the strained economy threaten the democratic transition of Tunisia.

But if Tunisia has shown political instability, the country’s accomplishments should not be taken for granted. Tunisia still protects civil liberties through the most progressive Arab constitution. Tunisia still represents the success story of the Arab Spring.

Western nations recognise the importance of preserving democracy in Tunisia. On November 13th, US Secretary of State John Kerry promised “to preserve and protect Tunisia’s emerging democracy and growing prosperity”. He said that he had signed an agreement to start negotiations on a third US loan guarantee for the country.

Ultimately, preserving and strengthening Tunisia’s young democracy is essential in order to provide a democratic model in the Arab world.

About Author

Assia Sabi

Assia Sabi has previously worked in strategic foresight for several organisations related to the Middle Eastern economic and business environment, such as the National Bank of Abu Dhabi and MEC International Ltd. She holds a double degree with a BA in Politics and International Relations from University of Kent and Sciences Po Lille, a master degree from Sciences Po Lille and has just completed an Msc in International Management for the MENA from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).