GIGA Focus Middle East

Tunisia’s Autocratisation under President Kais Saied

Number 4 | 2023 | ISSN: 1862-3611

  • Supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rally in support of his seizure of power and suspension of parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia, October 3, 2021
    Supporters of Tunisian President Kais Saied rally in support of his seizure of power and suspension of parliament, in Tunis, Tunisia, October 3, 2021

    Tunisia developed into the only consolidated Arab democracy after the Arab uprisings, but has since experienced autocratisation under President Kais Saied. Saied was first elected in 2019 as an alternative to established forces. Without a power base of his own, he ran on a law-and-order and anti-corruption programme. In July 2021, however, he staged a coup and attacked all political institutions.

    • Saied was elected by marginalised and disillusioned segments of the population, after the governments of the previous decade had failed to deliver on social and economic progress. He promised a new beginning for economic policy as well as a determined fight against corruption.

    • Saied’s main interest is to destroy existing centres of power. This policy is flanked by repression against politicians of the Ennahda party, journalists, lawyers, judges, and activists. It can be questioned whether marginalised groups will profit from the current elite changes.

    • The swift autocratisation of Tunisian institutions is accompanied by populist narratives. In February 2023, the president singled out sub-Saharan African migrants as scapegoats and unleashed a racist wave of repression against them.

    • Some political parties and civil society organisations have protested the ongoing autocratisation, but they are divided both internally and between themselves. This is a result of the successful social polarisation promoted by the president.

    Policy Implications

    European partners should insist on the reintroduction of democratic principles and support pro-democracy activists. External forces would be well-advised to support initiatives promoting alternative models of social and economic development in Tunisia. Such local debates must be taken seriously if optimal solutions for Tunisia, as a partner approached on equal footing, are to succeed.

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      Editorial Department GIGA Focus Middle East

      Petra Brandt

      Editorial Management


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