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Tunisia's fall from democracy to authoritarianism

March 2, 2023

Image: Sousse, Tunisia

Tunisia, the first democracy arising from the 2011 Arab spring, has been rated as among the most democratic of the world's 50 Muslim-majority countries. Yet since mid-2021, Tunisia has experienced growing authoritarianism with dismantling of its democratic institutions and widening human rights violations. Ishaan Tharoor wrote in the Washington Post:

  • "Now, Tunisia’s fledgling democracy looks finished, while the country itself is entering a dark phase of authoritarian consolidation. Far from a unique success, it has become yet another cautionary tale in a region full of false dawns and dashed hopes. And it’s all happening with the de facto acquiescence of the Biden administration and its Western counterparts..."

  • "In July 2021, Tunisian President Kais Saied embarked on a slow-motion coup...'There has been a systematic dismantling of checks and balances. Individuals are being arrested without any legal foundations...', [stated] Said Benarbia of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists...

  • "While it grandstands over freedom and democracy in Ukraine, the Biden administration has, at best, issued periodic statements voicing “concern” for events transpiring in Tunisia. It has done little to mobilize any international response in defense of the country’s ailing democracy and welcomed the widely derided votes for a rubber-stamp Tunisian parliament as 'an essential initial step' for a democratic restoration."[1]

Tharoor continued to note Tunisian President Saied's racist conduct with arbitrary arrests and rhetoric inciting violence against migrant from Subsaharan Africa.

Writing in the Journal of Democracy in 2018, Waggoner and Macdonald observed "a combustible combination of unmanaged social expectations, declining institutional capability, and persistent socioeconomic grievances" in Tunisia, contributing to a rise in violent religious extremism.


[1]. Tharoor, Ishaan. "The West shrugs as a democracy dies." Washington Post, March 1, 2023.

[2] Waggoner, Luke, and Geoffrey Macdonald. “Dashed Hopes and Extremism in Tunisia”. Journal of Democracy, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2018, pp. 126-40.

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