Can Tunisia’s democratic deterioration be stopped?


Tunisia’s main opposition leader, Rached Ghannouchi, was arrested last week during a raid on his home, the latest in a wave of arrests by Tunisian President Kais Saeid, the Soufan Center reports: 

  • Tunisia’s minister of interior, Kamel al-Feki, issued a decree prohibiting the main opposition party and coalition from holding meetings, a move the opposition fears is a step toward banning their movement altogether.
  • Tunisia’s increasing role as a transit country for migrants to Europe, most often to the Italian coast, has given it significant leverage in its relations with Europe.
  • Significant increases in migrant flows, coupled with looming economic collapse, may confer continued legitimacy and financial assistance to Saeid despite the recent escalation of his political crackdown.

Yusra Ghannouchi, the opposition leader’s daughter, Qatar University’s Larbi Sadiki and Ennahda Party member Radwan Masmoudi discuss Tunisia’s democratic deterioration (above).

After a decade of freedom and democracy, in 2021 Tunisia’s strongman Saied, shut down the parliament and, soon after, began imposing an authoritarian constitution and arresting critics, notes David D. Kirkpatrick, the author of “Into the Hands of the Soldiers: Freedom and Chaos in Egypt and the Middle East.”

This week, the police finally came for Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia’s largest political party and the Arab world’s most influential thinker about the potential synthesis of liberal democracy and Islamic governance, he writes for The New Yorker: 

His leadership made Ennahdha a unique example of what some called liberal Islamism. In fact, Ghannouchi helped persuade Ennahdha leaders to jettison the label “Islamist” and to begin describing themselves as Muslim democrats. (He published an essay in Foreign Affairs explaining the change.)….“Marrying Islam and liberalism and democratic governance,” Robert Kagan, a historian of U.S. foreign policy, told me, “is the solution to our problems in the Arab world, and it is the solution to their problem with us.” That was also the hope that Ghannouchi tried to salvage in Egypt ten years ago.

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