Tunisia’s democratization at risk
In: Mediterranean Politics. Published by Taylor & Francis. Published online: 20 Jun 2019
Cengiz Günay and Fabian Sommavilla
Tunisia is the only Arab Spring country that has been able to manage peaceful regime change. Western know-how support and financial assistance have been crucial in this process. However, while often celebrated for its liberal achievements, Tunisia’s young democracy is still fragile and faces the imminent risk of sliding back towards authoritarian tendencies. Multiple terrorist attacks in 2015 have triggered an atmosphere of securitization. The fight against extremism has legitimized the curtailment of newly gained democratic rights and the return of the practices of the national security state of the Ben Ali era. President Essebsi has used the fight against extremism as an excuse to expand his prerogatives at the expense of parliament and independent bodies. Moreover, the government’s counterterrorism policies have also diverted large amounts of the country’s budget away from the fight against poverty and youth unemployment, to military armament and surveillance technologies. Instead of addressing pressing socio-economic issues, the government’s policies have rather securitized ‘problematic’, disenfranchised social groups. Western criticism of Tunisia’s strategies against extremism has been scarce. After all, many of the government’s measures have corresponded to Western security interests. Considering that the threat of terrorism is likely to continue, there is a serious risk that the exceptional measures taken in the name of counterterrorism will become a default technique of governing. The profile article warns that instead of being consolidated, Tunisia’s transition may end up in a political grey zone somewhere between a democracy and authoritarianism.
KEYWORDS: Tunisia, securitization, fight against terrorism, democratization, national security state, social disparity, borderlands, border security