Ten years after the 2011 uprising, instability and uncertainty still prevail in Tunisia. All the indicators are flashing red: growth has more than halved since 2010, public deficit is at 13.4%, unemployment is close to 16% and endemic among young people who make up 85% of the jobless, public indebtedness is at a level never seen before approaching 90% of the GDP with international donors keeping the country on life support.
The uprising has also uncovered the tension that prevailed in the relationship between a predominantly young society and the state creating a trust deficit at all levels due to deficiency in leadership, lack of social equity (access to quality education, housing, health care), economic hardships and perceived injustice (rampant corruption, cronyism, a large and ineffective bureaucracy of more than 650,000 employees).
Added to this is a state of near-permanent political crisis that has forestalled progress and hindered a smooth democratic transition. In a period of ten years, Tunisia has had 12 government changes testifying to the failure of coalitions and power-sharing and resulting in stagnation for most key policy matters.
This context impacted the security environment which, despite a relative improvement in the country’s counterterrorism capabilities, remains fragile. In the immediate aftermath of the uprising, Tunisia became home to a growing Salafi jihadi movement supported by the Muslim Brotherhood Party (Ennahda) whose aim was to push towards a religionized political order. Successive Ennahda governments turned a blind eye to jihadi networks who targeted disillusioned young people. Between 2012 and 2014, Tunisians were among the largest numbers per capita of any country in the world to join jihadi groups to fight in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The fragile security situation was further threatened by the post-uprising dismantling of the security apparatus which further led to the erosion of the security environment and paved the way for appointments in the security establishment favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood Party leading to the inevitable collusion between politics and security. This ushered in a period of intense and deadly terrorist activities taking place on Tunisian soil, including assassinations of notorious political activists. Besides, regular jihadi attacks in Chaambi and Semmama mounts along the Algeria borders led to an exponential increase of smuggling and trafficking activities.
The impact of the political and socio-economic disarray caused the number of protest movements to soar reaching 871 in October 2020 alone according to the Tunisian Forum of Socio-economic Rights, and its impact was also discernible in the ever increasing number of undocumented migrants who, in 2020, made up the majority of boat-borne migrants to Italy reaching 12,490, four times more than in 2019 which strained relations between the two countries.
In the face of this multidimensional crisis, the successive post-2011 governments were exceptionally slow in responding to the exigencies of the time and have shown impotence in addressing the conjuncture which have brought into focus two bare realities: a highly polarized political system that threatens to go off track any time in a highly divided country along ideological, geographic and socio-economic lines, made worse by a constitutional logjam, and a culture of violence and impunity that is undermining the citizen’s faith in the democratic process as a whole.
The current political system favors the appearance of the divides that have prevailed since the adoption of the 2014 Constitution which put in place a hybrid system that allowed the emergence of a fractured political culture observed among parliamentary groups, within the executive branch between the president and the head of government (Caid Essebsi vs Habib Essid/ Caid Essebsi vs Youssef Chahed/ Kais Saied vs Hichem Mechichi) and between government branches (the legislature vs the executive/ the speaker vs the president). This power struggle was exacerbated by the election of president Kais Saied in 2019, who realized that his political fortunes are best served by confrontation rather than national unity and who is using this crisis to increase social and political cleavages setting the stage for regional factionalism. Making use of the slogan chanted by thousands during the uprising – “The people want!” – Saied embraces a populist agenda that aims at empowering regional clans and weakening national unity, and announces his hostility to political parties, a strong central government, and a national parliament.
The current political deadlock is manifesting itself in the preponderance of violence and impunity at all levels of government bringing all government activities (introducing structural economic reforms, combatting terrorism, fighting corruption, addressing regional disparities, etc.) to a standstill. The failure of the legislature to put in place the Constitutional Court tasked with checking the constitutionality of the bills to be passed by parliament and the absence of constitutional provisions that allow the president to break the deadlock and lead effectively in times of political, economic or security emergencies have seriously undermined governability and badly impaired democratic processes.
This situation is reverberated in the political debate across the country where three major trends have emerged. First, an unprecedented debate on the need to seek military intervention to put the country back on the right track is gaining ground not only among the rank-and-file Tunisians but also among the elite. This is clear in the steady drop in support for democracy among Tunisians from 70% in 2013 to 46% in 2018 and the increase of support for alternatives to democracy such as military rule which has reached 47%.
A second trend calls on President Saied to suspend the Constitution temporarily, dissolve parliament and schedule a referendum on proposals related to the electoral law and the political system before calling for early elections. This is, it is argued, the way forward to break the current impasse that is undermining governmental performance.
On the other end of the spectrum, a more moderate trend championed by the UGTT (The Tunisian Workers’ General Union, the country’s major trade union) calls for a national dialogue about how best to proceed to amend the electoral law and the Constitution toward a new more operational political system doing away with the neither-nor system (neither presidential nor parliamentary). This trend, while supported by civil society and a growing number of political parties, is met with hesitancy by President Saied. This initiative is anchored in the Tunisian consensual culture already put to the test successfully by the National Dialogue Quartet, who were awarded the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize for their role in avoiding the worst and stabilizing the country during the 2013-2014 period.
The current political debate aims at exploring ways to reverse the crisis which requires first the agreement among all political forces on a new social and political contract whose aim is to reduce political polarization and put aside ideological differences for the sake of unity and policy coherence. Second, it is vital that a clear statement of expectations and outcomes be spelled out to tackle Tunisia’s pressing socioeconomic and security needs. Third, political resolve is needed to revamp the state’s governing structures through bold constitutional and legislative reforms. The sooner Tunisians start working in this direction, the better, otherwise a constitutional logjam and resulting chaos may be unavoidable.
 Le Monde, 17 December, 2020 p. 4
 Emna Ben Mustapha Ben Arab,” Returning Foreigh Fighters: Understanding the New Threat Landscape in Tunisia,” Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, ed. Thomas Renard, Egmont Paper 107, 2019, p. 35
 Emna Ben Mustapha Ben Arab,” Returning Foreigh Fighters: Understanding the New Threat Landscape in Tunisia,” Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, ed. Thomas Renard, Egmont Paper 107, 2019, p. 42
 Chokri Belaiid in February 2013 and Mohamed Brahmi in July 2013
 Such provisions include dissolving parliament and calling for early elections or a national referendum in times of crisis.
Sarah Yerkes and Zeineb Ben Yahmed, “Tunisia’s Political System: From Stagnation to Competition.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 28, 2019.
 Issandr El Amrani, “Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet Set a Powerful Example,” International Crisis Group, October 10, 2015.