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Early Warning Brief: Tunisia

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Date: 05/09/2023

Location: Tunisia

Parties involved:

Tunisian government and security forces, Muslim Brotherhood, European tourists.

What happened?

  • On 17/07/2023 the EU, under leadership of The Netherlands and Italy, signed a 100million euro deal with Tunisia to stop the flow of migrants to the EU. This deal attracted a lot of criticism from human rights groups saying that Tunisia is not known for abiding international laws and is known for its maltreatment of migrants.

  • On 01/09/2023 the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ordered the Tunisian government to “eliminate all barriers” and allow detained political prisoners access to their legal representatives and doctors.

  • On 03/09/2023, the Tunisian authorities arrested a senior opposition leader from the Ennahda Islamist Party. He headed the largest political party in Tunisia before the parliament was shut down by the ruling president Kais Saied in 2021. His arrest follows multiple targeting of opposition figures by the current authorities.

  • On 04/09/2023, the Central Bank of Tunisia extended Tunisia’s currency bills to pay for imports of rice. Tunisia’s economy is in crisis. While the economy did not substantially improve after the Arab Spring in 2011, the spike in food prices following Russia’s war in Ukraine has raised prices for everyday goods. With rising debt levels to pay for everyday imports, the country’s debt levels are high, with no deal reached between the IMF and the government to extend financial assistance to the country.

Analysis and implications:

  • The political situation in the country is not stable with President Saied taking a more authoritarian stance since he dissolved the Tunisian parliament in July 2021. One of the recent measures by the President was to crack down on a political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical religious and political organization. Human Rights Watch has called attention to the Tunisian government’s moves to systematically silence and dismantle the country’s largest opposition party. This may lead to unrest in the country as seen before during the Arab Spring in 2011 or even terrorist attacks from radicalized groups who feel silenced in parliament. Any unrest will also lead to a decline in tourists coming to Tunisia, which in turn will have a significant impact on the economy.

  • There is a large influx of refugees coming from East and Central Africa to Tunisia. This has led to tensions between the Tunisian people and the refugees, who are mostly black Africans. President Saied has drawn international criticism for blaming Sub-Saharan refugees for the rise of crime in the country, which resulted in a significant rise in racist attacks towards them. This has also led to refugees searching for alternative countries or forming groups to defend themselves. When leaving Tunisia, however, refugees face a similar fate in neighboring countries. Libya, Algeria and Morocco are also known to crack down on refugees coming into the country.

  • Tunisia is a popular tourist destination because of its beautiful beaches and low costs. Therefore, Tunisia is heavily reliant on the tourism industry. An uptick in violence towards foreigners has previously led to a crash in this industry, especially after a terrorist attack in the capital Tunis in 2015 and before that, the troubles coming from the Arab Spring in 2011.

  • A terrorist attack like the one on 09/05/2023 might encourage other lone wolves or more organized terrorist groups to engage in attacks. Given the ongoing political instability, it is not unlikely that European tourists may be targeted in these attacks, considering Tunisia is an attractive holiday destination.

  • Security in the country may decline due to unfavorable economic conditions. Negotiations between the IMF and the Tunisia government have stalled in recent months as President Saied rejected the terms of a $1.9 billion loan for extended financial assistance. He refused the terms of the IMF package to reduce subsidies for food prices and the sale of state-owned enterprises. Whatever the effectiveness of these policies, a deterioration in the quality of life of the Tunisian population may increase the likelihood of people joining criminal organizations or becoming radicalized.

  • The influx and subsequent poor treatment of black refugees can also lead to more unrest in the country as refugees may organize self-defence groups against racist attacks. This might also lead to more people daring to cross the Mediterranean to go to Europe and a decline in tourists going to Tunisia.

Concluding notes:

The situation in Tunisia is one of declining stability. With president Saied taking a tougher stance on the political groups aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Political tensions may turn into large protests or even terrorist attacks.

It is advisable to keep an eye on current events and be weary of the changing political landscape in the country. It is also encouraged to think of the security situation for tourists if there is a rise in terrorist attacks in places like Djerba, Tunis or other popular destinations in Tunisia.


20230509 Tunisia Update
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