Tunisia Domestic Politics

The Tunisian independence movement

Rulers and power groups


The pillars of Tunisian politics during the reign of Zine El Abidine Ben Alis were the ruling party Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique (RCD, the former Neo-Destour, which was renamed several times), as well as the all-controlling police apparatus and secret service. At the time of its dissolution in late January 2011, the RCD, which was a member of the Socialist International until January 17, 2011, had more than two million members, which made up around 20% of the population. It can be assumed that many Tunisians did not join it out of conviction, but rather to avoid reprisals at work, for example.

There were already opposition parties under the Ben Ali government, with the majority regularly calling for Ben Ali to be elected. The three real opposition parties PDP, Ettajdid and FDTL / Ettakatol, initially played a role after January 14th, whereby Ettajdid joined forces with several other left-wing parties to form the El Massar formation and the PDP and other forces merged to form the center party Al Joumhouri. However, all three parties suffered major setbacks in the 2014 elections. You hardly play a series these days. The legal opposition from the time of the dictatorship was replaced by new forces.

The Ennahdha party, legal since 2011, led by Rached Ghannouchi, who returned to Tunisia after Ben Ali’s flight after more than 20 years in British exile, won the most votes in the 2011 constitutional assembly elections and, with 89 of 217 seats, had around 40% of the seats in the Constituent Assembly. This moderate Islamist party divides the Tunisian population and the political scene. Critics accuse Ennahdha of not having distanced itself significantly from the violent attacks in the 1980’s. In the 2014 elections, Ennahdha had to pay the price for her participation in government, but with around 900,000 votes, she still has a solid base in the country. At her party congress in May 2016 she decided to focus only on the concentrate on political work and no longer pursue religious activities.

In Tunisia, the term troika refers to the first government coalition made up of Ennahdha, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol, which was in office after the 2011 elections until the beginning of 2014. After their resignation, a so-called independent expert government led to the formation of a new government after the 2014 elections.

According to dentistrymyth, the strongest force emerged from the 2014 elections, Nidaa Tounes, an association of Bourguibists led by Beji Caid Sebsi, former prime minister of the transitional government after the revolution, founded in February 2012. After internal disputes, the party had to leave a number of 2015/2016 accept and lost its majority in parliament. Just like Ennahdha, Nidaa Tounes belongs to the conservative party spectrum, but advocates a secular system. However, the clashes within the party between supporters of the former RCD and those who are pushing for a clear break with the past are intensifying. A founding party congress, at which the party authorities are elected, has been postponed several times and is now set to take place in 2019.

On the other hand, there is the new Front Populaire, an amalgamation of 13 communist and Arab-nationalist parties, led by Hamma Hammami, who achieved a respectable success in the 2014 elections and became the fourth strongest force. The economically liberal party Afek Tounes and the UPL, a populist party led by Slim Riahi, a multi-million dollar businessman and president of one of Tunisia’s largest football clubs, also won votes.

In addition to political parties, other factors play an important role in Tunisia, which shape the power structure. Many politicians come either from the aristocratic upper class of Tunis or from the Sahel, the coastal region around Sousse. Historical acquaintances also play a major role. Many politicians who are now active in very different parties used to fight together against the dictatorship, held hunger strikes together or even sat in prison together. Even today, this leads to solidarity across party lines. After all, many business people are active at Nidaa Tounes and Afek Tounes in particular.

Many political decisions are de facto negotiated in the presidential palace of Carthage. The guidelines for government work were laid down in the summer of 2016 with the so-called Carthage Document, a political agreement between parties, employers and employees. Critics accuse the palace of interfering too much in government work and breaking the constitution. Despite the agreement, the aggravated political crisis in Tunisia rapidly. Former party lines are noticeably softening and many MPs change parties and / or factions several times during the current legislative period.

Trade unions and employers’ associations

There are four trade union federations in Tunisia

  • UGTT (Union générale tunisienne du travail)
  • UTT (Union des travailleurs tunisiens)
  • CGTT (Confédération générale tunisienne du travail)
  • OTT (organization tunisienne de travail)

The UGTT, the largest Tunisian trade union federation and a unified union until 2011, plays an important role in Tunisia that the government cannot ignore. The regional associations in particular had supported the revolt from the start, even if the national leadership of the Ben Ali government was rather sympathetic. After the upheaval in 2011, there were also personnel changes within the UGTT.

After the upheaval, several wings split from the UGTT and formed independent unions. While the UTT and the CGTT can be assigned to the formerly loyal wing of the UGTT, the OTT is more closely related to Islamist-conservative circles.

The largest employers’ association in Tunisia is UTICA (L’Union tunisienne de l’industrie, du commerce et de l’artisanat), which represents around 150,000 companies. The businesswoman Wided Bouchamaoui has been the president of the association since 2011.

During the political crisis in 2013, the UGTT and the business association UTICA conducted negotiations between the political groups. In autumn 2015, the so-called quartet from UGTT, UTICA, the Human Rights League and the Bar Association was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its mediation work.

The Tunisian independence movement