Tunisia History 2

streetscape in Tunisia

The reign of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011)

At the start of his tenure, the new president abolished the presidency for life and limited it to three terms (a decision he had reversed in 2002). He also admitted several opposition parties and the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH). In the presidential and parliamentary elections in 1989, Ben Ali was elected as the only presidential candidate with 99.27% of the vote. The Islamists, whose party remains banned and who therefore ran on independent lists, achieved around 14% in the parliamentary elections. Two years later, the government announced a planned coup of the Islamists and is starting to crack down on them. Thousands of members of the Ennahdha movement are arrested, and many will not be released until January 14, 2011. In the following elections, Ben Ali regularly achieved results above 90%. International organizations accuse Ben Ali of electoral fraud.

Economically, Tunisia flourished under Ben Ali’s term of office. According to commit4fitness, tourism in particular is boosted (but suffers with the attack on the synagogue from La Ghriba, Djerba 2002 a major setback), and many French service companies are settling in Tunisia (especially call centers). In the 2000’s, the influence of the Ben Ali – Trabelsi family (his second wife Leila Trabelsi) on the economy increased, and the clan soon controlled the country’s most important economic sectors. A study by the World Bank shows how the family cleverly exploited existing regulations and created new laws to enrich themselves under the guise of legality.

The high level of unemployment, especially among young academics, is causing massive tension. Officially, it is 14% in 2010, but independent studies come to up to 60% in some regions. According to data from the Tunisian Ministry of Social Affairs from spring 2011, 24% of the population live below the poverty line.

The suppression of the opposition and civil society organizations, the massive restrictions on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, increasing internet censorship, also with the help of German technology, and the cult around the person Ben Ali and the number 7, the symbol of the takeover of power on November 7, 1987 provide additional tension. On October 18, 2005, representatives of the opposition went on hunger strike – it was the first time that left-wing and Islamist politicians and activists were protesting against the regime together. Since 2008 there have been repeated protests and bloody uprisings in the mining region around Gafsa which are held and suppressed locally by the government and police, however. The population is angry with Ben Ali, who is called “Bac moins 3” (Ben Ali left school three years before graduating from high school) or “Zinochet” behind closed doors.

The January 14, 2011 coup

In the winter of 2010/2011 there were massive protests against the government in Tunisia, which within just one month, accelerated by a wave of protests in social networks, led to the flight of President Ben Ali. The Tunisian revolution heralds the so-called Arab Spring. The scale and rapid spread of the protests came as a surprise to both the rulers and most of the citizens. The uprising was triggered by self-immolation of the young greengrocer Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010 in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, who was allegedly humiliated by a policewoman when she tried to take the goods from him because he did not have a license. As a result, there was a series of demonstrations that spread from Sidi Bouzid first to other cities in the region such as Kasserine and Regueb and then reached the larger cities such as Sfax, Sousse and Tunis. In Kasserine and Sidi Bouzid in particular, the police used massive violence against demonstrators. On January 14, tens of thousands demonstrated in front of the Interior Ministry on Avenue Bourguiba, the main street of Tunis. In the evening, Ben Ali left the country with his family and fled to Saudi Arabia. About the exact circumstances of his escape reigns confusion, but it seems reasonable to suspect that his security chief Ali Seriati was planning a coup which was prevented by the military and / or the Tunisian anti-terrorist brigade. On the evening of January 14, a transitional government took over the leadership of the country, which was reformed several times after massive protests.

Ben Ali is in exile in Saudi Arabia. Despite an international arrest warrant, none of the succeeding Tunisian governments made efforts to press ahead with the extradition of the former president.

The protests against Ben Ali were launched early on by the unity union UGTT, which was in parts more closely related to the government supported. The military remained neutral and refused to use force against the demonstrators. Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which were at least partially accessible despite massive censorship, were used to disseminate information, which is why there is sometimes talk of a Facebook or Internet revolution.

The reasons for the revolution were varied: in addition to the high unemployment, especially among university graduates, the anger of the population was directed against the massive oppression of civil society and the autocratic leadership style of Ben Ali and the Trabelsi family, who downright exploited the country and usurped the most important economic sectors.

The development after the political upheaval in 2011

Since January 14, 2011, Tunisia has been trying to take a democratic path. While some important stages were taken, such as free elections and the adoption of a new constitution, there were also serious setbacks such as political assassinations and terrorist attacks. The economic situation has not stabilized since 2011 either.

streetscape in Tunisia