Tunisia in isolation spells trouble for rising North African pressures, commentary

Tunisia’s long road toward democracy has seen many protest marches. 

By Rachel Brooks

News analysis and commentary 

June 26, 2021 

This is a commentary analysis. Opinions are attributed to the author and do not reflect an official editorial policy of Republic Underground. 

Tunisia’s president appears unwilling to see his country dragged into war games between distant foreign actors, such as the United States and Russia, on African soil. In an adamant speech, delivered on the 65th anniversary of founding the Tunisian National Armed Forces, the president emphatically denied the foreign bases access in his county. 

This, The Middle East Monitor notes, is in agreement with the continued stance of the Tunisian Defense Minister Imed Hazgui refused to use Tunisian territory to conduct military operations or establish foreign bases. 

Africa’s inflection point continues to stress the western world. The North Africa Post reported that the AFRICOM U.S. Army Commander Stephen Town has at times suggested that the U.S. was considering establishing a training base in Tunisia, in response to the pressure of a Russian advanced presence in nearby Libya. Yet, the Tunisian President Kais Saied appears at the present none too keen on allowing this. He stated that Tunisia would not harbor any foreign military bases reiterating earlier Tunisian policies. 

Tunisia’s Prolonged Revolution

North Africa has moved into a self-identification summer following the uprisings of the Arab Spring. This struggle for identity has been marked with great unrest, electrification that the entire Continent feels in growing anxiousness. 

For Tunisia, as ground zero of the protest that kicked off the Islamic uprisings, social suffering has been traumatic and has led to ongoing battles for democracy and stability following the 2011 events. These battles are within the heart of the Tunisian parliament where current support of the previous regime has played a tug of war between political figures.

Abir Moussi and the current opposition

At the head and heart of all the oppositional controversy in Tunisia is Abir Moussi, a woman who ran for presidency but received a seat in Parliament. She is the head of the Free Destourian Party. 

The Middle East Monitor reports that Moussi has recently been sued by the Tunisian government, for forcing members of Parliament to leave the building. They chanted the slogan “Degage!” meaning “Leave!” 

A statement was released by the Presidency of the Government. The statement was quoted in English by The Middle East Monitor as follows: 

“Following the acts of deputy Abir Moussi, head of the Free Destourian Party, that took place during the plenary session of Monday, 14 June 2021, including the attacks and threats targeting Mrs. Olfa Ben Auda, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Mr. Mohamed Trabelsi, Minister Social Affairs, while they were attempting to answer a number of questions at the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, the Presidency of the Government affirms its rejection of these practices that violate the democratic system, affect the state and the work mechanisms of its institutions, and disrupt the normal functioning of public facilities.”

From this news, we see Tunisia appearing on the world political theater as a house divided. This division draws in the controversy of the Muslim world. Moussi has built her opposition around attempts to force out “sponsors of terrorism” in the Ennahda Party. She is accused by her counterparts in Parliament of being “propped up” by the United Arab Emirates, as was reported in a broadcast by TRT News a public broadcast service in Turkey. 

Abir Moussi has called for the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Her stance sends shockwaves through the Muslim world which adds a sense of tension to international responsiveness toward Tunisian politics. The pressure is high, and domestically Tunisia must take measures, for false steps have massive consequences. 

Tunisia’s slow-burn reformation

The politics within Tunisia are the result of “startup democracy” as Harvard University referred to it in 2015. Tunisia is a nation that desires reform, yet, under the extreme complications of economic hardship, it is failing to achieve the goals it seeks. Tunisians once more take to the streets in massive protests, demanding government reform and policies that will relieve the economic suffering. 

As the frustration within the nation grows, leaders continue to shuffle budgets and attempt forward-movement on public projects. This is a stop-starting process. On June 25, Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi publicly stated that Tunisia would halt public projects valued at the equivalent of $6billion. 

Tunisian citizens protest police brutality stating that, if they protest, they will die for it. This is in contrast to statements made by the government, who have insisted previously that because Tunisia is a democracy anyone can protest. 

In response to the extreme regime-toppling circumstances, Tunisia formed an Islamic constitution in 2014 and has joined its political counterparts in Egypt and Yemen in self-declaring a civil state. 

Tunisia reflects the struggle within Islam majority societies to define the separation of tradition from politics. For Tunisia, a compromise was reached between the Muslim and non-Muslim counterparts, between the religious and the modern, over what parts may govern civics and what parts are socially separated from politics. 

“Extraordinary Tunisian” politics pose to isolate the nation 

Tunisia’s apparent self-preservation may stem in, in part, from the era of “extraordinary politics” described in Dr. Samir Zemni’s research on the Tunisian Constitution drafting process in 2014. This era of stalemate and calculated political procedure followed the extreme circumstances leading up to former President Ben-Ali fleeing the country. It would appear that the nation is in a constant state of reactionary crisis, perceived governmental incompetence, and then a dramatic national event that further influences motions toward change. 

The dramatic arc of Tunisia’s modern politics puts it on the path of isolation as a state. The signs come in the form of the reluctance toward foreign cooperation in terms of defense. The nation has denied any adaption of foreign bases in recent news, but not for the first time. Anadolu Agency commented on the Tunisian Defense Ministries stance in 2020 regarding foreign bases. In 2020, Tunisia had denied any cooperation with foreign forces to intervene in Libya, and reiterated that it would support a political solution.

A Tunisia at an inflection point may not have any meaningful input on a political solution for Libya. Yet, as it retains its protectionism, and maintains its ground control over the territory, Tunisia is not swift to pass the responsibility off to others. 

If Tunisia’s internal crisis results in isolation, then this could be the regional result…

If Tunisia should be plunged into severely isolationist politics due to its complex political upheaval, then, its efficacy in the immediate regional political process may diminish. There is then the issue of increased vulnerability at Libya’s border. The result could be the forced exaggerated reach-arounds of a defensive presence in the region. This either runs the risk of agitating Tunisia’s crisis or adds layers of security inconvenience that increase the pressures of a foreign crisis intervention agenda.

The Libya crisis thus sees an increased sociopolitical pressure in terms of foreign interventionism. It is, effectually, the pressurization of a social fuselage analogy. An upset in the current political trajectory can shift that pressure to critical mass, and the result is a regional implosion. 

Testing our theory

Do you agree with our analysis? If not, then what variables did we fail to address?

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