After the so-called Arab spring (which Tunisians often call “the revolution of dignity”), Tunisia embarked on a journey marked by both hope and challenges. The post-revolutionary era witnessed a paradoxical scenario: a fervent democratic transition juxtaposed with an environment conducive to radicalization. While the departure of a long-time dictator in 2011 garnered global attention, Tunisia soon faded from the headlines, resurfacing sporadically during incidents such as armed militant attacks on tourist sites. The subsequent awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Tunisian Quartet highlighted efforts to consolidate democratic gains amid political crises triggered by political assassinations. The Ennahda party, an Islamist group that assumed power in 2011, defines itself today as an Islamic democrat party. Having faced persecution prior to the revolution, the party secured the most votes in the first democratic elections, before subsequently surrendering power in 2013 in the face of accusations of fostering political violence
However, in the current political landscape marked by a return to authoritarian rule, Ennahda faces renewed persecution, with some leaders imprisoned. The presentation aimed to explore the societal schism in Tunisia between conservative (Muslim) and liberal factions. While security has improved, a constitutional coup in 2021 concentrated substantial power in the hands of the president and led to a wave of political arrests, prompting questions about the nation's trajectory. Tunisia, ostensibly more secure, grapples with authoritarian regression, a deepening economic crisis and a broader erosion of human rights. An examination of the nuanced interplay between security, freedom of expression, and human rights erosion revealed how the specter of the terrorist threat is leveraged to justify violations, including the imprisonment of political opponents, lawyers, and journalists.
Dalia Mikulska is a journalist and humanitarian aid worker, interested in human rights and migration issues specific to the Middle Eastern and North African region. She is currently working on a book about Tunisia’s complex relationship with religion and extremism. She holds a MA in Law and a Postgraduate Diploma in Humanitarian Aid. Currently she is pursuing a second MA in Human Rights and Democratization in the Arab World.
Ayşe Çağlar, IWM Permanent Fellow, moderated this Fellows' Colloquium.