For more than a decade, Tunisia was seen as the poster child for democratic transition after the Arab uprisings of 2011. By 2014 the country had held two free and fair elections and ratified a new constitution. But the consensus-building that went into drafting that new constitution soon dissolved, leaving behind partisan bickering and political deadlock.
Successive governments and parliaments failed to deliver on the socioeconomic demands that had driven the revolution: jobs were still scarce, prices were rising, and the basic services you expect from your government — everything from rubbish collection to transportation — were not working. The economy tanked and inflation rose. Tens of thousands of young Tunisians hopped onto rickety boats, trying to reach Italy. People’s dissatisfaction with their government grew. Protests raged on the streets in the winter of 2020 and spring of 2021. They wanted change.
Then, in July last year, President Kais Saied fired the government, shuttered parliament and essentially took full control of the country, saying it was the only way to resolve the political deadlock. Now he is asking Tunisians to vote in a referendum to ratify a new constitution — one it appears he has written almost entirely himself.
This week on Beyond the Headlines, Erin Clare Brown investigates Tunisia’s constitutional referendum — and explains what it means not only for the country but also the wider region.