Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Before and After Bin ͑Ali : Comparing Two Attempts at Political Liberalization in Tunisia

  • Sabina Henneberg (a1)

Abstract

This article examines changes in Tunisian political and societal life that allowed the country's second attempt at political opening (beginning in 2011) to introduce deeper, more long-lasting changes in its political system as compared to the first attempt (beginning in 1987).1 The article argues that three such changes in particular—the increased role of regime moderates; the development of a network of civil society groups and political activists; and the use of inclusion, negotiation, and consensus—allowed the second attempt to unfold differently. The article also briefly discusses developments in the international context between the two attempts. The article contributes to existing studies of regime change and political transition as well as to historical considerations of Tunisian political developments more broadly.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Before and After Bin ͑Ali : Comparing Two Attempts at Political Liberalization in Tunisia
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Before and After Bin ͑Ali : Comparing Two Attempts at Political Liberalization in Tunisia
      Available formats
      ×

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Before and After Bin ͑Ali : Comparing Two Attempts at Political Liberalization in Tunisia
      Available formats
      ×

Copyright

Footnotes

Hide All
1

This research was conducted with support from the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). The author would also like to thank Fabio Merone, William Zartman, Daniel Zisenwine, and a member of the RoMES editorial board for their comments on earlier drafts of the article.

Footnotes

References

Hide All

2 See Gasiorowski, Mark J., “The Failure of Reform in Tunisia,” Journal of Democracy 3.4 (1992): 8789.

3 E.g. Ware, Lewis B., “Ben Ali's Constitutional Coup in Tunisia,” Middle East Journal 42.4 (1988); Anderson, Lisa, “Political Pacts, Liberalism, and Democracy: The Tunisian National Pact of 1988,” Government and Opposition 26.2 (1991).

4 E.g. Vandewalle, Dirk, “Ben Ali's New Era: Pluralism and Economic Privatization in Tunisia,” in The Politics of Economic Reform in the Middle East, ed. Barkey, Henri (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992): 105–26; Gasiorowski, “The Failure of Reform in Tunisia;” Sadiki, Larbi, “Political Liberalization in Ben Ali's Tunisia: Façade Democracy,” Democratization 9.4 (2002): 122–41.

5 Again, this is in contrast to Egypt. However, the UGTT was neither fully opposed nor fully aligned with the regime during the decades after independence, and workers demanding better conditions did not always link their demands with the broader political demands of other organizations. See Beinin, Joel, “Le rôle des ouvriers dans les soulèvements populaires arabes de 2011,” Le mouvement sociale 246 (2014): 727; Dina Bishara, “Labor Movements in Tunisia and Egypt : Drivers vs. Objects of Change in Transition from Authoritarian Rule,” SWP Comment 1, Berlin: Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (2014).

6 O'Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe C., and Whitehead, Lawrence, eds. Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Prospects for Democracy (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press): 1986.

7 Tozy, Mohammed, “Political Changes in the Maghreb,” CODESRIA Bulletin 2.1 (2000), 47.

8 For more detail on the history of the MTI, see Shahin, Emad Eldin, Political Ascent: Contemporary Islamic Movements in North Africa (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997), 63111. For detail on the movement's emergence as a political party, and its relationship with the Tunisian regime immediately following Ben Ali's ascension to the presidency, see Zartman, I. William, ed., Political Economy of Reform in Tunisia (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1991), 193217.

9 See Perkins, Kenneth J., A History of Modern Tunisia (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004): 189.

10 Zartman, Political Economy of Reform, 26–27.

11 Sadiki, “Façade Democracy,” 130–32.

12 Bin ͑Ali also skillfully manipulated this fear in order to keep opposition parties divided. See Braun, Célina, “A Quoi servent les partis tunisiens? Sens et contre-sens d'une ‘liberalisation’ politique,” Revue des mondes muslumans et de la Méditerrannée 111 (2006): 1526; Haugbølle, Rikke Hostrup and Cavatorta, Francesco, “Will the Real Tunisian Opposition Please Stand Up?: Opposition Coordination Failures under Authoritarian Constraints,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 38.3 (2011): 323–41.

13 Zartman, Political Economy of Reform, 17.

14 Zartman, Political Economy of Reform, 17. Bin ͑Ali's efforts to renew the party were also meant to solidify his own position within it. See Murphy, Emma, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: From Bourguiba to Ben Ali (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999), 170–71.

15 Willis, Michael J., Power and Politics in the Maghreb: Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco from Independence to the Arab Spring (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 132.

16 Moore, Clement Henry, Tunisia Since Independence: The Dynamics of One-party Government (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1965); Camau, Michel and Geisser, Vincent, Le syndrome autoritaire: Politique en Tunisie de Bourguiba à Ben Ali (Paris: Presses de Sciences Po, 2003); Willis, Power and Politics in the Maghreb; Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia.

17 Such individuals are often called “soft-liners” in the literature.

18 Interviews with Tunisian academics conducted in fall/winter 2014–2015.

19 See Redissi, Hamadi, Nouira, Asma, and Zghal, Abdelkader, eds, La transition démocratique en Tunisie: Etat des Lieux, Volume 2: Les Thématiques (Tunis: Diwen Editions, 2012): 721 for a description. I credit an anonymous reviewer of a different article for this term.

20 See ibid, Volume 1: Les Acteurs: 189–218.

21 The commission's full name was the Haute Instance pour la Réalisation des Objectifs de la Révolution, les Réformes Politique, et la Transition Démocratique. It is also sometimes referred to as the Bin ʿAshur Commission for its president, ʿIaḍ bin ʿAshur.

22 Ghannushi and al-Mbzʿa also helped launch several other working commissions tasked with investigating and advising on various issues.

23 As part of Bin ʿAli's reforms, such individuals—highly competent and unlikely to challenge the president, as opposed to fierce hardliners—had been promoted through the ranks of government.

24 Ghannushi and the other RCD members in the first and second interim cabinets had already resigned from the party. When Ghannushi stepped down, he was joined by three other interim ministers.

25 Fuʾad al-Mbzʿa was possibly considered more acceptable to protestors than Ghannushi because he was not an appointee of Bin ʿAli and because he had served under Bourguiba (who had been widely viewed as a father figure for Tunisians, especially before 1975).

26 Such as forbidding interim ministers to run in the elections.

27 Boubekeur, Amel, “Islamists, Secularists and Old Regime Elites in Tunisia: Bargained Competition,” Mediterranean Politics 21.1 (2016): 107–27.

28 See Bellin, Eva, “Civil Society in Formation: Tunisia,” in Civil Society and the Middle East, ed. Norton, Augustus Richard (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995): 120–47; Chomiak, Laryssa and Parks, Robert P., “Tunisia,” in The Middle East: Fourteenth Edition, ed. Lust, Ellen (Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2017): 831–32.

29 Waltz, Susan, “The Politics of Human Rights in the Maghreb,” in Islam, Democracy and the State in North Africa, ed. P., John Entelis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997): 75–92; Waltz, Susan, “Tunisia's League and the Pursuit of Human Rights,” Maghreb Review 14.3 (1989): 214–25.

30 Another major strike, also harshly repressed, was staged in Gafsa in 1980.

31 Zemni, Sami, “From Socio-economic Protest to National Revolt: The Labor Origins of the Tunisian Revolution,” in The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects, ed. Gana, Nouri (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013): 130, 140.

32 Lutfi Hajji, “The 18 October Coalition for Rights and Freedoms in Tunisia,” Arab Reform Brief 13 (2006).

33 Ibid.; also see Haugbølle and Cavatorta, “Will the Real Tunisian Opposition Please Stand Up?”

34 For observers like Hèla Yousfi, the UGTT's ability to act as a mediator was critical in this phase. She sees the UGTT as a uniquely important vehicle because it continued to stand up for all Tunisians; Yousfi, Hèla, L'UGTT: Une Passion tunisienne. Enquête sur les syndicalistes en révolution (Tunis: Med Ali Edition, 2015).

35 Waltz, “Tunisia's League.”

36 As mentioned above, Tunisia's urban elites tend to identify as secular, while the lower classes from rural areas are more likely to support Islamist ideologies.

37 Vandewalle, “Ben Ali's New Era,” 111; Anderson, “Political Pacts”: 249–50; Zartman, Political Economy of Reform, 29–44.

38 Vandewalle, “Ben Ali's New Era,” 118–20.

39 Also see Tozy, “Political Changes in the Maghreb.”

40 Area Studies and Social Science: Strategies for Understanding Middle East Politics, eds. Mark Tessler, Jodi Nachtwey and Anna Banda (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999): 1–10. This statement was part of a larger reflection on her own 1991 analysis of the pact, which was relatively hopeful about the country's democratic prospects.

41 Theorists of democratic transition have cited “national unity” as an essential precondition for moving away from authoritarian rule, e.g. Rustow, Dankwart, “Transition to Democracy: Toward a Dynamic Model,” Comparative Politics 2.3 (1970).

42 E.g. Tozy, “Political Changes in the Maghreb.”

43 Murphy, Economic and Political Change in Tunisia, 173–76.

44 Interview with HIROR member (December 2014).

45 Interviews fall/winter 2014–15. This history is often mentioned as part of Tunisia's larger state-building experience: See for example Béji Qaïd Essebsi, “My Three Goals as Tunisia's President,” Washington Post, December 28, 2014.

46 Boubekeur, “Islamists, Secularists, and Old Regime Elites,” 110.

47 See Hajji, “The 18 October Coalition”; Haugbølle and Cavatorta, “Will the Real Tunisian Opposition Please Stand Up?”

48 Scholars such as Merone and Cavatorta have similarly pointed to the ways in which this bargaining and consensus marginalized certain social groups and postponed critical decisions. See Fabio Merone and Francesco Cavatorta, “Salafist Mouvance and Sheikh-ism in the Tunisian Democratic Transition,” Working Paper No. 7, Dublin City University Center for International Studies (2012).

49 The cabinet originally included a young representative from the Parti Pirate, blogger, and cyber-activist Slim Ammamou, but by June 2011 he had left.

50 Haugbølle and Cavatorta, “Will the Real Tunisian Opposition Please Stand Up?,” 334.

51 Pickard, Duncan, “Al-Nahda: Moderation and Compromise in Tunisia's Constitutional Bargain,” in Political and Constitutional Transitions in North Africa: Actors and Factors, Frosini, Justin and Biagi, Francesco, eds., (New York: Routledge, 2015): 6.

52 Amin Allal and Vincent Geisser suggest that the “imaginary” Islamist factor continued to plague secular elites following the revolution. See Allal, and Geisser, , “La Tunisie de l'après Ben Ali – Les Partis Politiques à la recherche du ‘peuple introuvable,’Cultures et Conflits 83 (2011) : 121.

53 Ties between Bin ͑Ali's family and Tunisian businesses which led to increasing levels of corruption became more evident beginning in the late 1990s. See Willis, Power and Politics in the Maghreb, 243.

54 This was evidenced in the reaction to the “Wikileaks” episode of late 2010, which revealed the extent to which the American government tolerated these anti-democratic practices. Interviewees also cited popular outrage to the execution of Saddam Hussein following the American invasion of Iraq at the occasion of the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice ( ͑aīd al-adha). This incident reinforced perceptions of a Western plan to dominate the Muslim world—Tunisians had also publicly demonstrated against American intervention following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991.

55 See for example Robbins, Michael, “Youth, Religion, and Democracy after the Arab Uprisings: Evidence from the Arab Barometer,” The Muslim World 107.1 (2017): 100–26.

56 Tribal-based violence does persist in a few remote areas of Tunisia, e.g. “Chronology: Tunisia,” Middle East Journal 65.3 (Autumn 2011): 663.

1 This research was conducted with support from the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA). The author would also like to thank Fabio Merone, William Zartman, Daniel Zisenwine, and a member of the RoMES editorial board for their comments on earlier drafts of the article.

Keywords

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Before and After Bin ͑Ali : Comparing Two Attempts at Political Liberalization in Tunisia

  • Sabina Henneberg (a1)

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.