Tunisia's Internal Conflict Resolution Situation


 Yasser Harrak

            The Tunisian Jasmine Revolution started in December 2010 after a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire to protest harassment by local officials. Protests led president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country and sparked what is known today as the Arab spring reflected by chaos, civil wars and social unrest in many Arab countries.  It is fair to say that the conflict resolution situation is Tunisia is exceptional compared to cases such as Syria, Libya and Yemen.  The parties involved in the conflict are mainly people vs different governments that included  pro-democracy protesters beginning with the ousted regime that led to some casualties up until recently (The Carter Center, N.D). Protests included regular citizens as well as different professional associations such as lawyers that demanded an end to beatings by police, following what they say is police brutality against protesters  (Aljazeera, 2011). Islamist radicalism embodied in ISIL insurgency is another party in the conflict that remained marginal so far for reasons this post will try to explain. Other than the June 2015   Islamist mass shooting that  killed 30 foreigners (El-Ghobashy, 2015), most of the few attacks that followed were robbery-related hostage taking and  attacks that mostly caused no loss of life.  

There are several reasons why the Tunisian internal conflict was pacified. The most important one is the impact that Bourguibism has in Tunisia.  The secular perception that Tunisians have about their nation that was rooted in the late 70s and 80s ‘ secularism, some scholars describe as strict, imposed by president Habib Bourguiba (Hudson, 1977, p. 380) was crucial. The clear separation between religion and state played a critical role in marginalizing the Islamist project in Tunisia that lacked popular support and funding to the point where it resorted to bank robbery  (Agenzia Nova, 2018).  The impact of Bourguibism could not succeed alone without mediation and international support factors.  Bourguibism  facilitated important concepts such as preparedness, consent, impartiality and inclusiveness which are considered key for international mediation to success (United Nations, 2012). In 2011, the Carter Center was invited to observe the election of the Constituent Assembly responsible for drafting the country's new constitution; and until today, the organization continues to maintain an office in Tunis, partnering with local civil society organizations on several democracy-strengthening projects (The Carter Center, N.D). Throughout this period, the country demonstrated its readiness for inclusiveness which was marked by including the Ennahda movement in Tunisian politics.

In this section, this post will focus on one specific instance among many showing mediation success in Tunisia. Bourguibism has equipped Tunisia with a moderate and modern spirit in which mediation finds a fertile ground to flourish.  In the case of the constitutional crisis of 2013-2014, a draft constitution proposed by Ennahda enshrined Islam as the official religion of the state (making Islam the moral and cultural basis of the state). Secularists and the opposition feared Islamization of the state. Demands had risen to remove the tripartite coalition and the establishment of a caretaker government. Polarization of the political scene hindered dialogue between parties, and after the assassination of the socialist leader Brahmi, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Union for industry, commerce and artisanship, the Tunisian Human Rights League and the National Order of Lawyers  formed a quartet representing the Tunisian society (Walsh & Hassine, 2021).  As an outcome, the Quartet supported dialogue between political parties, which led to an agreement over a constitution (with most of the Islamist elements withdrawn), and election dates were agreed (Ibid).  Success factors in the mediation included the breadth of the Quartet’s sectoral support, its public backing, and the negotiation experience of its foremost members and their existing relationships  (Ibid). Although this report does not credit the Carter organization or the Bourguibist spirit of Tunisia, the fact that many organizations failed in places like Yemen where traditionalism is predominant means that secularism and international presence are important factors.   

In sum, the Tunisian internal conflict illustrates how sustained international presence, adherence to the mediation principles and popular secularism are key in the process of mediation and peace building.




Agenzia Nova. (2018). Tunisia: rapina in banca a Kasserine, sospetti su militanti dello Stato islamico. Retrieved from agenzianova.com: https://www.agenzianova.com/a/0/2020822/2018-08-02/tunisia-rapina-in-banca-a-kasserine-sospetti-su-militanti-dello-stato-islamico

Aljazeera. (2011). Thousands of Tunisia lawyers strike. Retrieved from Aljazeera.com: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2011/1/6/thousands-of-tunisia-lawyers-strike

El-Ghobashy, T. (2015, Nov 25). Islamic State Claims Responsibility for Deadly Bus Attack in Tunis . Retrieved from The Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-for-deadly-bus-attack-in-tunis-1448468001

Hudson, M. C. (1977). Arab Politics: The Search for Legitimacy. Yale University Press.

The Carter Center. (N.D). Tunisia: Waging Peace. Retrieved from https://www.cartercenter.org/countries/tunisia.html

United Nations. (2012). Guidance for Effective Mediation. Retrieved from United Nations Mediation Guidance : http://repository.un.org/bitstream/handle/11176/400960/8%20November%202019%20%28Mediation%20and%20Negotiation%29%20GuidanceEffectiveMediation_UNDPA2012%28english%29.pdf?sequence=47

Walsh, A., & Hassine, H. B. (2021). Mediation and peacebuilding in Tunisia: actors and practice. Help Desk Report. Retrieved from https://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/20.500.12413/16566/960_Mediation_and_peacebuilding_in_Tunisia_actors_and_practice.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y


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