What is happening in Tunisia?

What is happening in Tunisia?
Kieran Baker

This last week two prominent lawyers and two journalists were arrested. Tunisian police stormed the bar association's headquarters on Monday for the second time in two days and arrested Mahdi Zagrouba after detaining Sonia Dahmani, another lawyer critical of the president, over the weekend. 

Some opposition parties and national organizations described the weekend raid as "a shock and major escalation," and the bar association declared a nationwide strike. That day, two IFM radio journalists, Mourad Zghidi and Borhen Bsaiss, were also arrested following their comments on radio and social media, their lawyers said.

There recent events prompted the European Union to voice its concern about the wave of arrests of many civil society figures, journalists and political activists, and demanded clarifications from Tunisia as the North African country faces a growing political crisis.

All roads unfortunately lead to President Saied and his decision in 2021 to invoke a contested interpretation of Article 80 of the Tunisian Constitution to claim emergency powers. Back then the President dismissed the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze activity of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP), Tunisia’s national legislative body. In the following months, Saied declared that he would govern by presidential decree and announced his “political roadmap,” including a constitutional referendum in July 2022.

By March 2022, the president had dissolved both Tunisia’s parliament and its Supreme Judicial Council, which he replaced with a new “interim council” of members handpicked by him. This move effectively ended judicial independence in Tunisia. Since Saied’s power grab in July 2021, opposition politicians and activists have faced online smear campaigns, defamation, and accusations of treason and espionage. Now they’re being arrested – and it’s all part of the ongoing emergency powers act that was once again extended at the beginning of this year. 

Tunisia is fast sinking back into autocracy. In a report by Amnesty International Heba Morayef, Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, described the situation like this: “Decree by decree, blow by blow, President Saied and his government have dramatically undermined respect for human rights in Tunisia since his power grab in July 2021. In doing so, he has stripped away basic freedoms that Tunisians fought hard to earn and fostered a climate of repression and impunity. The Tunisian authorities must immediately reverse this treacherous trajectory and uphold their international human rights obligations.”

Can anything be done? Earlier this year the European Union disbursed 150 million euros to Tunisia as budget support for financial stability and economic reforms, as the North Africa country faces financial crisis. Perhaps the time has come to voice more than concern and start withholding any future funds. 


Kieran Baker is an Emmy award winning journalist who has started up various networks including Al Jazeera English, Bloomberg TV Africa and TRT World. 

Great! You’ve successfully signed up.

Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.

You've successfully subscribed to MAGHREB INSIDER.

Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.

Success! Your billing info has been updated.

Your billing was not updated.