Transitions in Focus: Tunisia

As it enters its sixth year, the crisis in Libya shows no signs of abating. The UN-backed unity government seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse, and clashes threaten to escalate between eastern and western forces. Withdrawal from Libya could have negative consequences for western interests, and the United States—under the Trump administration—could take the lead in engaging with Libya to achieve stability. This engagement is key, not only for Libya’s stability, but for the stability of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia as well as US and European interests in the region.
On December 10, following weeks of negotiations, Tunisia’s parliament approved a $14 billion budget for 2017. The budget includes a number of provisions aimed at cutting the country’s deficit in line with the economic reform plan of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who was appointed in August of this year. However, the controversy surrounding the budget and rejection of certain measures raise questions regarding Chahed’s ability to push through difficult but needed reforms. While the 2017 budget was presented by Chahed as one of consensus, it is clear that the country remains divided over reforms aimed at reviving the economy.  
Youssef Chahed, the Arab world's youngest head of government and a 41-year-old PhD holder in agricultural economics, led the decentralisation program as Tunisia’s Minister of Local Affairs under the government of his predecessor, Habib Essid. This experience arms him in his new role as prime minister with an understanding of Tunisia's deep bureaucracy and uneven resource distribution among the country's regions. This is one of the areas where his newly formed government has to make major reforms to respond to increasingly urgent local demands.
Much has been made of the recent resignation by Tunisia’s former prime minister Habib Essid and the appointment and parliamentary approval of his replacement Youssef Chahed as damaging to Tunisia’s political stability. In the aftermath of these changes, one former member of Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly wrote, “Within the last 18 months, the parliament has been asked to vote on their confidence in the government four times, which does not bode well for the necessity of stable governance in Tunisia.” And Chahed himself exclaimed after taking office that Tunisia "can no longer afford a rapid succession of governments; the worst thing for this country is to see a change of government every year or year and a half.” However, Essid’s resignation and Chahed’s appointment, as well as all of the other changes in government that have happened in Tunisia since 2011, do not necessarily reflect any sort of political instability. Rather, they could be viewed as proof of the robust nature of Tunisia’s nascent political democracy.
On August 20, Tunisia’s new Prime Minister-designate Youssef Chahed announced his new cabinet. Almost three weeks earlier, Prime Minister Habib Essid had been ousted in a vote of no-confidence. President Beji Caid Essebsi and his supporters, displeased with Essid’s performance and worried by the country’s economic downturn and political tensions, decided to change course and push for a new “unity government.”
Tunisia is often described as the single success story of the 2011 Arab uprisings, a fledgling democracy in a region marred by chaos and turmoil. In the first week of August, the world witnessed the democratic process in action in Tunisia when Prime Minister Habib Essid, following a no-confidence vote in parliament, stepped down and President Beji Caid Essebsi appointed Minister of Local Affairs Youssef Chahed as the new prime minister.


    

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