"Tunisia faces significant challenges in its third year of political transition from authoritarian rule. Elections held in October 2011 brought to power a coalition led by an Islamist party, Al Nahda (also spelled Ennahda), in partnership with two secularist parties. International and domestic observers praised the vote, which provided temporary momentum to a transition process that has often appeared slow and unwieldy. In the intervening months, political consensus has remained elusive, economic grievances have continued to stir social unrest, and tensions between Islamists and secularists have escalated. The timeline for constitution drafting, initially expected to take a year, has been repeatedly extended. The assassination of a leftist politician in early 2013 sparked a political crisis and a government reshuffle, without altering the ruling coalition. Elections to put an end to the transitional period are currently slated for late 2013, but can take place only after a constitution is adopted. Key aspects of electoral administration also have yet to be determined. Security threats have heightened amid ongoing regional instability and signs of jihadist activity on Tunisian soil. The U.S. Embassy was attacked by a mob on September 14, 2012, three days after the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Tensions have escalated between the government and a Salafist group known as Ansar al Sharia, whose leader is wanted for arrest in connection with the U.S. Embassy attack. Ansar al Sharia recently threatened the government with violence, to which the government responded by declaring the organization illegal, an apparent turning point for Ansar al Sharia and for Al Nahda's approach to extremists. Tunisian military operations have meanwhile targeted alleged terrorist cells near the Algerian border and in the remote south, which reportedly serves as a regional transit point for weapons and fighters. Tunisian nationals are reported to have fought with terrorist or insurgent groups in Mali, Algeria, and Syria."
CRS Report for Congress, RS21666