Political Transition in Tunisia [January 29, 2014]   [open pdf - 439KB]

"Tunisia is entering its fourth year of transition after the 2011 'Jasmine Revolution.' On January 26, 2014, Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to adopt a new constitution. This is widely viewed as a landmark accomplishment, given the difficulty of achieving political consensus, tensions between Islamists and secularists, and ongoing social and economic unrest. The new constitution asserts Tunisia's Muslim identity, but its framing creating a civil state and provisions on civil liberties are seen as a victory for secularists. The vote followed a political agreement under which Tunisia's main Islamist party, Al Nahda, agreed to give up its leadership of the government in favor of a technocratic prime minister. This agreement ended a months-long political crisis after the assassinations of two secularist politicians in 2013. Tunisia has a small territory, a relatively well-educated and homogenous population, and a history of encouraging women's freedoms. Still, Tunisians face significant challenges in reforming state institutions, addressing economic woes, and responding to security concerns. Islamist extremist violence has increased within Tunisia amid ongoing regional instability. The military has targeted 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 have also been implicated in violent extremism in Mali, Algeria, and Syria. In early 2014, the United States designated a Tunisian group known as Ansar al Sharia as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The group was reportedly involved in an attack on the U.S. Embassy and American school in Tunis on September 14, 2012, three days after the attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Tunisian authorities have declared Ansar al Sharia illegal and a terrorist organization. However, the state's response to extremists has been criticized both as overly timid (by secularists) and overly harsh (by members of Tunisia's Islamist community), underscoring the challenge, for Tunisian leaders, of countering terrorism while not appearing to resort to authoritarian tactics associated with the Ben Ali regime."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RS21666
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