Jan 30, 2020

Tunisia’s Rocky Road to Stability

Security Sector Reform, (De-) Radicalization and Socio-Economic Development – Policy Briefs from the Region and Europe

Despite the progress Tunisia has made in the past years, the country continues to be plagued by the persistence of grave socio-economic disparities – a key driver of the popular upheavals in 2011. Among other factors, corruption and the high frequency of changes in government have significantly hampered the Tunisian government’s ability to address these issues and implement effective socio-economic and political reforms. As a result, dissatisfaction with the political process has been growing, particularly among youth. This has provided a fertile ground for radicalization.



Radical groups have been gaining a stronger foothold among politically and socio-economically marginalized groups in Tunisia. The assassination of political figures Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013, several deadly terrorist attacks, as well as the high number of Tunisian foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria, Libya, and Iraq, have shaken the country in its core.

To tackle the problem of radicalization and to regain public trust in the democratic process in Tunisia, a holistic approach is needed that includes the reform of the security sector, a stronger focus on preventive and deradicalization measures, improving employment opportunities for young Tunisians, and greater political participation. To ensure the stability of the country and the success of its democratic transition process, continued international support, especially from the EU and its member states, is crucial.

This edited volume brings together papers written by the participants in the workshop series “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Security Sector Reform and Socio-Economic Challenges in Tunisia”, held in Berlin in August and in Tunis in October 2017. The workshops were conducted as part of DGAP’s project on strengthening think tanks and similar institutions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and Europe. The authors analyze key issues impacting the political, social, and economic development of ­Tunisia, including the reform of administrative structures and the security sector, drivers of radicalization, and persisting socio-economic issues, especially in Tunisia’s historically marginalized regions. The volume offers recommendations for the ­Tunisian government as well as for the EU and its member states, who are key partners in supporting the country’s reform process.

Among the recommendations are the following: to safeguard the success of Tunisia’s decentralization process, which is fundamental for the sustainability of the country’s democratic transition, legislative reform must be driven by a coherent vision underpinning the restructuring of the state. In addition, the Tunisian government should implement participatory mechanisms to communicate the need for progressive decentralization.

In order to ensure that the Tunisian state can adequately respond to the security challenges it is facing, while also ensuring that old structures of the security apparatus do not operate counter to the country’s democratization efforts, Tunisia needs a transformation of its security culture. To this end, the Tunisian government should provide an institutional framework that facilitates the integration of security forces’ demands and a national security debate within a democratic setting. In the interest of ensuring the sustainability of the country’s security sector reform efforts, the EU should create a framework that can bring together all European security cooperation initiatives with Tunisia, thus avoiding issues caused by bilateral, non-aligned activities. Moreover, the Tunisian government should revise the legal and structural framework of its anti-cybercrime efforts to overcome the current problem of fragmentation. The development of alternative funding models could also help the government become more self-reliant and gradually decrease the share of funding by international donors. In addition to reforming its security sector, an adjustment of current deradicalization and prevention approaches is advocated for. This includes close cooperation with civil society organizations in the state’s effort to counter extremist narratives and the strengthening of the Alternative Narrative Platform (ANP) through the establishment of strategic units that would support the ANP’s ability to function as a self-sufficient unit. Moreover, more attention should be paid to the role social and family ties can play in preventing and countering extremism.

With regard to the country’s socio-economic challenges, which frequently also constitute a driver of radicalization, the authors focus on two key aspects: first, to improve the employability of young ­Tunisians, the Tunisian government should make sure that it adopts a student-centered approach that focuses on quality learning adapted to labor market needs when devising its reform plan for higher education. Second, as precarious socio-economic conditions have driven an increasing number of women to engage in informal cross-border trading, and in the absence of sustainable government solutions to their marginalization, Tunisian policymakers should devise strategies for alternative sources of income for these women, activate free trade zones, and place female traders at the heart of the government’s war against corruption.


Chapter I: Administrative Structures and Security Sector Reform

Tunisia’s Security Sector Since 2011 – Promoting International Cooperation”: Onur Kara assesses various factors that have impeded efforts by the Tunisian state to reform its security sector in the aftermath of the ousting of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and urges the Tunisian government to create an environment that allows for a national security debate within a democratic setting and gives members of the security services the opportunity to express their demands. In addition, the EU should ensure the sustainability of Tunisia’s reform program by streamlining European security cooperation efforts.

Cybercrime in Tunisia – Tackling Legal, Structural, and Financial Challenges”: Alexandra Laban argues that the current structure in place to tackle cyber insecurities in Tunisia impedes the government’s ability to adequately respond to the sharp increase of cybercrime in the country. Therefore, policymakers should revise the legal, structural, and financial parameters underpinning the Tunisian cyber-framework to improve cyber security.

Reconfiguring Territorial State Administration and Decentralization in Tunisia – The ‘Obvious’ Need for a Political Vision”: Meriem Guetat critically assesses Tunisia’s ongoing decentralization process. She underlines the need for a coherent vision, reflected in clear legislative provisions, and the use of participatory mechanisms that would allow the state to communicate the need for progressive decentralization.

Chapter II: (De-)Radicalization

Civil Society and Government Partnership in Preventing Violent Extremism in Tunisia”: Sadem ­Jebali analyses the Tunisian government’s strategy to counter the narratives of extremist groups by taking a close look at the government’s flagship initiative – the Alternative Narrative Platform (ANP). He advocates for an improved partnership framework between the government and civil society organizations and the establishment of strategic units that would improve the effectivity and self-sufficiency of the ANP.

Deradicalization and the Prevention of Radicalization of Tunisian Youth through Peer Pressure, Family, and Tribal Bonds”: Samah Krichah draws attention to the importance of social ties in preventing radicalization as well as in deradicalization and reintegration efforts. Arguing that current strategies by the ­Tunisian government do not sufficiently take the role of such ties into account, she advocates for a revision of current approaches and a greater involvement of family and peer networks in deradicalization and reintegration programs.

Ennahda and Hizb ut-Tahrir – Cooperative Rivals or Brothers-in-Arms?”: Inna Rudolf discusses the effect the positioning of the Ennahda party as “the champion of the post-revolutionary Islamist project” and “Muslim democrats” has had on the party and critically analyses its ambivalent relationship with the Tunisian branch of the international pan-Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir party.

Chapter III: Socio-Economic Challenges

Tunisian Female Cross-Border Traders in Algeria – On Gender Transgression and Socio-Economic Marginalization”: Houda Mzioudet draws attention to the growing feminization of informal trade between Tunisia and Algeria. In light of women’s precarious socio-economic situation and vulnerability to exploitation, she urges Tunisian policymakers to provide better support for female cross-border traders by drawing up strategies for alternative sources of income, activating free trade zones, and improving their safety and security at border crossings.


A Student-Centered Approach to Higher Education Reform in Tunisia”: Molka Abassi argues that the government’s recently approved reform plan for higher education focuses too much on governance, fiduciary, and administrative changes, instead of adapting a student-centered approach, which she deems necessary to improve graduate employability. She pre­sents a broad range of recommendations that would allow the government to achieve quick gains in the areas of research and development and innovation, curriculum and pedagogy, and campus life and student experience.

About the workshop

The following papers were written by participants of the workshop “Promotion of Think Tank Work on Security Sector Reform and Socio-Economic Challenges in Tunisia,” organized by the German Council on Foreign Relations’ Middle East and North Africa Program in the summer and fall of 2017 in cooperation with the Tunisian think tank Joussour and the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit in Tunis. The workshop is part of the program’s project on the promotion of think tank work in the Middle East and North Africa, which aims to strengthen the scientific and technical capacities of civil society actors in the region and the EU who are engaged in research and policy analysis and advice. It is realized with the support of the German Federal Foreign Office, the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (ifa e.V.) and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The content of the papers does not reflect the opinion of the DGAP. Responsibility for the information and views expressed herein lies entirely with the authors. The editorial closing date was September 17, 2017.


Molka Abassi, Meriem Guetat, Sadem Jebali, Onur Kara, Samah Krichah, Alexandra Laban, Houda ­Mzioudet, and Inna Rudolf

Edited by Dina Fakoussa and Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid

Bibliographic data

Fakoussa-Behrens, Dina, and Laura Lale Kabis-Kechrid. “Tunisia’s Rocky Road to Stability .” January 2020.

DGAP Report No. 1, January 2020 (first published in October 2017), pp. 44.