World in View: Tunisia in turmoil

May 19, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

by Eugene Walker

Ever since Tunisian President Kais Saied suspended parliament in July 2021 (“the July 26 coup”), followed this March by the complete dissolution of parliament, Tunisia has been in turmoil. The country, which led the Arab Spring uprisings with its 2011 Revolution, has had massive street demonstrations—some in opposition to Saied and others in support of his actions. The Street has become the location for debate and decision-making.

The economy has taken center stage—the lack of jobs and a shortage of basic food items, especially bread for lack of wheat, massive corruption with black markets—together with Saied’s single-handed decision-making. Bread, subsidized by the government, is central to the Tunisian diet. But bakeries have had to close for days at a time because of a shortage of wheat, which is imported from Russia and Ukraine and is in short supply with the ongoing war.

Tunisia’s difficulties, and with it the protests, have a far deeper origin—the failure to realize the hopes of the Arab Spring Revolutions from a decade ago in which Tunisia was the first. How can the promise of those revolutions begin to be realized? Can today’s Tunisian street lead the way once more?

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