The only Arab Spring success story on the brink

The only Arab Spring success story on the brink

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?


Tunisians are fed up. Over the past year, Tunisians have repeatedly taken to the streets in the largest numbers in a decade to decry the stagnant economy, rising inequality, inadequate public services, and dwindling job opportunities for young people (even before the pandemic, youth unemployment was already at 36 percent, the highest rate in North Africa.) Young Tunisians led the protests, often battling trigger-happy police.

COVID, of course, made everything worse. It crushed Tunisia's labor-intensive tourism industry, and forced thousands of Tunisian migrants to hop on boats across the Mediterranean headed for Europe via Italy, which saw a five-fold increase in arrivals in 2020. Right now, COVID infections rates are soaring while barely 7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

More broadly, the people feel politicians remain as corrupt as they were under Ben Ali, and have failed to deliver on the promise of democracy to provide a better life for ordinary Tunisians. Trust in the system has plunged after highly fragmented parliaments have created a series of fragile coalition governments that slow-walk meaningful reforms, leaving the country in economic stagnation and a permanent political stalemate.

Constitutional crisis. Saied's sudden move has created a constitutional crisis because it's unclear he had the authority to dissolve the government on his own.

A former constitutional law professor who was elected as an independent in late 2019 to root out endemic corruption, the president says he's within his constitutional powers to govern by decree until he appoints a new PM. It's an unusually out-of-character performance by Saied, who styles himself as a moderate statesman and whom many Tunisians jokingly refer to as "Robocop" for putting audiences to sleep with his monotone delivery during speeches.

However, the moderate Islamist Ennadha party, as the largest force in parliament and the coalition government, insists it must nominate the next prime minister. (Ennadha — which was banned by Ben Ali for being inspired by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood — has always been part of democratic coalition governments and won the 2019 parliamentary election, but fell short of an outright majority.)

The problem is that the separation of powers under Tunisia's mixed presidential-parliamentary system is somewhat confusing: just weeks ago, Saied and Mechichi were squabbling about who controls internal security amid the former's broader plans to reform the constitution. Interestingly, the constitution says a special court should resolve those disputes… but (surprise!) the executive and legislative powers still haven't agreed on how to set it up.

Next moves. Whether you think it's a power grab or a necessary intervention to address a crisis, Saied's action has captured the zeitgeist by moving against a political establishment that most Tunisians have long resented. However, it's hard to imagine how he will be able to govern once he restores parliament because he doesn't have a party of his own. As president, he controls the military, but the reformist Robocop would rather make Tunisian democracy work than become dictator of a police state.

At a minimum, the situation creates more urgency for Tunisia's politicians to fix a system that — imperfect as it may be — gives the people a lot more of a say than in any other country that experienced the Arab Spring.

The key for small business growth? More digital support.

https://ad.doubleclick.net/ddm/trackimp/N6024.4218512GZEROMEDIA/B26379324.311531246;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=?
The key for small business growth? More digital support.

The pandemic ushered in a boom in new businesses, with growth driven largely by entrepreneurs and small businesses in online retail, transportation, and personal services. According to our recent survey, small businesses indicated that to continue to thrive, greater digital support is even more important than more loans or grants. Their top priorities? Better internet connections. More cybersecurity capabilities. Greater digital sales support. Increasing digital payments. Read more about how we can work together on this important issue from the experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

More Show less

January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

More Show less
The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

More Show less

For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

More Show less

Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal