Tunisia's Violence Explained By an Expatriate American

Tunisia riveted the world last Wednesday following the assassination of a prominent secularist leader, Chokri Belaid, two years after its people overthrew the country's dictatorship. Although who is behind the murder remains unknown, Belaid's assassination became the most recent example of an ever-growing clash between long-oppressed conservative religious elements and secularist democratic forces and trade unions.

Since gaining independence from France in 1956, only two dictators have ruled Tunisia. The first, Habib Bourguiba, was a hero of the struggle for independence from France and created relatively strong educational institutions based on the French system. He created secularist policies and considered the hijab, a headscarf, a determent to women's — and ultimately Tunisia's — success. He shocked conservatives when he publicly removed the veil of a female supporter in the 1950s. Bourguiba greatly impacted society, as ultra-conservative religious expression became all but taboo.

Tunisia's second dictator, Ben Ali, declared his mentor, Bourguiba, incompetent in 1987 and ruled Tunisia until the 2011 revolution. Ben Ali continued secularist policies, including harsh responses to extremist movements and political rivals. Many in power today are former prisoners and exiles whose pre-revolutionary experience allowed them to flourish in a freed Tunisia.

The current government, headed by the moderate Islamist Ennadha party, is in charge of drafting a new constitution and putting together the foundation of a democracy under which Tunisia can prosper. This unprecedented event has turned into a bitter battle between elected conservative, moderate and liberal forces refusing to compromise. Often, headlines spout the latest dispute between members of one of nearly one hundred political parties.

The populace grows weary of their new government as the transition becomes increasingly turbulent. For Moez Tounsi, a Solutions Specialist at Microsoft in Tunis, the practices of the former dictators under the former single-party system "led to a loss of political and social identity of the Tunisian people … reinforcing a corrupted political landscape where everyone fights for power. 

As the entirety of North Africa begins to quake under extremist forces creeping out of the desert, Tunisia's stability and future is at stake. One Tunisian echoed the ominous perspective of many that, "the only clear thing in Tunisia is that nothing is clear."

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Kayla Sweeney

I'm an American working in Tunisia, moving to La Reunion in a few months. I like to move around, meet interesting people, swap stories, and learn more about the world we live in through interactions with people.

MORE FROM

Several Republicans are strongly denouncing Trump’s military transgender ban

“Anybody who wants to serve in the military should serve in the military. I don’t agree with the president.”

Worried Trump might pardon himself? Blame Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton might not have been "thinkin' past tomorrow" when he pushed for broad executive privileges.

Harry Truman desegregated the military 69 years ago. Today, Trump banned transgender troops.

Truman wanted to end discrimination in the military "as rapidly as possible."

Here is a timeline of Donald Trump’s relationship with Jeff Sessions

Trump continued his Twitter attacks on Sessions Wednesday — reportedly while the embattled attorney general was in the White House.

How many transgender people serve in the U.S. military?

There's no exact number, but here's what research shows.

Human smuggling is a deadly problem — and hardline immigration policies will make it worse

The recent deaths in a tractor-trailer outside Walmart are startling — but historically, not uncommon.

Several Republicans are strongly denouncing Trump’s military transgender ban

“Anybody who wants to serve in the military should serve in the military. I don’t agree with the president.”

Worried Trump might pardon himself? Blame Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton might not have been "thinkin' past tomorrow" when he pushed for broad executive privileges.

Harry Truman desegregated the military 69 years ago. Today, Trump banned transgender troops.

Truman wanted to end discrimination in the military "as rapidly as possible."

Here is a timeline of Donald Trump’s relationship with Jeff Sessions

Trump continued his Twitter attacks on Sessions Wednesday — reportedly while the embattled attorney general was in the White House.

How many transgender people serve in the U.S. military?

There's no exact number, but here's what research shows.

Human smuggling is a deadly problem — and hardline immigration policies will make it worse

The recent deaths in a tractor-trailer outside Walmart are startling — but historically, not uncommon.