Tunisia’s democracy since the Arab Spring: Timeline of key events

The country’s new constitution is the latest step along a bumpy road since the country’s 2011 revolution.

Tunisia protests
Demonstrators gather in front of police officers during an anti-government protest in Tunis, July 25, 2021 [File: Zoubeir Souissi/Reuters]

Tunisians are voting for a new constitution, one year after President Kais Saied sacked the government and froze parliament in one of Tunisia’s biggest political crises since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.

Here is a timeline of Tunisia’s bumpy decade of democracy and the path to the current political crisis.

December 2010 – Street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi sets himself on fire after police confiscated his cart. His death and funeral spark protests over unemployment, corruption and repression.

Protesters demonstrate against Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunis, January 14, 2011 [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

January 2011 – Strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia as Tunisia’s revolution triggers the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.

October 2011 – Moderate Islamist party Ennahdha, banned under Ben Ali, wins most seats in elections and forms a coalition with secular parties to plan a new constitution.

March 2012 – Growing polarisation emerges between Islamists and secularists, particularly over women’s rights, as Ennahdha pledges to keep Islamic law out of the new constitution.

February 2013 – Secular opposition leader Chokri Belaid is assassinated, prompting street protests and the resignation of Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali. Fighters mount attacks on police.

Tunisians hold a placard of late opposition leader Chokri Belaid during his funeral procession in Tunis, February 8, 2013 [File: Anis Mili/Reuters]

December 2013 – Ennahdha cedes power after mass protests and national dialogue, to be replaced by a technocratic government.

January 2014 – Parliament approves a new constitution guaranteeing personal freedoms and rights for minorities, and splitting power between the president and the prime minister.

December 2014 – Beji Caid Essebsi wins Tunisia’s first free presidential election. Ennahdha joins the ruling coalition.

March 2015 – ISIL (ISIS) attacks on the Bardo Museum in Tunis kill 22 people. In June, a gunman kills 38 at a beach resort in Sousse.

The attacks devastate the vital tourism sector and are followed by a suicide bombing in November that kills 12 soldiers.

Flowers laid on the beach at a resort that was attacked by a gunman in Sousse, Tunisia, June 28, 2015 [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

March 2016 – The army turns the tide against the ISIL threat by defeating dozens of fighters who rampage into a southern town from across the Libyan border.

December 2017 – The economy approaches crisis point as the trade deficit soars and the currency slides.

October 2019 – Voters show dissatisfaction with the major parties, first electing a deeply fractured parliament and then political outsider Kais Saied as president.

Tunisian President Kais Saied addresses the nation, July 25, 2021 [Screengrab from Tunisian President’s Office]
Tunisian men flash the victory sign as tyres burn on blocked roads in Tataouine to protest against the government’s failure to keep its promise to provide jobs and investments, February 12, 2021 [File: Fathi Nasri/AFP]

January 2020 – After months of failed attempts to form a government, Elyes Fakhfakh becomes prime minister but is forced out within months over a corruption scandal.

August 2020 – Saied designates Hichem Mechichi as prime minister. He quickly falls out with the president and his fragile government lurches from crisis to crisis as it struggles to deal with the pandemic and the need for urgent reforms.

January 2021 – A decade on from the revolution, new protests engulf Tunisian cities in response to accusations of police violence and the devastation the COVID pandemic wrought on an already weak economy.

July 2021 – Saied dismisses the government, suspends parliament and says he will rule alongside the new prime minister, citing an emergency section of the constitution. The move is dismissed by Ennahdha and others in parliament as a coup.

October 2021 – Saied appoints a new government, but without seeking the parliamentary approval he needed, as stipulated by the constitution.

February 2022 – After judicial challenges to some of his actions, Saied gives himself ultimate authority over judges, replacing the council that guarantees their independence before purging dozens of them in June. The country’s judges go on strike in protest.

July 2022 – Saied puts a new constitution to a referendum, seeking to formalise many of the powers he has assumed over previous months and watering down the role of parliament. But political parties oppose his moves and the powerful labour union calls strikes over worsening economic conditions.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies