The Experiences of Tunisia on the Arabic Spring Uprising

The Experiences of Tunisia on the Arabic Spring Uprising




The Arab Spring was characterised by significant political upheaval as citizens in various Arab nations took to the street in protest against the oppressive regimes they were faced with (Clement and Ji-Hyang, 2015). Within a span of weeks, the Arab Spring revolutions triggered the collapse of two of the long-standing authoritarian regimes in the regions namely, the Ben-Ali- led regime in Tunisia, and the dictatorial rule of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt (Brownleeet al., n.d.). Other leaders in the rest of the region prepared for the worst. Commentators identify the ensuring political upheavals as forms of “democratic” revolutions, which paved the way for the conduction of free-and-fair elections in their respective countries. In the case of Tunisia, the Ennahda won the election while in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood carried the day.   The essay seeks to explore the experiences of both Tunisia and Egypt with regard to the event that occurred prior to, and following the Arab Spring.

Background of the Arab Spring

When revolutions occur, they generally happen suddenly, thus taking both participants and observers by surprise (Chaney, 2012). In the case of the Arab Spring, economic grievances and claims of rampant corruption were top on the agenda of the participants, with protestors also mentioning the need for political and civil freedoms as other less important grievances. In the case of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak employed policies that did away with welfare protections. In addition, the Mubarak-led regime co-opted the country’s opposition in its agenda, as opposed to openly suppressing it (Frykberg, 2013). Consequently, this created an ideal environment for the desire of the urban middle class in Egypt to seek a revolution that was largely triggered by economic grievances, with the civil society organisation at the forefront of these revolutions (International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 2012). On the other hand, Ben Ali had resorted to the use of a constrictive and corporatist approach in ruling over Tunisia, and in the process, he ended up undermining the civil society organisation in the country and instead sought to develop a cross-class alliance that started at the provincial level but slowly found its way to the country's capital. 

            Mohammed Bouaziz’s self-immolation was the beginning of a slew of revolutions and uprisings across the Arab world.  Bouaziz, a graduate fruit vendor in Tunisia, had his products confiscated on December 17th, 2010 whereupon he was also harassed by a municipal official. After his cousin filmed all that had happened and circulated the video to the public, a demonstration ensured, triggering other violent acts where the protestors tried to fight against the police, and during this process, the police started shooting at the protestors. In reaction to the violence, the Democratic progressive party asked the Tunisian Government not to use violence in dealing with the protesters but instead, to focus on communication (Kerrou, 2013).

 The Experiences of Tunisia on the Arabic Spring Uprising

One of the basic characteristics of a strong civil society is its ability and freedom of joining an organisation. The enforcement of these laws provided an environment where various groups such as journalists, students, and other associations were repressed (Bellin, 2013). The major barrier to entry for organisations when Ben Ali's regime was in power was its religious discrimination, as Islamist organisations were not allowed to be in existence. It is beneficial to have the ability to join an organisation just like the freedom allowed when the organisation was being created. The constitution of Tunisia provided for freedom of association and dictated that these rights would be confined only in the case of protection of other people or respect for public order. The law of Tunisia on association (under law 154 of 1959 as amended) allowed more than one person to create an association on a permanent basis, and carry out procedures provided it was not a business and it was not profit oriented.

         These laws only pertain to some forms of organisations, such as cultural, scientific, and women organisations. Human rights and democratic organisations were not allowed and had on numerous occasions denied registration (Barhouma, 2014). The Tunisian NGOs have reported that requests would be routinely withheld by the government. The association law allowed the interior minister to disapprove an application in case its goals could lead to disruption of public order. The ministry had too much power and could deny registration of organisations because many of the laws were vague.

Democracy transition in Tunisia experienced the least amount of violence compared to Egypt and other Arab countries and was therefore called Jasmine “Revolution”. The revolutionary violence experienced by Tunisia was of low level and this was the only country that never had an increase in deaths due to the violence (Howard et al., 2013), though there was a rise in conflicts in the period between 2010 and 2015. The violence in Tunisia came in the form of assassinations, clashes between the police and protestors, as well as in the form of more self-immolations (Moghadam, 2013). In 2013, Tunisia also experienced anti-government protests, and when Ali Larayedh, who was at the time the Prime Minister announced a general election, the protests turned to violence that lasted for over a week. The UGTT, the national trade union in the country, held crisis talks and mediated the situation after which it issued a statement calling for the government’s complete dissolution (Mezghanni, 2014). In 2015, the National Dialogue Quartet of Tunisia won the Noble Peace Prize for its effort in helping to broker a peaceful transition to the democratic process in Tunisia through Jasmine Revolution. The National Dialogue Quarter of Tunisia is a coalition of civil society groups who came together in the summer of 2013 to decide whether Tunisia should choose a future of democracy or further violence following the Arab Spring. The quarter planned to move Tunisia away from the path of violence that characterised other countries engulfed in the Arab Spring.   The four organisations which the Quarter comprised include Tunisia Confederation of Industry; The Tunisia General Labor Union; Trade and Handicrafts and the Tunisia League of Human Rights; and The Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

         The Quarter succeeded in calling for negotiations between the opposition political parties and the political parties that were already in power. The impact that civil society can have in helping to have a successful revolution is clearly represented by this organization of civil societies (Al Jazeera., 2016). It also shows its ability to prevent revolutionary violence through mediating interests. There is a need to consider the time period when the revolution started in order to realize the full power of civil society in Tunisia. There is also a need to know when the quarter plan was implemented.

           The NGOs in Tunisia experienced excessive government supervision of their operations like home and office break-ins, tapping the phone lines, and monitoring their emails, among others. They were not allowed to hold meetings (The National, 2011). The Tunisian secular civil society contained processes that were alike to democratic behaviours. The organisations in the country were allowed to run freely for elections, unlike Egypt where candidates running for elected posts were removed from the government. The organisations in Tunisia also enjoyed freedom in planning elections and running their affairs, thereby resulting in sustainability.

            Despite the restrictions that Tunisia faced in the people’s ability to join and create organisations, it has had an experience of strong history in the citizen’s coordination. The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) played a key role in bringing the civil society of Tunisia together. Issue-based organizations were developed beginning in 2007 by the labour movements (Weber, 2013). The UGTT had decided not to be a part of the conflict in the early period of the Uprising and it acted as a mediator between the protests and the state but later on, its strategy changed and the movement started getting support from the worker unions from across the country.

            During the course of the Arab Spring, the conflict in Tunisia increased significantly but there was no resultant increase in death rates or other forms of crime such as theft. Considering the role that the military played in this, it is a clear indication that the military in Tunisia enjoyed a level of Independence from undue influence by the Tunisian government. In comparison with the other countries where the Arab Spring occurred, The Tunisian military can be seen to be a small group and has never posed a major threat to the ruling regime (Abushouk, 2016). Habib Bourguiba who was the first leader of Tunisia ensured that the military did not play any political role in its various operations.

           Unions such as the UGTT played a huge role in starting the revolution in Tunisia and equally, they kept the country on the right track. Equally, the Quartet which won the 2015 Noble Peace Prize due to its work was made up of mixed civil society groups and their leaders became mediators all the way through the revolution.

        Egypt and Tunisia were on a similar path of conflict prior to the formation of the Quartet in 2013. Both Egypt and Tunisia were also at level 3 intensity in 2012. However, Egypt increased to level 4 while Tunisia remained at the third level (Barhouma, 2014). The ability of the civil society in Tunisia to communicate with a huge multitude across the country paved the way for dialogue between the Government and the protestors.

  The Experiences of Egypt on the Arabic Spring Uprising

              Just after the Uprisings in Tunisia, similar occurrences took place in Egypt. The protests occurred succession over a period of 18 days, starting from January 25th 2011. Thousands of citizens were involved in these protests. The government retaliated by shutting down internet access in the country in an effort to try and control the protests. As the violence escalated, the US embassy embarked on an evacuation exercise in Egypt. After appointing a vice president, the president handed off all the power to the newly appointed vice president. The military dissolved the Egyptian parliament and the protests continued until the end of the year 2012.

           The former interior minister of Egypt together with the president was sentenced to life imprisonment due to their failure to stop killings that occurred within the first six days of the revolution. There were mass protests at Tahrir square where over 846 deaths were reported after the police resorted to the use of violent attempts to try and evict the demonstrators, including the use of live ammunition, truncheons, and firing tear gas (Leyne, 2011).

       Freedom of organisation in Egypt was restricted just like in many countries in the Arab world. It was a must for an NGO to register in Egypt in order to acquire a license through which the government would monitor their activities and their budgets by the restrictive law on community foundations and associations (Elbayar, 2005). Extra approval was required to relate with a foreign organization, and the law also restricted any political activity by the organizations. The ministry had to give permission for the transfer of funds from the Egyptians who were abroad. The ministry was criticized for rejecting licenses without any sensible reasons.

         In comparison to Egypt, associations encounter many difficulties in terms of registering an organization, and the government intervenes to observe when an organization has started. The weak collaborations in Egypt were caused by the presence of conflicts in the existing organizations and also the lack of enough organizations.

Comparing experiences of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia prior to, and after the Arab Spring

A comparison of the similarities between the experiences of Tunisia and Egypt prior to, and following the Arab Spring, reveals that the two states followed similar historical paths. To begin with, common factors were responsible for the development of the two revolutions. Additionally, both Egyptians and Tunisians help peaceful protests. Finally, both revolutions resulted in similar outcomes. In this case, the protests in Tunisia brought to an end the ruling regime of Ben Ali, forcing him to flee the country. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak was ousted and imprisoned following a trial (Moghadam, 2013). Furthermore, both Tunisia and Egypt were shaken by the events that followed these revolutions. For example, in the case of Tunisia, the revolutions led to the assassination of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, two well-known politicians whose political views were opposed to those of the transitional authority. Moreover, innocent victims were also assassinated, prompting tension in the two countries to reach an all-time high. The transition authorities in Egypt endured security breaches and pressure following Mubarak's fall from power, with the result that there was much bloodshed on the streets of Cairo and other major towns across Egypt. On the other hand, Tunisia's experience with the revolution appears to have brought the country to the shores of safety (Clement and Ji-Hyang, 2015). In particular, Tunisia was seen to undertake a period of political "smoothness" after the Ali Laayayedh-led government resigned and Mehdi Jomaa assumed the position of the Prime Minister of the country. Many Tunisians look up to Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to scuttle the firm grip that the Muslim Brotherhood has enjoyed in the country's structures of governance over the decades.

After the Muslim Brotherhood assumed power in Egypt following the October 23, 2011 elections, this was followed by a spate of radicalized protests with the citizens accusing the movement of appointing a good number of its members to occupy key positions in state institutions.  Nonetheless, there were no bloody clashes reported. The army ousted President Mohamed Morsi who had been democratically elected and he was imprisoned (Woolman, 2011).   The army then concocted charges against leaders of the Freedom and Justice Party and Morsi. A new government came in place and labeled the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation. In addition, anyone who was opposed to the authoritative rule of the Egyptian army was demonized. Consequently, the whole of Egypt was turned into sites of conflict. Pluralism was confiscated, followed by the suppression of the voice of the “others”.


 Countries engulfed in the Arab Spring in the Arab world share related experiences prior to and after the revolution. To begin with, the events that triggered the protests in the first place were related. In the case of Egypt and Tunisia, the two countries were protesting a harsh economic climate where even graduates like Mohamed Bouaziz found it hard to get a job and had to resort to hawking in order to make ends meet. The two countries were also characterised by authoritative regimes that suppressed the middle class. In addition, the post-revolutionary leader had divergent priorities from those that the protestors had hoped for. However, Tunisia appears to have enjoyed relative stability and democracy after its postrevolutionary leaders entered into a political pact that has permitted the country to experience a transition for authoritative rule to democracy. In the case of Egypt, the country only achieved minimal democracy following the postrevolutionary developments which hinge on inclusive suffrage, restricted competition, and limited civil liberties.





Abushouk, AI., 2016. The Arab Spring: A Fourth Wave of Democratization. DOMES, 25(1), 52-69.

Al Jazeera., 2016. Arab Spring anniversary: When Egypt cut the internet. [Online].

Barhouma, M., 2014. Comparing the Tunisian, Egyptian revolutions. Al-Monitor. [Online].

Bellin, E. (2013). A modest transformation: Political change in the Arab world after the “Arab Spring.” In C. Henry & J. Ji-Hyang (Eds.), The Arab Spring: Will it lead to democratic transitions? (pp. 33–48). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Brownlee, J., Brownlee, J., Masoud, T. E., & Reynolds, A. (n.d.). The Arab Spring: Pathways of

repression and reform.

Chaney, E., 2012. Democratic change in the Arab world: Past and present. Brookings Papers on Economic Activities, 363-414.

Clement, H., and Ji-Hyang, J., 2015. The Arab Spring: Will it lead to democratic transitions? (pp. 79–99). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Elbayar, K. (2005). NGO Laws in Selected Arab States. International Journal of Not-for-Profit

Law, 7(4). [Online].

Frykberg, M. (2013). Chaos and Division Plague Libya. Middle East, (449), 18-19.

Howard, P. N., Agarwal, S. D., & Hussain, M. M. (n.d.). When Do States Disconnect Their

Digital Networks? Regime Responses to the Political Uses of Social Media. SSRN Electronic

Journal SSRN Journal.

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law., 2012.  Arab Spring: An Opportunity for Greater Freedom of Association and Assembly in Tunisia and Egypt? - Global Trends in NGO Law (Volume 3, Issue 1 - June 2011) - ICNL. [Online].

Kerrou, M. (2013). New actors of the revolution and the political transition in Tunisia. In C.

Khosrokhavar, F. (2012). The new Arab revolutions that shook the world. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2012.

Leyne, J., 2011. Egypt protests: Death toll up in Cairo's Tahir Square. BBC News. [Online].

Moghadam, V. M. (2013). What is democracy? Promises and perils of the Arab Spring. Current

Sociology, 61(4), 393-408.

Mezghanni, S. S. (2014). Reinforcing citizenship through civil society and media partnerships:

The case of community radios. The Journal of North African Studies, 19(5), 690.

The National., 2011. The Arab Spring Country by Country. [Online].

Weber, P., 2013. Modernity, Civil Society, And Sectarianism: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

And The Takfir Groups. Voluntas: International Journal Of Voluntary & Nonprofit

Organizations, 24(2), 509-527.

Wollman, D., 2011. Internet traffic in Libya goes dark amid upheaval. Washington Post. [Online].  

$ 10 .00