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Keep Tunisia’s Military Out of Politics

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02.09.2021

On July 25, Tunisians were shaken by an attempted coup against their nascent democracy when President Kais Saied suspended parliament and shuttered several government officials’ offices, introducing what he termed a 30-day “exceptional period.” Tunisia is the only country that came out of the Arab Spring with a genuine democracy, even if this democracy has not yet delivered economic growth or prosperity for its people. Ten years later, it is still possible to reverse the course of Saied’s attempted coup—but only by upholding the Tunisian tradition of keeping the military out of politics.

The Tunisian Armed Forces are the only military in the Arab world that has never been involved in domestic political or economic matters. When Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba played a major role in ensuring that the military stayed away from political and economic affairs. Tunisia’s first constitution went as far as to bar soldiers from voting—a provision that is still in effect.

This decision proved wise over the next 60-odd years, when a wave of military coups and dictatorships swept the Arab world. Tunisia was immune from the contagion and continued to be a civilian-led republic. Even the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, afraid of military involvement in politics, maintained this separation of civilian and military affairs after its bloodless 1987 coup. Though Ben Ali himself had been a general before he became president, he relied on the police, not the military, to maintain power and silence opponents.

On July 25, Tunisians were shaken by an attempted coup against their nascent democracy when President Kais Saied suspended parliament and shuttered several government officials’ offices, introducing what he termed a 30-day “exceptional period.” Tunisia is the only country that came out of the Arab Spring with a genuine democracy, even if this democracy has not yet delivered economic growth or prosperity for its people. Ten years later, it is still possible to reverse the course of Saied’s attempted coup—but only by upholding the Tunisian tradition of keeping the military out of politics.

The Tunisian Armed Forces are the only military in the Arab world that has never been involved in domestic political or economic matters. When Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba played a major role in ensuring that the military stayed away from political and economic affairs. Tunisia’s first constitution went as far as to bar soldiers from voting—a provision that is still in effect.

This decision proved wise over the next 60-odd years, when a wave of military coups and........

© Foreign Policy


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