Tunisia: monthly report November 2023

New clashes in the south-western town of Gharian see Tunis at the center of discussions to avert a resumption of hostilities in Libya. The North African capital hosted a multilateral meeting involving representatives of the Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission, the United Nations mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and UN Special Representative for Libya Abdoulaye Bathily. Libya remains a crucial dossier for Tunisia, as regional instability would threaten the containment of irregular migration through the Ras Jedir border crossing (currently defended by a Government of National Unity military brigade) and disrupt trade flows with Tripoli, as well as plans announced last August for a Libyan-Tunisian commercial corridor.

Surprising developments stem from the Gaza crisis. The Tunisian president of the Republic, Kais Saied, publicly opposed a draft law to criminalize any attempt at normalization with Israel. Following Saied’s intervention, the president of the Tunisian parliament Brahim Bouderbala also withdrew his support for the motion, which set up criminal convictions up to twelve years for any attempt at communication with the “Zionist entity”. Deputies from across the political spectrum and within Saied’s own party have accused the president – known for his outspoken hostility to Israel – of giving in to US threats of economic sanctions, noting the frequent contacts between Saied and the US ambassador to Tunis, Joey Hood.

Tunisia also looks to China. Prime minister Ahmed Hachani met in Tunis with the Huawei North Africa president, Terry He. The meeting saw the participation of Communications minister Nizar Ben Neji and focused on strengthening cooperation in the fields of digital technology and renewable energies. Despite the economic crisis gripping the country, Tunisia boasts one of the most advanced telecommunications networks in North Africa. Tunisia is also among the partner countries to the Medusa 8000-km optic fibre cable project, set to connect eleven countries between Southern Europe and North Africa within 2025.

The Tunisian ministry of Finance unveiled the 2024 draft finance law. The proposal, which is being evaluated by the parliament, seeks to increase the national budget by 1,9 billion euros – a figure reminiscent of the controversial 1,9 billion dollars loan at the core of negotiations between Tunis and the International Monetary Fund. The budget should also benefit from external loans amounting to 4,8 billion euros, the source of which has not been disclosed. The measures are set on the backdrop of the financial crisis affecting the country, which suffers from inflationary pressure on basic commodities and from the growing erosion of its foreign reserves.

Saied keeps facing domestic opposition. The National Salvation Front – the diverse inter-party alliance involving, among others, Islamist movement Ennahda – announced it will boycott local elections set to take place in December. Meanwhile, security forces in Sfax arrested four trade unionists including regional secretary general Youssef Aouadni. The news sparked a new confrontation between Saied and the UGTT, Tunisia’s foremost trade union and a key political opposer of the establishment.

Meanwhile, water scarcity in the country worsens: according to the Observatoire National de l’Agriculture (ONAGRI), water levels in Tunisian reservoirs have fallen 30% under maximum capacity due to both structural obsolescence and the chronic drought threatening the country. To address the situation, the Tunisian ministry of Agriculture has announced the launch of a strategic plan to contain the effects of climate change upon the country’s agricultural output.

Download the November 2023 report

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