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Democracy Transition of Tunisia and Comparing with Egypt After Arab Spring


Tunisia is one of the most salient countries in Middle East after starting of Arab Spring in 2010 with it is movement and then democratization process.  Strong street protests in Middle East first started in Tunisia and spread to almost all Arab countries. That movements which are called  Arab Spring had different consequences in different countries of Middle East. For example there was minor protests in Saudi Arabia while there was a revolution in Egypt. Also some major protests turned into a civil war in some countries like Syria or Yemen. In this context as a generalization like Arab Spring brought democracy to Arab States is not true. However, Tunisia was the successful to build democratic institutions and norms after Arab Spring and so Tunisian case was totally different from others and especially from Egypt because Egypt had a governmental change in during Arab Spring movements but still far from a democratic regime. Why Tunisia and Egypt have different outcomes after Arab Spring movements?

As it said before Tunisia is the first country of protests existed against authoritarian regimes with the demands of freedom, democracy, justice and also economic developments and Tunisia was the centerpiece of Arab Spring. Tunisia gained it is independence from France in 1957 and state had only two president until 2010. It means that Tunisia was governed with a dictator and political pressure and lack of democracy was predominance in territory of Tunisia.

Protests in Tunisia started with the self-burning of a young street seller who was Mohamed Buazizi in 2010. He burned himself as a reaction to Ben Ali’s police powers for damage and dissolve his selling stand. Tunisian people reacted that sad event with street demonstrations and number of people who join the protests increased by the day. Thus movements from Sidi Bouzid spread another cities including capital city Tunis cumulatively. Consequently, that intensive demonstrations caused to removal of authoritarian leader Bin Ali. In this point, Tunisia came into the forefront for its democratization process after demolishing of dictator.

Egypt as a another important country of Arab Spring had some different results at the end of protests and when try to create a new governmental body. Actually, protests started in Egypt likely Tunisia. There was an authoritarian ruler who was Hosni Mubarak and people of Egypt wanted to better life standards economically and politically. Tunisian movements inspired to Egyptian people to uprising and as a results the Hosni Mubarak regime removed from the power like Tunisia. Solely, process after H. Mubarak regime was complicated and different from successful Tunisian democratic process for the Egypt. So, the comparison of both countries will show that what was the true ways of Tunisia after uprising and what was the wrong in Egypt and why was there different democracy outcomes in that both countries namely Tunisia and Egypt. [1]


Tunisia was the first revolutionary Arab states which was ended with governmental change successfully. There was economic and political reasons behind of Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.

“In North Africa, which had achieved rapid growth and development during the 1960-1980 period. After 1980s economic difficulties  started at this point. While the population growth rate was 0.5 percent in the 1980-2010 period in the countries in the region that could not create the regional market, the unemployment rate in the last two decades has been the highest in the world with the average rate of 12 percent. In Tunisia, university graduated unemployment young rates were also so high. The rate of young men who are graduated from a university was 56,4 and rate of women who are graduated from a university was 64,5. 30 percent of young people in 15-24 age range was unemployment in Tunisia.”[2] Bad economy conditions was very effective in the reasons of uprising and young people was the main actors of Tunisian protests.

Another important factor was the corruption of Ben Ali government and his supporters. Ben Ali’s family and people around him controlled very huge amount of money in Tunisia economy when rest of the people was working with low prices or totally unemployment. That was the plague some situation for the society. Injustice  distribution of income among closed community of Ben Ali and rest of society as a ordinary people was one of the key thing of the road to Jasmine Revolution.

On the other hand, political reasons was important for the reaction of people as economy as. The world public evaluated as a positive way to democratization of Tunisia after Ben Ali came to power and first years of his government good things became for the future of democracy. “That developments were Ben Ali’s abolition of the State Security Court facing political cases, releasing nearly 3000 political prisoners, relieving pressure on the press and allowing opposition parties to operate.”[3] However, things were reversed later on the Ben Ali’s democracy understanding. Pressures to opposition parties or organizations and to media increased by the Ben Ali to protect his central power. “In this process, the power of Bin Ali increased on the one hand and the support of the people on the other hand decreased. Bin Ali structured Tunisia as a police state and attached special importance to intelligence and security in order to compensate for the loss of power caused by the reduction of support. Developments such as the increasing number of human rights violations and restrictions on freedom of the press have led to an increase in dissatisfaction with the people in the people’s base. In the Human Rights Report published regularly by the US State Department, a very pessimistic picture of Tunisia has been drawn for many years.”[4]

So the speak, there were many issues to go to protests and government change for many years in Tunisian society like economical, social and political problems which are listed before.

Tunisian Jasmine Revolution inspired almost all Arab state’s people who demand more democracy and freedom with the economic development.  Egypt is the one of that countries where affected from movements called as Arab Spring. Uprisings in Egypt against authoritarian government by the Egyptian people started more or less the same reasons with Tunisia. Limited job creation opportunities of Mubarak regime and bad economic conditions, developing pressure and lack of democracy led to protests against regime in Egypt when people saw the events in Tunisia. In January 25, 2011 the first mass protest realised in Tahrir square in Cairo. Egypt is a different country with it is history, culture, population and leading role of Arabs  in the past. After “Free Officers” coup by colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1952 against head of monarchy King Farouk, Egypt ruled by  military based governors. In this regard, easy to say that Egyptian Army was strong in politics. The role of militaries such as the power of military in politics, military and civil relations or the attitude of military during the social events are important to reach any political aims in the Middle Eastern countries. So when evaluate the Arab Spring movement in case by case, the actions of army are very important to better understand the results. “In the period of Mubarak, it is possible to say that the civilian power and the military relations are more systematic and professional. In this period, although the relationship between the military and politics has been shaped within the framework of its own corporate interests and interests, it is seen that especially the economic interests and interests of the military are defined very broadly and the commercial activities of the army starting with Sedat have grown tremendously with Mubarak. The Hosni Mubarak regime did not engage in comprehensive purges within the army, and sought to ensure that the military did not pose a threat to him through the relations he had with the defense ministers and chiefs of staff and through material privileges granted to the officers.  In addition, by making large investments in the internal security and intelligence units, it has established its own loyal and alternative security focus to the army, thus aiming to get rid of its dependence on the army in order to ensure the country’s order.”[5] However, Egyptian military was still strong during the Mubarak regime both politically and economically. Therefore, when the compare Arab Spring process and outcomes in different countries the role of military shouldn’t miss. In Tunisia and Egypt the armies did not intervene to the protests and in both countries’ leaders removed, Ben Ali from Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak from Egypt. Complaints and demands of people were same but the results of movements were different in Tunisia and Egypt despite removals of authoritarians occured in both.

Democratization Process of Tunisia and Egypt after Arab Spring

Arab Spring movements by people which started 2010s in Middle East are not sufficient enough to change the type of regime as a from dictatorship to democracy. Middle Eastern countries have different political culture and societies of that countries are products of pro-state approaches. Also national institutions to provide democratic norms  are weak almost in all Arab countries. In this context, Arab Spring movements were successful in total to remove authoritarian leaders from the heads of states but another ones started to emerge except Tunisia. So Tunisia is the only country which reached to some democratic rights and transformation after Arab Spring events. The minimum conditions of democracy are which is to have safe elections without any trick and pressure and another is change of power according to results of elections without violence. Also of course “at the most fundamental level, all democratic parties benefit from, and should support, the rights that are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all democratic parties have a right to expect that they and their supporters may freely express their opinions; governing parties and state institutions have an obligation to protect these rights, and to safeguard the environment of free competition, efforts to cultivate participation by historically excluded or under-represented groups – including women and ethnic or other minorities.”[6] Tunisia is not a perfect democracy after Arab Spring but it has democratic transformation process that stands out from other Middle Eastern countries. “Looking at the 2010 Middle East, as well as the rich Gulf countries, Libya and Iraq were more advanced than Tunisia, while Algeria and Jordan had similar levels of income as Tunisia. On the other hand, according to the inin rentier state a statement, authoritarian regimes with natural resources distribute revenues and prevent the demands for democratization. However, the rentier state argument also explains the survival of authoritarian regimes rather than democratization. In this respect, the fall of the authoritarian regime in states such as Tunisia and Egypt can be explained by the low oil revenues. However, while Tunisia can be democratized in these two countries with similar characteristics, the failure to democratize Egypt as a healthy and long-lasting one cannot be explained within the framework of this argument.” [7] So economic conditions can be as a one of the reasons of protests in both country but it is not a foremost reason in the democratization process.

After Ben Ali’s removal from the power there was a temporary government in 2011 but reactions and protests maintained and En-Nahda  which is political islamist party gained the %37 of the votes in the 2011 elections in Tunisia. “Tunisia entered 2014 in an important period of political transition. This transition road map in front of the process UGTT, the largest trade union in Tunisia and other civil society organizations as a result of the consensus negotiations between the opposition and the government. According to this map, the electoral law and the constitution will be prepared as soon as possible and a referendum will be prepared in Tunisia, the parliament and presidential elections will be prepared for the election calendar and the Troika government (Nahda Party, Congress for the Republic Party and the Democratic Forum Party of Labor and Freedoms formed the coalition government) resigned to assign his duties to an impartial technocrat government.”[8]

During the 2014 new constitution process, politicians respected to Tunisian people’s revolution and their demands. In this regard, New Tunisian Constitution prepared with a harmony, and it was a product of different political ideas and almost all society supported to new constitutions. Important thing is here, there is some articles in New Tunisian Constitution to prevent emergence of new authoritarian leaders and ruling regimes. The constitution have some importance regionally and nationally. The leader of the Nahda Party said that “Our people succeeded in a peaceful revolution that inspired the world. The adoption of the new constitution draft made Tunisia a model country in the Arab region. We have not allowed a civil war here, and instead have made it possible for us to compromise.” National important that firstly, power of the president limited and distributed to different organs. Secondly, Sharia law is not main base of  the Tunisian law. Also The New Tunisian Constitution includes freedom of beliefs and egalitarian between sexes.

“In 2014, in Tunisia, the resignation of the Troika government and the establishment of a provisional government, the adoption of the constitution draft in the context of a consensus is considered as the first important step towards democratization. The parliamentary and presidential elections foreseen to be held in Tunisia in 2014, as determined by the adoption of the constitution, were two important and critical steps for Tunisia. October 26th parliamentary, 23 November presidential election processes and their results were seen as critical dates for the future of democratization in Tunisia and with important clues for the post-revolutionary stability environment.”[9]  The participation rate %62 in elections and as a surprise Nida Party won the elections with its %37 vote rates. Nida Party in Tunisia is from the secular base and includes pro-left ideal politicians so it took the support from the labor unions and organizations.

In Egypt, the Hosni Mubarak regime removed from the power with the Arab Spring movements. That was the big hope for the Egyptian democracy but the it did not realized. However, the existence of Muslim Brotherhood and military dominance affected the Egyptian dynamics in democratization process. The Muslim Brotherhood came to power after removal of the Mubarak regime. Army declared its support to protestors during the movements and at the same time the Muslim Brotherhood with its organizations joined to protestors against the regime and that two factor were very important in the change of regime in Egypt.

The army, which tried to determine a position in Egypt since 25 January 2011, in particular, from the moment of the announcement of Mubarak’s resignation  the army will continue to be the main actor in the process.

“The political power in Egypt was transferred to the civilian administration after the election of the President as a Mohammed Morsi in May-June 2012 . Although the Morsi administration made a number of attempts such as constitutional arrangements that could undermine the military tutelage over politics in the long term, it avoided taking steps directly targeting the army. Defense Minister and High Military Council President Mohamed Hussein Tantavi, Chief of General Staff Sami Anan and the removal of force commanders did not confront Mursi with the army. However, a year later, on July 3, 2013, with a military coup, the army seized power. The military offering the military coup as a continuation of the 25 January revolution, anti-coup demonstrations suppressed by violence. It is interesting to note that the number of people killed and injured in the incidents in 2013 is more than the number of deaths and injuries experienced during the 25 January riots. Thus, the army maintained its dominant role in Egypt without any challenge. In this way, a period of re-establishment of the authoritarian regime in Egypt has begun.”[10]


Arab Spring movements were the very influential in the Middle East. The protests started in Tunisia first in 2010 and spread to almost all Arab countries together with same reasons like bad economic conditions and living standards, highly pressure from the authoritarian regimes and limited freedoms. That movements started approximately  at the same time and from the same reasons but outcomes were different. Tunisia is the one successful country where the regime removed without violence and new constitution created with the common sense. Also in another important country of Middle East as a Egypt the regime removed from the Egyptian people without violence like Tunisia but after democratization process did not complete and new authoritarian regime emerged namely Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. In the democratization process is not depend on only economic conditions or cultural, religious motivations because Tunisia and Egypt have similar difficulties in their economies and almost same Arabic culture and Islam religion but there are two different results after the Arab Spring. Tunisia started to transformation to democracy when Egypt turn from a dictator to another. The role of military is the most important factor in the third world state. In Egypt, the military was very strong from the past and decisive in the current domestic affairs. Also the elite theory correlate between democratization and demands of elite people in the country. In Tunisia, the role of elite class should not miss in the democratization process and if compare with the Egypt we can say that there is no more support of elites in Egypt to change of authoritarian regime unlike Tunisia. As a result Tunisia is the 64. Rank Global Democracy Index 2018 after Arab Spring and the new constitution process while Egypt 127. [11]



Koçak, Alp Konur, Yasemin Devrimi’nden “Arap Baharı”na Tunus. Ankara: Yasama Dergisi.

Bekaroglu, Edip Asaf. Mısır’da Otoriter Rejimin Sürekliliği ve Ordu: ‘Arap Baharı’ ve Sonrası Sürecin Analizi. Sakarya: Turkish Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2015.

Mercan, M. Hüseyin ve Kılavuz, M. Tahir. “Tunus’ta Demokratikleşme ve Elit Teorisi”. Uluslararası İlişkiler, Cilt 14, Sayı 55, 2017.

Scarrow, Susan. Minimum Standards for the Democratic Functioning of Political Parties. The National Democratic Institute, 2008.

Koktas, Rumeysa. Tunus 2014. Sakarya: Ortadoğu Yıllığı, 2014.

Zoubir, Yahiya. The Democratic Transition in Tunisia: A success Story in the Making. Conflict Trends, 2015.

The Economist Intelligence Unit 2018 Democracy Index. , access: 12.05.2019


[1] Yahiya Zoubir, The Democratic Transition in Tunisia: A success Story in the Making ( Conflict Trends, 2015.) p 10-16

[2]Konur Alp Koçak, Yasemin Devrimi’nden “Arap Baharı”na Tunus, (Ankara: Yasama Dergisi) p 36

[3] Koçak, a.g.e. p. 37

[4]Koçak,a.g.e. p 39

[5] Edip Asaf, Bekaroglu, Mısır’da Otoriter Rejimin Sürekliliği ve Ordu: ‘Arap Baharı’ ve Sonrası Sürecin Analizi  (Sakarya: Turkish Journal of Middle Easter Studies, 2015) p 26

[6] Susan Scarrow , Minimum Standards for the Democratic Functioning of Political Parties ( The National Democratic Institute, 2008) p 2-5

[7] M. Tahir, Kılavuz, Tunus’ta Demokratikleşme ve Elit Teorisi (Uluslararası  İlişkiler Dergisi, 2017) p 77

[8] Rümeysa Köktas, Tunus 2014 ( Sakarya: Ortadoğu Yıllığı, 2017) p 360

[9] Köktas, a.g.e. p 363

[10] Edip Asaf, Bekaroglu, Mısır’da Otoriter Rejimin Sürekliliği ve Ordu: ‘Arap Baharı’ ve Sonrası Sürecin Analizi  (Sakarya: Turkish Journal of Middle Easter Studies, 2015) p 26-28

[11] The Economist Intelligence Unit 2018 Democracy Index, , access: 12.05.2019.