Forward Thinking has worked extensively in Tunisia since the revolution of 2011. Between 2012-2014 we facilitated an EU sponsored process that brought together all major political forces to identify where there was sufficient consensus on potentially contentious issues to support the transition. We have remained in close contact with our network, which spans the political spectrum and includes key figures in the government, parliament, trade unions and civil society.

We stand in solidarity with Tunisia’s democracy and want to express our concern at the events of the 25th of July – the removal Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspension of parliament, the suspension of the immunity of members of parliament and the President assuming executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister. These developments have exacerbated divides in the country.

Some welcome what they see as a necessary change in the face of the pandemic and a deteriorating economy. Others see this as an undemocratic assumption of all powers by the President and have described his actions as a “coup”. Everyone is united by a fear that the situation could rapidly spiral out of control.

There is a real risk of street violence, which if unleashed could become uncontainable. Demonstrations outside of Parliament between supporters and opponents of the President’s actions are extremely tense, with alleged exchanges of rock throwing. In this febrile environment there is an urgent need for de-escalation.

Tunisia faces a health emergency and an economic crisis. Neither of these will be addressed if there is a polarised society and prolonged political upheaval. The recent events threaten the fragile consensus that has underpinned Tunisia’s democracy and are reopening divisions.

The crisis can only be resolved by Tunisians but the support of the international community is needed. It should demand an immediate resolution in line with democratic principles and the Tunisian Constitution.  Support for the democratic process in Tunisia needs to be clearly expressed. If Tunisia’s transition falters, it will send a devastating message to all those working to peacefully realise democratic change in the Middle East.

The country urgently needs mechanisms that bring political leaders and national stakeholders together in a democratic spirit and which renews the Tunisian ingenuity for consensus and compromise, to find solutions to national challenges and find ways to realise to long-term sustainable economic growth for the benefit of all. Inclusive dialogue – not unilateral action – is the only way the country can move forward.