Chapter 12

Tunisia’s “Sweet Little Rogue” Regime

Clement Henry


When asked to write about Tunisia for a volume originally designed to be about “rogue” regimes I hesitated, because Tunisia is neither aggressive nor is it up to North Korean standards of internal repression.  Yet in thinking about internally repressive regimes the term “rogue,” reserved in this volume for externally aggressive regimes, seemed useful because it connotes a regime that has run amok like a male rogue elephant (See chapter 1, p. 9). The principal characteristic of such a regime is that it deviates from the values and beliefs of the community that it purports to rule. So much so, indeed, that some may perceive its leader to be irrational or mentally ill. But unlike the elephant “of a savage destructive disposition” that is “driven away from the herd,” the regime stays on to control and possibly to corrupt the state.[1] Such, at least, is the sad political situation of Tunisia today under the rule of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. It is not so much the quantity of repression per se that would define a rogue regime in this sense, substantial as the repression may be, as the extent to which its practices deviate from the expectations of the community.

From this perspective—viewing the political leadership of such regimes as deviating from social norms—it follows that regimes like those of Ben Ali are vulnerable from within. It is not so much the quantity as the irrational nature of the repression that delegitimates them. Unable to control their public opinion and retain a semblance of legitimacy, they may become vulnerable to combinations of internal and international pressures for change.

While the present volume reserves “rogue” in this sense to connote the external rather than internal behavior of a regime, there is another sense of “rogue” related to a regime’s external behavior that indeed does fit Tunisia and usefully highlights the Bush Administration’s double standards on democracy in the Middle East.  The Bush administration selected Tunisia in 2002 as one of two regional centers for its Middle East Partnership Initiative to foster economic development and democracy in the region. In official American eyes, the Ben Ali regime may thus be viewed as “rogue” in a very special Oxford English usage, Shakespeare’s “sweet little rogue” or, as someone wrote in 1672, "it's a pretty little rogue; she is my mistress." [2] An ally in the “war on terror,” Tunisia has used its international credit to adopt further repressive measures against vaguely defined “terrorists.” Substantial sectors of Arab public opinion may also view the Ben Ali regime as a “sweet little rogue” in the sense of being one of the Bush administration’s Arab mistresses.

The Ben Ali regime is one of a number of dictatorships in the Arab region coddled by the United States.  It is at least as repressive as the others -- Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the little principalities of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- and it certainly deviates the most from its society’s legitimate expectations. Ben Ali was initially welcomed as Tunisia’s savior when, as prime minister, he had President Habib Bourguiba constitutionally removed from office by getting physicians to certify that he was no longer physically fit to serve. The “Historic Change” of November 7, 1987 promised steady progress toward democracy, and the new regime efficiently carried out the structural adjustment program initiated in 1986 to meet a foreign exchange crisis. The troubles began in 1991, after the regime, having liberated Islamist opponents of the Bourguiba regime, not only refused to recognize their Nahda party but also determined to eliminate them and intimidate anybody else who might defend them. At the height of the repression in 1991–1992, the Ben Ali regime was probably as tough as most of the others included in this volume, if repression is to be measured by the number of political prisoners per capita, quantitative or qualitative indices of torture, deaths in jail, or other measures of individual suffering. This chapter presents the body counts and other measures of political repression and tries to compare them with those of other regimes, but such measures require further interpretation.

It is argued here that substantive deviation from social expectations may leverage up the body counts in any fair reckoning of the extent of repression that we are asked to evaluate. Crudely speaking, one tortured Tunisian may count for more on a relative or “normalized” scale of repression than several victims of another country in which torture is more habitual and the regime has less of a political community of values to violate and less of a state tradition or rule of law to undermine. The idea of “deviating” from political traditions, however, also has its pitfalls because the values and beliefs of a political community are always in flux. International fashions also change: Bourguiba’s despotic developmentalism looked good to academics, foundations, and NGOs in the 1960s, but similar Ben Ali rhetoric no longer works the same magic in the twenty-first century. Pinning down the latter’s “deviation” from Tunisia’s political traditions will require considerable elaboration and, unfortunately, runs against the grain of the best recent political study of the country, that of Camau and Geisser in 2003.[3]

Tunisia, however, became a police state in the 1990s, with big and visible increases in the police force as well in arbitrary practices of neighborhood sweeps, arrests, torture, and detention. Estimates of the number of police vary from 80,000 to 150,000, from double to almost four times the forces of the mid–1980s. Even the lower number that circulates among foreign observers in Tunisia suggests that, with one agent for every 110–115 Tunisians, the country has more than twice as many as France, Germany, or Britain.[4] The former head of Tunisian security recalls having about twenty wire taps at his disposal for Tunisian suspects in 1983 (after the dozens reserved for foreign embassies) compared to about 5,000 in 2004.[5]

Body Counts

The State Department’s 2005 Report on Tunisia’s Human Rights Practices, released in March 2006, stated The government's human rights record remained poor, and the government persisted in committing serious abuses,” such as:

 • torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees
 • arbitrary arrest and detention
 • police impunity
 • lengthy pretrial and incommunicado detention
 • infringement of citizens' privacy rights
 • restrictions on freedom of speech and press
 • restrictions of freedom of assembly and association

The report describes in some detail the torture techniques of Ben Ali’s police:

The forms of torture and other abuse included: electric shock; submersion of the head in water; beatings with hands, sticks, and police batons; suspension, sometimes manacled, from cell doors and rods resulting in loss of consciousness; and cigarette burns. According to AI [Amnesty International], police and prison officials used sexual assault and threats of sexual assault against the wives of Islamist prisoners to extract information, to intimidate, and to punish.

While noting that there had been some improvement in prison conditions in the late 1990s, the report also discussed prison conditions:

Prison conditions ranged from spartan to poor, and generally did not meet international standards. Foreign diplomatic observers who visited prisons described the conditions as "horrible." Overcrowding and limited medical care posed a significant threat to prisoners' health. Sources reported that 40 to 50 prisoners were typically confined to a single 194 square foot cell, and up to 140 prisoners shared a 323 square foot cell. Current and former prisoners reported that inmates were forced to share a single water and toilet facility with more than 100 cellmates, creating serious sanitation problems.

Political prisoners were often singled out for specially harsh treatment. Some leaders of Nahda, the banned Islamist party, have been in jail since 1991, and in solitary confinement for protracted periods. There was also strong circumstantial evidence that some were being killed in prison.  The State Department report noted the most recent death: “on June 17 [2005], Moncef Ben Ahmed Ouahichi, a Jendouba resident, died of a cerebral hemorrhage at La Rabta Hospital in Tunis. This followed his arrest June 10 and his release the next day, at which time he was unconscious and bearing bruises…” [6]   Torture and/or inadequate medical care also resulted in three reports of deaths in prison in 2002 and of early releases of prisoners on death’s door.[7]

Little reliable quantitative information about political prisoners is available. A credible article on prison conditions claims that Tunisia had 253 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002—which would make a total of roughly 25,000 prisoners for this country of 10 million.[8] But how many of them were political prisoners? In Report 2001, covering the events of 2000, Amnesty International claimed “up to 1000,” but subsequently reformulated it to “hundreds,” including “many…held for more than a decade,” even after “scores” were released on November 3, 2004.[9] Human Rights Watch put the number at 500 in 2004 and then raised it to “more than 500” in a detailed exposé of the abysmal situation of ten of some 40 or more political leaders of the Nahda party and others who had been held in virtual isolation since 1992.[10]   The International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners (AISPP) counted 542 political prisoners by name in 2004 and indicated that there were probably many more, but President Ben Ali subsequently released substantial numbers of them in 2005, and at least 75 of the 1600 he pardoned in February 2006 were also recognized to be political prisoners. [11]  Human Rights Watch estimated, however, that over three hundred of them remained in jail in 2006 after these releases.[12]  No independent body, not even the International Red Cross, has had the opportunity to visit Tunisia’s prisons since 1991, much less to perform a census.

If three hundred is roughly the correct number of political prisoners, they account for only 1 percent of the country’s prison population, or 3 per 100,000 Tunisian inhabitants. By this conservative measure Tunisia was still more or less holding its own with Egypt, Kuwait, and Morocco,[13] and seemed slightly more repressive than Syria, estimated in 2004 to be holding only two hundred Syrian political prisoners out of a population almost twice as large.[14]   Once they are released, moreover, former political prisoners remain in virtual exile under strict administrative control and with little chance of being gainfully employed.[15]

The quality of the treatment of prisoners has perhaps improved since 1991–1992, when the big crackdown on the Nahda party occurred and thousands were arrested. At that time many prisoners, on their eventual release,

described treatment that clearly amounted to torture, including routine beatings by prison guards and even by senior staff and prison wardens, and the shackling of some prisoners hand and foot much of the day. Prisoners with health problems were often denied medication or proper care, and infestations and skin diseases were rampant due to poor hygienic conditions. Inmates were subject to extremes of weather without adequate clothing and bedding. Hygiene was substandard and overcrowding so severe that cellmates had no choice but to sleep in shifts. On family-visit days, guards routinely humiliated and mistreated the inmates’ relatives.[16]

In response to bad publicity in 2002 about prison conditions deteriorating again after some improvement in the late 1990s, Ben Ali delegated the head of his hand-picked “Higher Committee for Human Rights and Basic Liberties” (Comité Supérieur des Droit de l’Homme et des libertés fondamentales) to investigate the situation.[17] Although the resulting report was not published, Ben Ali promised to carry out some of its recommendations, including better sanitation and “extending breakfast to the entirety of the prison population.”[18] Of course he did not address the issue of political prisoners, especially leaders arbitrarily sentenced by military courts in 1992. Close to one hundred of the 265 Nahda activists sentenced in mid–1992 for attempting to overthrow the government remained in custody in 2006, although the alleged “plot” was seen at the time as just another excuse to lock up Ben Ali’s political opponents. Apparently, many of the leaders were kept for years under solitary confinement. As Human Rights Watch had concluded earlier, “Tunisia’s policy of targeting specific prisoners for long-term segregation from the rest of the prison population, whether in solitary or in small-group confinement, stands in stark contrast to the claim that its prisons comply with international standards.” [19] 

Other Indicators of Political Repression

As the State Department had already noted in 2004,[20] “Security forces physically abused, intimidated, and harassed citizens who voiced public criticism of the Government.” One of them was Abderrahmane Tlili, head of one of Tunisia’s six officially recognized opposition parties represented in parliament and the son of a distinguished Tunisian trade unionist. Plainclothes hooligans from the police beat him up very badly in the street outside his mother’s home after he threatened to expose the Ben Ali family with compromising documents. Then, after the official police rescued him and took him to the hospital, others ransacked his home for the documents.[21]

Another victim is Mokhtar Yahyaoui, a leading Tunisian judge dismissed from his post for criticizing the manipulation of Tunisian justice by the Ben Ali regime. Tunisia’s version of Haiti’s Tontons-Macoutes assaulted him for organizing defense lawyers on behalf of political prisoners. His nephew, who had produced an online political opposition magazine, Tunezzine,[22] died at the age of 30 of a heart attack shortly after being released from a couple of years in prison.  Women were not exempt from attacks by plainclothed hooligans. Sihem Bensedrine, a journalist and political activist who resigned from the leadership of one of Ben Ali’s make-believe opposition parties, suffered various police attacks and smears on her reputation, including fake pornographic videos. Human rights lawyer Radhia Nasraoui, who went on a hunger strike to get her (secular leftist) husband released from jail, also suffered numerous indignities, and her children were deprived of passports. Journalists and lawyers were special targets, and their children, like Judge Yahyaoui’s daughter, might be slapped around as a further warning to unrepentant opponents.  Hooligans from the police even grabbed the mobile telephone of Helene Flautre, the EU Parliament’s president of the Human Rights Commission, and prevented her from having a private dinner conversation with Radhia Nasraoui in May 2006 by sitting down at their table in the hotel dining room.[23]

Moncef Marzouki, who tried in 1994 to run against Ben Ali for the presidency and was jailed two days after the elections, continued to teach and practice medicine in Tunisia but sent his family to safety in France while he spent time in and out of jail working for various human rights causes. Deprived of his livelihood in Tunisia, he, too, finally moved to France in 2001 to work and teach in a Paris hospital. Many independent journalists, beginning with Kamel Labidi, have also been obliged to leave the country in order to pursue their profession. More recently Taoufik Brik gained further time in Tunisia by going on a hunger strike that gained him international attention and protection.

The state of the public media is deplorable. "If in certain countries like Algeria, Bosnia, or even Turkey, one kills journalists standing up, in others, like Tunisia, one participates in a slow death of the profession, by asphyxiation," a group of Tunisian journalists wrote to the International Federation of Journalists in 1995. The press became so "asphyxiated," in fact, that in 1997 the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) expelled the Tunisian Association of Newspaper Directors—a tool of the Ben Ali regime—for its inattention to the deterioration of press freedom in the country.[24]

Although some magazines and newspapers are ostensibly privately owned, they operate under stringent legislation and self-censorship. Es-Sabah lost any remaining shreds of autonomy in 2000 when its owner-publisher left the country, ostensibly for family reasons, and its leading journalist, Abdellatif Fourati, was dismissed. La Presse, which is also privately owned but which had never displayed the independence of Es-Sabah, was indistinguishable from the official government press.[25] Haqa’iq/Réalités, a bilingual weekly, after publishing a controversial investigative report on prison conditions (see endnote 8), briefly lost its publicity revenues from government ads but then published the government’s version of what happened to Hédi Yahmed, the unfortunate young author of the report who departed shortly thereafter to France to pursue his professional career.[26] The government also refused permission for Al-Jazeera to set up an office in Tunis, despite a request by the president of the Tunisian Union of Journalists. In fact the syndicate, after expressing concerns about freedom of the press, was denied permission to hold its congress in 2006.

Tunisia’s low newspaper circulation may be seen as another indicator of the regime’s repressiveness because people are free not to buy papers, which suffer from a lack of real news content. Figure 1 shows that interest peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s, when there was some give in the political system, but then it declined, reaching levels in 2000 and 2001 that were back to those of 1970, when Tunisia was a much poorer and less literate society.  Figure 1 also compares Tunisia with America’s other important allies in the Arab region, and with Syria and Iran for good measure.  Tunisia and Syria run neck-and-neck for the lowest circulations.  In other words their monolithic newspeak bores readers the most.[27] 


Figure 1: Newspaper Circulation

(about here)

Source: World Bank, World Development Indicators CD ROM 2004


Tunisia’s handling of the Internet is another sad story. One of the first southern Mediterranean states to gain full connectivity to the Internet, in 1991, it was among the last to extend it to the public. When, in 1997, President Ben Ali finally decided that Tunisia needed to catch up, he still managed to keep control of the public’s access to news and even to personal correspondence. The law defining the service providers required them "to assure continual surveillance of the content of servers exploited by the service provider so as not to permit dissemination of information which is contrary to public order and morality," as if they running a cinema or theater.[28] Consequently few dared to respond to official tenders. Ben Ali’s daughter and a close friend of the family run the only two service providers that offer connections to the public. People are encouraged to set up their e-mail accounts with the service providers rather than with Hotmail or Yahoo because the latter are periodically shut down, although it is common knowledge that the service providers also offer full access to Tunisia’s Internet police, which has been strengthened in recent years. Telephone and Internet charges have been reduced to encourage people to use their home connections, where they can be easily monitored. As the Tunisian League of Human Rights reported in May 2004, “the e-mail, particularly of political or human rights activists can be intercepted and mailboxes shut down by pirating passwords.” One journalist was thrown into prison for four months for sending an e-mail from an Internet café.[29]

Tunisian opposition sites and newspapers are blocked, as are many foreign journals and newspapers like Le Monde and other potentially subversive resources. Tunisia’s “publinets” (Internet cafés) are so restricted by spy software in the computers and so infested with plainclothes police that demand for their services may be decreasing rather than increasing, although most of Tunisia’s 700,000 users depend on them rather than on more expensive connections at home. In any event, the number of these publicly sponsored enterprises dropped from 340 to 260 in 2002, mainly as a result of police sweeps in June and July directed against publinets that did not fully comply with regulations.[30] There were 305 of them in 2005, serving as a “low-tec point of control” because the café owners were “required by the state to monitor customer access to prevent access to “banned” content.”[31]  At least three groups of young Internet surfers were caught, imprisoned, and in some cases tortured in 2002 before being subjected to trials and long prison sentences.[32]  Released in 2005, the Zarzis group remains deprived of educational opportunities and under virtual house arrest.

The development of the police state in Tunisia, moreover, has not just been confined to niche specializations like Internet surveillance. With their four-fold increase since Bourguiba forced retirement in 1987 they are more visible on the streets and specialize, too, in repressing non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as political dissidents.  A final indicator of repressiveness, much more difficult to quantify, concerns the degree of political pluralism that a regime tolerates. How autonomous are the NGOs and in what domains are they allowed to operate? Tunisia has thousands of them, but only a dozen or so are truly independent, not government satellites encouraged by the regime as a “civil society” counterweight to opposition Islamists.[33] The Islamists are either in exile, jail, or, in the cases of those released in 2005 and 2006 under virtual house arrest. The regime has, however, encouraged a semblance of political pluralism by legalizing a few “opposition” parties and even allocating to them a small percentage of seats in parliament that they could not otherwise win against the state party juggernaut, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD). Although handpicked for their loyalty, opposition leaders have sometimes been in trouble for trying to do their job. Abderrahmane Tlili, already mentioned, is one example. Another was Mohamed Mouada, the head of the largest opposition party. He was arrested in 1996 and again in 2001, after criticizing the president. Each time he was released after a few months, but he had been sentenced in 1996 to eleven years on charges of providing intelligence to a foreign power and remained under constant surveillance.

The regime has not succeeded, however, in totally abolishing politics. Human rights organizations exist, though they operate under great difficulty. One tactic used to neutralize the Tunisian League of Human Rights was to submerge its meetings with an influx of RCD activists. Another was to encourage “moderates” to desert the “extremists,” whom the regime could not control. The LTDH was virtually paralyzed in 1993, then recovered briefly before again falling victim to internal power struggles that removed activists like Moncef Marzouki from office. Other organizations operate illegally and are consequently always vulnerable. The Tunisian human rights activists enjoy significant support from international NGOs and occasional backing from France and even the United States. The regime must weigh its sense of security against the political costs of incremental losses of international support. In May 2006 it seemed to be panicking. First the police broke into the office of head of the Tunisian Bar Association and attacked lawyers protesting a new law that threatened the profession’s independence.  Then, on May 11, security forces detained the head of the newly formed Syndicate of Journalists for holding a secret meeting.  A week later the police even prevented members of the family of a deceased human rights activist from entering the headquarters of the Tunisian League for Human Rights to attend a memorial ceremony in his honor.  Then they detained Swiss representative of Amnesty International, who was attending a meeting of the Tunisian section, and asked him to leave the country on May 21. A week later, in the presence of foreign guest observers, including Hélène Flautre, Chair of the European Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, police physically blocked LTDH delegates from holding their congress. 

Fortunately for the opposition, Tunisia is too close to France for its suffering to be totally ignored. Online and in France, various opposition groups publicly engage in exile politics and support Tunisian human rights. The ruling party insulates the masses from the small elite of human rights activists at home, however, and the only serious threat to the regime would be if internal dissidents within the ruling apparatus were to join forces with those activists.


Deviating from Tunisian Traditions?

In terms of our indicators, the Ben Ali regime holds its own across a universe of regimes in the Arab region that routinely tortures political suspects and keep some of their oppositions under lock and key. As noted above, its political prisoners per 100,000 people roughly matched the incarceration ratios of Egypt, Kuwait, and Morocco, and even exceeded Syria’s.  Its press is among the dullest and most conformist in the region, and its dismal human rights is further darkened by the degree that the Ben Ali regime has deviated from the country’s established norms.

Serious observers argue, however, that the Ben Ali regime did not significantly deviate from Bourguiba’s norms. Habib Bourguiba, after all, was no democrat. In 1956, he became prime minister of independent Tunisia and proceeded with the full support of his Neo-Destour Party, which in turn controlled an elected National Assembly, to establish a presidential regime. He then reorganized the party to insure his personal authority. In 1974 he had the Tunisian constitution amended to award him a life-long presidency.

Like Ben Ali, Bourguiba had murdered or physically intimidated his opponents, even as far back as 1937 when his Neo-Destour party battled and outflanked the old Destour forces of Abdelaziz Thaalbi. When a split occurred in 1955 between Bourguiba, who favored independence in cooperation with France, and his erstwhile collaborator and party organizer, Salah Ben Youssef, who preferred a more radical pan-Arab approach, the result was virtual civil war. The new Tunisian government, with French military assistance, cracked down on the Youssefists in the early months of independence, and captured Youssefists suffered miserable fates in Tunisian jails unless they were shot on the spot or hanged in a public square. The estimated 900 deaths in 1955–1956 were double those of Tunisians killed or executed in their independence struggle against France (1934–1954). One of Bourguiba’s “enforcers” supervised the execution of Salah Ben Youssef in a Frankfurt hotel room in 1961. Apparently, too, trade union leader Ahmed Tlili and former Planning Minister Ahmed Ben Salah were subsequently targeted.[34]

Bourguiba’s regime was torturing students returning from the Near East as early as 1963 to preserve Tunisians from infectious Arab ideologies such as Baathism. Then in 1968 it was the turn of home grown leftists. The State Security Court convicted 130 students and young graduates, although many had apparently already suffered “torture with unheard of cruelty,” so as “to terrorize them out of any desire for contestation.”[35] The treatment may have been extended to hundreds of students arrested in the early 1970s. Then in the 1980s it was the turn of the Islamists. Ever more senile, Bourguiba called back his “enforcer” to be assistant director of the ruling party and demanded capital punishment for Rashid Ghannouchi, their leader, and others among the scores of Islamists on trial.

Instead of deviating from Bourguiba’s legacy, then, Ben Ali could be viewed as rectifying it and preventing the excessive punishments Bourguiba sought when, as prime minister in 1987, Ben Ali conspired with party director Hedi Baccouche and others to retire the old man from office. As president in 1988, he released the hundred or so Islamists whom Bourguiba had jailed. He also intended to curb some of Bourguiba’s other excesses. Close associates of Ben Ali insisted at the time, for instance, that the president had no desire to emulate Bourguiba’s personality cult. Rather, he advocated freedom of the press and other measures of political liberalization in 1988. The public media were deplorable in Bourguiba’s final years: the daily TV news opened with archives of Bourguiba delivering speeches in the 1950s and 1960s before showing a few current scenes of a doddering old man being adulated by his courtiers.

By the early 1990s, however, Ben Ali was practicing the full Bourguiba, cult and all. The presidency grew at the expense of the ministries, the council of ministers, and the prime minister, for the youthful-looking president, computer at hand, took active control of the administration. Instead of breaking with the one-party system, he encouraged the ruling party to grow even more, from roughly 1 million members in 1986 to 2 million in 1997, flushing some of the older leadership with new cadres.[36]  The party continued as it had during much of Bourguiba’s reign to be an appendage of government administration, with hierarchical controls extending in parallel with the ministry of the interior down to the local level. It did not serve as a recruitment channel for political leadership, since ministers tended to be recruited for their technocratic organizational abilities and then parachuted into party command posts rather than the reverse. In Bourguiba’s time ministers tended to have had more of a political background in the party, trade union, or student union than those recruited after 1987.[37] But Bourguiba’s party, too, had been largely transformed into an administrative apparatus by 1958, two years after independence.[38] The exercise of personal power, moreover, tended to transform the political elite into insecure individual courtiers seeking the presidential monarch’s favor. In this sense little changed between the Bourguiba and the Ben Ali periods.

By engineering constitutional change in 2002 to permit him to keep running for office, Ben Ali even seemed to be competing with Bourguiba’s legacy of a life-long presidency.[39] Indeed, if it is true that he has cancer and is grooming his wife to succeed him, he may meanwhile outdo Bourguiba’s excesses.[40] Ben Ali’s cult of personality is an even greater deviation from Tunisian traditions because he is no Bourguiba; when history repeats, the second time has to be a farce. What most Tunisians could accept of their founding father, they can hardly accept of an upstart ex military intelligence officer with limited political experience. Ben Ali lacks Bourguiba’s historical legitimacy.

The Ben Ali regime’s economic corruption, moreover, has exceeded all Bourguibian boundaries. True, Bourguiba built palaces—although not removing all his neighbors for security reasons as Ben Ali did in extending the perimeters of his Carthage palace. True, some of Bourguiba’s wife’s family and friends may have made commercial mistakes. One of them, for instance, was chairman of the Union of International Banks, which had become an insolvent state enterprise by 1986 when he was fired and imprisoned—at about the time Bourguiba divorced his wife.[41] These stories pale, however, against the lurid tales of corruption of the “Seven Families” surrounding Ben Ali.  Some reports even suggested that Ben Ali has lost control of the battle among these family clans .[42] 

Undermining the State

The question of how deviant the Tunisian regime may be is not in the last analysis to be decided by comparisons between Ben Ali and Bourguiba in his later years but rather by how much each deviated from Tunisian political traditions. Both leaders insisted on a state of law but proceeded to undermine it.

The “state-building” of the pre-colonial and colonial periods may have been incomplete but Tunisia’s state tradition is certainly at least as strong as Morocco’s or Egypt’s and arguably stronger, given the degree to which a protracted nationalist struggle steeped Tunisia’s elites in the colonizer’s political culture.  Bourguiba built upon this legacy in his golden years of political pedagogy (1955–1965). After his first heart attack in 1965, however, there ensued a politically debilitating succession crisis lasting over two decades. In my opinion, the critical turning point came in 1971–1972, when Bourguiba—had he not been a megalomaniac—might have accepted reforms within the ruling party that would have institutionalized pluralistic competition within the party. Instead, he purged the liberals with the help of organized labor, got himself elected president for life (boasting in the process about himself being a miracle that happens only once in a millennium), and then suppressed the major trade union.

Ben Ali’s autocracy is a logical continuation of Bourguiba’s.  But the deviations from the rule of law are becoming excessive for several reasons. Times have changed and international public opinion is no longer as tolerant of developmental despots as in the 1960s. Echoes of disapproval in turn influence elite public opinion inside Tunisia, leading to greater disaffection, just as opposition from within receives more support abroad than in Bourguiba’s day. The Tunisian middle classes have vastly expanded from a core of under 5,000 university-educated professionals counted in 1965, and they are in constant contact with Europe, as are the lower classes as well.[43]  Tunisia also enjoys a rich legacy of nongovernmental organizations and political infrastructure, social capital that is currently wasting away under centralized party command.

The costs to the state budget of developmental dictatorship are greater than they used to be. On the positive side, prudent economic policies has kept inflation in check while spurring growth and substantially reducing although not eliminating poverty. The state banks, however, have huge portfolios of non-performing loans that stubbornly persist despite vast sums spent each year to clean them up. Many of the loans are to the regime’s wealthy retainers. Corruption, too, deters private investment. Tunisia is extremely competent in getting more than its share of aid from the EU, but its ability to attract foreign direct investment is limited by business perceptions of a voracious local mafia. Consequently, unable to attract enough investment, Tunisia takes on more debt in the race to grow fast enough to keep unemployment under control. Although debt service levels have not reached the level that obliged a major economic stabilization agreement with the IMF in 1986, the need for continued growth may keep nudging up its debt level ratios. In 2005 the present value of the short-term and long-term external debt amounted to 79 per cent of Gross National Income, higher than any other country’s in the Middle East and North (including Turkey) except Syria’s and Lebanon’s.[44]

Support from the United States and the World Bank helps Tunisia to stay afloat. The World Bank promised loans worth at least $200–$300 million annually for the period from July 2004 to June 2008 if Tunisia pursued structural reform, or $100 million if reforms stalled. Tunisia even managed to obtain a loan to develop its Internet capabilities in preparation for the World Summit on the Information Society that it hosted in 2005 (on behalf of the United Nations and the International Telecommunications Union) to discuss management of the Internet. It gained this privilege after being praised by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for democratizing the local Internet![45]  No new loans from the World Bank were forthcoming in 2006 and 2007, however, except $66.8 million toward a Tunis sewage project.[46]

If corruption has not yet, as in the nineteenth century, undermined Tunisian state finances, the police as well as the judiciary seem to be unraveling. Torturing prisoners was becoming routine, and a former minister of the interior narrowly escaped being indicted in a Geneva hospital by a former Tunisian victim with the help of TRIAL (“Track Impunity Always”) a Swiss human rights NGO.[47] In the opposition press one also reads that the police simply are incapable of doing routine duties, so caught up as they are in political surveillance and other tasks. There is a danger, in fact, that the police may displace the ruling party as the focus of control, as happened to the Baath Party in Iraq. Within the party, too, there are echoes of disturbances at the local level, such as the arrest in 1998 of a Central Committee member who was mayor of Kasserine (in the relatively neglected southwestern part of the country) and had criticized government policy. [48]

The most spectacular sign of state breakdown occurred in 2001, when Tunis civil circuit chief judge Moktar Yahyahoui wrote a letter to the president denouncing the total absence of independence among the Tunisian judiciary. The correspondent for Le Monde went so far as to write of “Ben Ali’s lost battle,” now that the true state of the regime’s foundations lay revealed. [49] Indeed the human rights opposition seems bolder, sensing a weakening of authority. Even the cowed and quiescent press showed some signs of life in March 2004, when a number of journalists from La Presse and Essahaffa wrote an open letter to the prime minister and a number of other government officials complaining of “a return in force of the policy of censorship and of pressure on their writings” and of their newspapers’ editorial practices. The investigative activities of independent Tunisian journalists during the October 2004 elections also indicate a growing impatience with fake competition. 

These presidential and parliamentary elections did little to strengthen the regime. As in previous presidential elections, Ben Ali had token opposition but won 94.8 percent of the vote (with a participation rate of 74 percent of the eligible voters). Independent journalists observed that the president’s campaign virtually monopolized the media, receiving 77 percent of the time accorded by the broadcasting media and 92 percent of the surface of the written press. Two of Ben Ali’s presidential contenders, moreover, expressed their support for the incumbent president and were permitted prime time, whereas afternoon prayers interrupted the third opponent’s broadcast! Little time or space remained for any of the parliamentary candidates, and most was allocated to those of the ruling Rassemblement Démocratique Constitutionelle (RDC). Whereas the opposition did manage to be heard, “in several cases the MDS [Mouvement Democratique Socialiste, the largest of the token opposition parties] and independent candidates announced their support for President Ben Ali instead of presenting their own programs.”[50]

Another source of embarrassment for the regime was the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). How could a regime that is so unfriendly to the free flow of information be an appropriate host to such a gathering? The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), an international consortium of NGOs such as Article 19 (of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the International Federation of Journalists, and Reporters sans Frontières, wrote an open letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urging the United Nations and member states to change the venue of the World Summit unless minimal rights could be guaranteed, including those of local as well as international media. IFEX published a report in February 2005 that took up many of the themes discussed in this paper.[51] During the time from January 14–19, 2005, when its fact-finding mission was in Tunisia, the authorities unblocked some web sites, but further monitoring demonstrated systematic filtering, based on an American software program.  A careful study published on the eve of the Summit showed that the government blocked not only the obviously political sites such as Kalima­, an opposition newspaper published online by Sihem Bensedrine,  but virtually all “anonymizer” sites from which Tunisians could engage in undetected surfing.[52]

When the World Summit convened in Tunis on 15 November 2005 the Tunisian government blocked all efforts to hold meetings outside the rigid confines of the offical conference.  The holding of the Summit did, however, give IFEX the opportunity for further monitoring of the situation.  In a report issued in May 2006 it welcomed the Tunisian decisions in February 2006 to release Hamadi Jebali, the long-suffering former editor of Nahda’s newspaper, and the seven cyber dissidents known as the Youth of Zarzis (while insisting also that the government stop harassing them outside jail).  But the new report is a further indictment of the regime’s “deceptions and lies,” concluding that “Freedom of Expression in Tunisia Remains under Siege” and urging “international organisations not to collude with the Tunisian government's attempts to cover up violations taking place in Tunisia.” [53]  Such comments might also have been addressed to the EU and the United States, along with IFEX’s principal findings:

  • The continuation of the imprisonment of individuals related to expression of their opinions or media activities.
  • Blocking of websites, including news and information websites.
  • Restrictions on the freedom of association, including the right of organisations to be legally established, and to hold meetings.
  • Restrictions on the freedom of movement of human rights defenders and political dissidents together with political police surveillance, harassment, and intimidation.
  • Press self-censorship and lack of diversity of content in the media, especially in the state-owned papers, radio and TV stations. 
  • Attempts to smear the reputations of activists, which are unlawful actions that are not being investigated.
  • Official harassment of attorneys and judges who press for independence of the judiciary.
  • Censorship of books through the legal submission procedure.

Indeed the human rights situation was deteriorating in 2006, and this new list of Tunisian malpractices, expanding on those listed in State Department’s Human Rights Report released earlier in the year (see above, page 2), pointed to a breakdown of law and order.  The authorities went so far to purge the Association of Tunisian Judges for supporting Mohammed Abbou, a lawyer who had been jailed in 2005 for writing articles on the Internet about Tunisian practices of torture. He was imprisoned, like many political prisoners in Tunisia, far away from his family, so that his wife had to drive hours, often lengthened  by arbitrary police behavior, to visit her husband for a few minutes each week.  Even the Paris Bar Association became concerned in May 2006 about the flagrant abuse of justice and volunteered to participate in the defense of Maître Abbou.[54]

As one Tunisian wrote in a six-part series about Tunisia’s “political mafia,”

Tunisia has turned back to the German Gestapo in Hitler’s time.  Criminal networks have been formed to shut off all propaganda or information because they are aware of the dangers of any arms of confrontation: they have banned the press, have restructured it and organized it to interdict any access by opposition elements and block all free thought, reflection, and political activities.[55] 

The series of articles observed “signs pointing to the collapse” of the regime but expressed little confidence in Tunisia’s divided and impotent opposition parties.  One sign of the regime’s vulnerability, more reminiscent of the Soviet Union under Stalin than Nazi Germany, were instructions given to the national soccer team training in Switzerland not to talk with the foreign press.  Of greater political import, but expressing the same closed mentality, the authorities sabotaged a seminar of international NGOs in September 2006 to prepare the 'International Conference on Employment and the Right to Work in the Euro-Mediterranean Region' to be held in Berlin in 2007.  The various European and Arab delegates arrived to discover that there were no longer any hotel reservations, despite the arrangements made by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation that had earlier worked with Tunisia on an EU sponsored project to develop trade unions.  Even the Amilcar Hotel owned by the Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) was closed to the delegates despite ample space. Evidently the authorities had taken umbrage at the presence of leading Tunisian human rights activists, protected by the Europeans.[56] 

Policy Implications

Were Tunisia, in addition to freeing hundreds of political prisoners, to meet the other conditions of IFEX, a sea change in its political life would occur. Tunisia, the well known état pilote or development model in the 1950s and 1960s, could again become a modern showcase, albeit not on its present course of mixing bogus privatization and cosmetic reform with the standard practices of a police state. For policy makers interested in democratizing the Arab and Muslim world, Tunisia deserves serious attention because it offers the best prospects for success: a relatively large middle class, social capital, political infrastructure, prudent economic management, and relatively efficient administration. Although it is still in practice a one-party state, grass roots party organizations could take on new life, if the rule of law came to be respected. It is a relatively strong state still, although corruption and a brutal disrespect for human rights are corroding it.

            There is little that the United States alone can do to halt the deterioration, but the European Union is also committed to human rights and democratic reform through partnership agreements with its southern neighbors. The two must work together despite their differences; indeed a common European commitment to better governance in Tunisia would also serve to strengthen its own union. Whether or not Tunisia is the most egregious violator of human rights in the region, it is the most promising target for reform. Not only do its internal social and economic conditions augur well for democracy, but, with fewer economic or strategic rents than its neighbors, the country is less able to derail a common approach by the outside powers. Combined EU-American efforts could also help to heal the divisions within the Atlantic alliance over other countries such as Iraq, where the stakes are higher.

            There are some signs, at least, that the European Union may be reevaluating its relationship with Tunisia.  Shortly after Hélène Flautre’s mission to Tunisia in May 2006 the European Parliament passed a resolution regretting that “the situation as regards freedoms and human rights in Tunisia is still a cause for concern” and calling for Tunisia to cooperate with the EU and the United Nations on a number of fronts, including agreeing to a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.  Noting that Tunisia was holding the presidency of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), the European Parliament also called for “better cooperation” between EMPA and the Tunisian Presidency “in terms of respecting human rights.”[57]  Although the parliament has little power over the EU executive, much less its constituent states, the countries that have some influence on Tunisia, such as France and Germany, may use the resolution to put more pressure on Tunisia and indeed to encourage the parliament’s Human Rights Committee to continue its fine work.  The United States, too, could be more responsive to the EU parliament’s concerns and also to those expressed by its own State Department human rights section.

Working together, “old Europe” and the United States could attempt to persuade Ben Ali that his place in history lies in presiding over a genuinely competitive succession process when his presidential term expires in 2009. Meanwhile, the Europeans and Americans should continue to support those few genuinely autonomous NGOs that continue to defy dictatorial and arbitrary rule. [58] Since the EU currently enjoys greater moral authority than the United States in the region, it should be especially persistent in defending the human rights movement within Tunisia, as its moral authority may serve to curb some of the excesses of the police. Awareness of strong outside support may in turn further embolden the domestic opposition.

Tunisia could regain the moral high ground that it occupied during its first ten years of independence under a healthy Bourguiba, but this time under leadership constrained by stronger institutions and the rule of law. It could again become a model for development and political change in Africa and in the Arab world, were the current regime to be exposed to gentle but focused and sustained international pressure. Unfortunately, the United States sends precisely the wrong signal by stationing a regional bureau of the Middle East Partnership Initiative in the country. Although any liberation of Tunisia is likely to be accompanied by a torrent of anti-American political rhetoric, a new dialogue with aspiring Tunisian democrats (including the Islamists) could also offer both parties an opportunity to recover their political traditions. If the United States were ready to face up to a Middle East with fewer “sweet little rogues,” Tunisian civil society (and Tunisian officials embarrassed by the excesses of the police state) could positively respond to the Bush administration’s commitment to freedom and democracy.

[1] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, II (Oxford, 1971), 2566.

[2] William Shakespeare, Henry IV (1597) or, as someone wrote in 1672, "it's a pretty little rogue; she is my mistress." Oxford English Dictionary.

[3] Michel Camau and Vincent Geisser, Le Syndrome Autoritaire: Politique en Tunisie de Bourguiba à Ben Ali (Paris, 2003), 18.

[4] Camau and Geisser, Le Syndrome Autoritaire, 204205.

[5] Ahmed Bennour, Paris, July 16, 2004, also observed that the budget of the Ministry of the Interior had increased from 170 million Tunisian dinars in 1984 to about 660 million.

[6] US Department of State, Tunisia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005,” (March 8, 2006): (retrieved June 27, 2006).

[7] Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia 2002,” in World Report 2003 (New York, 2003),

[8] Hedi Yahmed, “Hal yejib islah es-sujoun fi Tunis?” [“Do Tunisia’s Prisons Need to Be Reformed?”], Haqa’iq/Réalités, No. 885 (December 12, 2002), cited by U.S. State Department,, “Tunisia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” (February 24, 2004).  See also Sami Ben Gharbia, Tunisian Prison Map, cited in Tunisnews No. 2327, Oct. 4, 2006: Both Tunisian sources cite “Le système carcéral en chiffres,” Le Monde diplomatique, June 2003, p. 25: (retrieved Oct. 7, 2006).  Tunisia came fourth, after the USA, Russia, and South Africa but ahead of China and Israel, in the number of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants. 





[9] Amnesty International, “Tunisia: Releases of Scores of Political Prisoners is a Positive Step,” (London, November 4, 2004),

[10] On the eve of Ben Ali’s visit to Washington, Human Rights Watch Stated: “Most of Tunisia’s 500 political prisoners are suspected Islamists who were convicted after unfair trials on nonviolent charges such as membership in a political organization outlawed by the government.” Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia: Long-Term Solitary Confinement of Political Prisoners,” XVI (July 2004), 4,

[11] US Department of State, “Tunisia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2005,” (March 8, 2006); Chris Heffelfinger, “Jailed Extremists Pardoned in Tunisia,” Terrorism Focus (Jamestown Foundation), 3: 8 (February 28, 2006): (retrieved June 27, 2006)

[12] Human Rights Watch, March 17, 2006:

[13] Amnesty International’s 2005 Annual Report estimated Egypt’s political prisoners to be in the thousands, for a population seven times Tunisia’s.  Kuwait’s 29 known political prisoners for a population well under one-tenth Tunisia’s gives a slightly higher ratio.  With triple Tunisia’s population, Morocco had prosecuted some 1500 of the 3000 suspects arrested after the Casablanca bombings of May 2003.  Amnesty reports that substantial numbers of them were imprisoned, again filling the jails after earlier releases of most of Morocco’s thousands of political activists jailed in the 1960s and 1970s.  See Amnesty International, Annual Report 2006 (March 2006): (retrieved October 1, 2006)

[14] Joshua Landis blog  Not included are perhaps 200 Lebanese and numerous Palestinian and Jordanian prisoners.

[15] Béatrice Hibou, “Domination & Control in Tunisia:Economic Levers for the Exercise of

Authoritarian Power,” Review of African Political Economy No.108, pp. 188-189.

[16] Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia: Long-Term Solitary Confinement of Political Prisoners,” XVI (July 2004), 10.

[17] The concerned functionary, Zakaria Ben Mustapha, a former minister and mayor of Tunis, had made an earlier investigation in 1995, when prisons were probably at their worst, and reported that they fully met international standards. See Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia: Long-Term Solitary,” 13, citing Agence France-Presse, “La situation dans les prisons répond aux ‘normes’ internationales, selon une commission d’enquête” (August 15, 1995).

[18] “Prisons: des mesures immédiates,» Haqa’iq/Réalités, February 20, 2003,

[19] Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia: Long-Term Solitary,” 35.

[20]  Tunisia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” (February 24, 2004),

[21] Abdelqahhar, “Limogeague et Aggression d’Abderrahmane Tlili: La Fin d’une Entente Mafieuse,” L’Audace, CIII (September 2003). According to this account, Tlili’s original crime was to have been overheard on a tapped phone conversation promising one of his mistresses that she would become Tunisia’s First Lady. Other accounts say he had asked Ben Ali for a government of national union and for alternance. Ben Ali dismissed him from his position as head of the Civil Aviation Authority, one of a succession of parastatal management positions he had occupied since the 1980s. Rather than quietly accepting political disgrace, Tlili retaliated by threatening to reveal documents implicating Ben Ali’s family in various schemes. L’Audace estimates that he stole one fifth of Tunisia’s national debt ($12.6 billion at the end of 2002) over the years. He was tried in for generating projects for friends worth about $4 million and for having foreign bank accounts and real estate. In April 2004 he was sentenced to nine years in jail and fined 52 million dinars.

[22] TUNeZine ( stopped publishing on March 14, 2006, but its website points to other opposition press sources online, notably and

[23] Compte-rendu de la visite d’Hélène Flautre en Tunisie des 26-27 mai 2006:

[24] Hamed Ibrahimi, "Une Presse Asphyxiée, des Journalistes Harcelés," Le Monde Diplomatique, (February 1997), 4-5; Kamel Labidi, "How Tunisia Slid Off its Progressive Course,” Christian Science Monitor (August 18, 1997).

[25] Its long retired editor revisited La Presse in 1998. He told me (in a personal interview, Tunis, July 1998) that some of his former associates were complaining to him, some of them in tears, about being professionally humiliated by some of the newer recruits.

[26] “’L’affaire Hédi Yahmed’ Les Points sur les ‘i’,” Haqa’iq/Réalités (January 9, 2003), For the author’s version see “The Article That Forced Hedi Yahmed To Flee His Country,” RAP21 Newsletter,XVI (January 5, 2003), Both articles are cited by Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia: Long-Term Solitary,” 15–16.

[27] The legend in Figure 1 presents the countries in the order of their most recent newspaper count. The World Bank stopped publishing these data after WDI 2004.  Algeria would probably otherwise be upgraded ahead of Egypt and Morocco.  I counted the circulation claimed by 35 Algerian newspapers in 2002 to reach 1,492,000, or close to 50 per 1000 inhabitants, approaching the level reached in 1990 when political reformers governed the country. 

[28] La Presse (April 20, 1997), 3.

[29] “Médias sous Surveillance: Rapport de la LTDH-Tunisie Mai 2004,” final section transcribed in L’Audace, CXII (June 2004), 24. The report also observes that neighboring Algeria has 1.3 Internet cafés per 10,000 inhabitants compared to Tunisia’s 0.3.

[30] United States Department of State, “Tunisia Human Rights Practices” (February 25, 2004); Human Rights Watch, “Tunisia 2002.”.

[31] OpenNet Initiative, Internet Filtering in Tunisia 2005, p. 7: (retrieved Oct. 2, 2006).

[32] Six youths and a minor were arrested in Zarzis in late 2002 on grounds of “forming a band with the object of preparing armed strikes [attentats]. ” They claimed simply to be surfing the net for information about the political situation in the Middle East. Jailed and originally condemned to sentences ranging from nineteen to twenty-six years in jail, they gained slight reductions, down to an average of thirteen years on a prison farm, on appeal in July 2004. See Le Monde (July 8, 2004), 3; The International League of Human Rights, “Tunisie: Condamnation des ‘Internautes de Zarzis’ à de Lourdes Peines au Terme d’un Procès Entaché d’Irrégularités” (July 7, 2004), .

[33] By one count Tunisia had 7500 NGOs in 2001–2002, or 53.6 organizations per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the higher densities in the Arab world. See Salim Nasr, “Arab Civil Societies and Public Governance Reforms: An Analytic Framework and Overview,” United Nations Development Programme, Conference on Good Governance for Development in the Arab Countries, Dead Sea, Jordan, 2005.

[34] Souhayr Belhassen, “Les Legs Bourguibiens de la Répression,” in Michel Camau and Vincent Geisser (eds.), Habib Bourguiba: La Trace et l’Héritage (Paris, 2004), 392. On the treatment of Youssfists in 1955–1956 395-396. Belhassen is a veteran journalist and vice president of the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

[35] Ibid., 397.

[36] Camau and Geisser, Le Syndrome Autoritaire, 181, 217218.

[37] Ibid., 194–195.

[38] Clement Henry Moore, Tunisia Since Independence: The Dynamics of One-Party Rule (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA, 1965).

[39] The constitutional amendment passed in May 2002 abolished the term limit and extended the eligibility of candidates to seventy-five years of age.

[40] For a summary of recent speculation, see “Comment Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali a Été Dépossédé du Pouvoir,Libération (August 14, 2003), cited by (September 7, 2003),

[41] For an analysis of the Union of International Banks, see Clement M. Henry, The Mediterranean Debt Crescent (Gainesville, FL, 1996), 181–183.

[42] When a French banker’s yacht stolen in Corsica in May 2006 reappeared in Sidi Bou Said, with Ben Ali’s wife’s nephew Imad Trabelsi at the helm, the online journal interpreted the event as one more illustration of the president’s family troubles.  See “La famille de Ben Ali en eaux troubles,”, 14 June 2006: (retrieved June 27, 2006). For a background discussion of the Trabelsi family’s excesses before the yacht scandal, see Hamime, “La mafia politique tunisienne enlisée dans les affaires juteuses,” Reveil Tunisien, April 12, 2006:

[43] Camau and Geisser, Le Syndrome Autoritaire, 163.

[44] World Bank, World Development Indicators 2006.

[45] Reporters Sans Frontiéres, “Internet Under Surveillance: Tunisia 2004” (2004),

[47]Former Interior Minister Abdallah Kallel narrowly escaped from his hospital bed in Geneva in 2001. He can no longer be prosecuted for criminal charges, but the Tunisian residing in Switzerland who claimed that Kallel as minister was responsible for torturing him is attempting to mount a civil law suit against him. A hearing was scheduled in Geneva for 5 June 2005 to determine whether the Swiss court may have jurisdiction in a civil suit against Kallel and/or the Tunisian state. See Fati Mansour, "Les audaces juridiques d'un rifugii dicidi ` faire payer ses bourreaux tunisiens: Une victime tranne l'Etat tunisien devant un tribunal suisse," Le Temps, Geneva, 20 October 2004, cited in L'Audace, no. 118 of December 2004, 12–13. See Fati Mansour, “Les Audaces Juridiques d'un Réfugié Décidé à Faire Payer ses Bourreaux Tunisiens: Une Victime traîne l’Etat Tunisien devant un Tribunal Suisse,” Le Temps (Geneva) (October 20, 2004), cited in L’Audace, CXVIII, (December 2004), 12–13. On June 9, TRIAL (Track Impunity Always), the Swiss NGO supporting the principle of Swiss jurisdiction in this matter, announced that the hearing was held in the absence of the Tunisian government defendant and that the Court of First Instance would issue a verdict in coming weeks. See TRIAL, "La Plainte contre l'Ancien Ministre de l'Interieur Abdallah Kallel Va de l'Avant" (June 9, 2005), 

[48] Camau and Geisser, Le Syndrome Autoritaire, 360.

[49] Florence Beaugé, “Le Combat Perdu du Président Ben Ali,” Le Monde (July 21, 2001).

[50] The study, conducted by thirteen independent Tunisian journalists including Abdellatif Fourati, Seham Bensedrine, and Souhayr Belhassen, was sponsored by the International Medias Support (IMS), the Center for Media Policy and Development, the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, the Tunisian Association for Women Democrats, and the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia.

[51] IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group, "Tunisia: Freedom of Expression Under Siege" (February 2005),

[52] OpenNet Initiative, Internet Filtering in Tunisia 2005, pp. 10, 14, 16.

[53] Report of the Tunisia Monitoring GroupFollowing the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), May 2006: (Retrieved June 27, 2006)

[54] PANAPRESS, Paris, 30 May 2006.

[55] La Tunisie s’est mise à l’heure de la gestapo allemande de l’ère hitlérienne. Depuis lors, des réseaux criminels ont été constitués qui oeuvrent à tuer toute propagande ou information car ils sont conscients du danger que représente l’arme de la confrontation : ils ont interdit la presse, l’ont restructurée et organisée, interdit toute source de propagande aux mains d’éléments de l’opposition et réprimé toute pensée, réflexion et activités politiques libres.  Hamime, Tunisie : la mafia politique et les signes annonciateurs de la chute, part III, Reveil Tunisien, March 1, 2006

[56] Vanya Walker-Leigh, “Tunisia Under Fire for Ban on NGO Meet,” Sept 18, 2006, Interpress News  See also Omar Mestiri, La Benalie « terre d’accueil et d’ouverture »  Kalima no. 45 (3 Sept 2006)

[57] European Parliament Resolution on Tunisia, June 15, 2006:  An earlier version of the resolution (B6‑0355/2006 of 12 June 2006) considered “that the implementation of all these reforms must be treated as a priority of the EU-Tunisia partnership and must constitute a fundamental element in the development of relations between the European Union and Tunisia; considers, in that regard, that if Tunisia does not act in accordance with this agenda, the Council and the Commission will have to take appropriate action in the context of the Association Agreement.” 

[58] See the two concluding paragraphs of David L. Mack, “Democracy in Muslim Countries: the Tunisian Case,” National Strategy Forum Review, IV (2005),