Nous publions ci-dessous un chapitre du rapport relatif à la Tunisie Countries at the Crossroads 2005 : A Survey of Democratic Governance de l’année 2005 établi par Freedom House la célèbre ONG américaine fondée dans les années soixante par la femme du Président américain Roosevelt et très impliquée dans les événements qui ont touché l’Ukraine et la Géorgie.

Le rapport offre une analyse comparative ainsi que des évaluations quantitatives et des critères –modalités de contrôles, libertés civiles, état de droit, mesures d’anticorruption et de transparence – qui permettent de classer la position de la Tunisie parmi les 30 autres pays émergents ou à risque inclus dans l’étude.

Le rapport dresse un bilan assez sombre de la Tunisie et propose des orientations et une série de recommandations visant à lever les obstacles entravant les libertés et le processus de démocratisation du pays.

Le rapport est en anglais, pour télécharger :


In Tunisian politics, the leader of the RCD occupies the presidency and uses the power of the executive branch and the party’s political supremacy to dominate all aspects of public life. Party structures parallel the state’s administrative apparatus, and the president dominates both
through broad powers of appointment. [1] In May 2002 President Ben Ali abolished term limits on the presidency (which he himself had established after taking office in 1987) and raised the age limit for presidential candidates. He may now remain in office until at least 2014.

The authority of the government is minimally based upon the people’s will. Elections are held every five years under universal and equal suffrage. The October 1999 presidential elections were the first to see more than one candidate compete. However, Ben Ali hand-picked his opponents by passing a constitutional amendment that limited potential presidential candidates to individuals who for five consecutive years had headed a legal opposition party with at least one seat in parliament.

Two men met these conditions. The incumbent officially received 99.4 percent of votes cast, while his challengers received 0.3 percent and 0.2 percent respectively. There is no secret ballot. Candidate ballots are differentiated by color, and voters must return unused ballots to election officials. No independent observers were reported to have monitored the 1999 elections. Ballots are counted in secret, and the final tallies released by the interior ministry are regularly characterized by critics of the regime as inflated.

[Editor’s note : Tunisia held presidential and parliamentary elections on October 24, 2004. President Ben Ali retained the presidency with 94 percent of the vote, while his three challengers each garnered between 1 percent and 4 percent of the vote. The RCD won every parliamentary seat save those reserved for the legal opposition parties. Of the latter, two of seven boycotted the election ; the remaining five acquired 37 of 189 seats. The only independent observers who monitored the election were 10 Arab League representatives ; domestic human rights groups’ requests to do so were denied. Critics of the regime accused it of falsifying the results.]

Majoritarian electoral rules designed to over represent large parties help the RCD monopolize the legislature. The regime sets aside approximately 20 percent of parliamentary seats for the opposition (34 of 182 seats in the 1999 elections), to be distributed in proportion to parties’ relative national vote-getting success. The seven legal opposition parties are token and weak, while truly popular opposition bodies (most notably the Islamist en-Nahda party) remain illegal. The legal opposition parties have scant financial resources, a significant portion of which come from government subsidies. Their newspapers thus are not critical of the incumbent. During campaign periods the opposition is allotted tiny amounts of radio and television airtime relative to the media attention the ruling party commands. A 2003 law put opposition parties at a further disadvantage by prohibiting privately owned domestic or foreign broadcast media from taking a position on electoral candidates. Government repression and intimidation also dissuade citizens from supporting even the legal opposition organizations.

The executive branch dwarfs the legislature. Cabinet members are appointed by and responsible to the president, not parliament. The legislature is in session just six months a year ; when it is not, the president may rule by decree. Members of parliament have neither office space nor professional staffs. While they may in theory draft legislation, presidential initiatives have priority. The executive can count on the legislature to ratify laws because 80 percent of its seats are held by ruling-party representatives. While on paper the legislature has the right to vote down legislation proposed by the president and exercise no-confidence votes against his cabinet, it never does either. Members of parliament can question ministers and raise concerns about bills during parliamentary sessions, where policy debates can be vigorous. Still, the legislature cannot alter legislation in substantial ways. [2]

The government must consult the Economic and Social Council (ESC) on laws affecting social and economic affairs. The ESC has 100+ members, including representatives of unions, public enterprises, civic groups, local government, the RCD, and the legal opposition parties, as well as independents and intellectuals. ESC debates are lively, but its recommendations are submitted only to the president and parliament and are not made public. At the end of the day, the opinions of the ESC seem to be heard but not heeded ; it is not thought to be an influential actor in the legislative process. [3]

There is no judicial review of legislation. [4] In 1987 Ben Ali decreed the creation of a Constitutional Council to evaluate the constitutionality of proposed legislation, but lawmakers’ decision to submit a bill to countries at the crossroads the council was optional. In 1990 it became mandatory that all constitutional amendments and laws affecting rights and liberties be vetted by the council. A 1998 constitutional amendment made the council’s decisions binding on all branches of government. However, as council members are appointed by and beholden to the president, they do not constitute an effective check on governmental action.

Rural elites and the urban bourgeoisie comprise the regime’s social anchors. These groups have benefited from the privatization of both industrial and agricultural capital that has taken place in recent years. [5]

However, they are not the sole beneficiaries of state policies. While many have observed that Ben Ali only places into top offices bureaucrats who faithfully carry out his vision and support his presidency, [6] Tunisia is generally acknowledged to have a capable bureaucracy, in part because civil servants are hired based on their performance on a competitive exam.

Development policies have generated impressive growth rates and increasing prosperity that is widespread (70 percent to 80 percent of Tunisians own their own homes, for example), and the state is quite attentive to the needs of poor and marginalized populations. The state is also rather admirably engaged in women’s issues. The Ben Ali regime has allowed multiple women’s organizations to form, established a new ministerial post for women’s and family affairs and a new party secretary for women’s affairs, and created a women’s research center. [7] Currently, 43 of 189 parliamentary seats are held by women. The state prioritizes people with disabilities in the distribution of public services and makes provisions for their care, training, and integration into society. The state facilitates handicapped access to sidewalks and public buildings.

While the state does not cater exclusively to its main constituencies, the state system leads to domination by the specific interests of the ruling party as well as the economic elites that support it by refraining from (and ensuring that those they influence refrain from) challenging the regime. They have, in effect, traded the right to prosper for institutionalized political and civil rights. Rich elites do not fund parties in search of post-election policy favors because the victor in elections is never in doubt and because the ruling party’s control over state coffers means it does not need their contributions to function. Individual-to-individual lobbying is a more effective and commonly used mechanism for the pursuit of government favors by private elites. [8] Meanwhile, the law that governs state subsidies for the opposition parties requires the latter to submit to the state’s account court itemized listings of the sources and amounts of private financial contributions to party activities. Knowing their donations are not anonymous, private actors shy away from financing the opposition for fear of state retribution. [9] All nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive state subsidies must reveal this information as well, bringing the same prospect of state pressure down upon these actors.

There is little opportunity for civic groups to function freely in the public arena and weigh in on policy matters. The state routinely imprisons its critics. Journalists, human rights activists, and opposition politicians are the main victims of this practice, and their family members also often suffer from physical and bureaucratic harassment at the hands of the state. Ordinary citizens know not to speak their mind about politics in public. The regime also carefully regulates NGOs and creates obstacles to their free functioning. Associations must have interior ministry permission to function legally and can be shut down if they offend the authorities. The Law of Associations stipulates that persons found guilty of participating in an illegal organization can be imprisoned and fined.

The Tunisian Human Rights League has been closed down on more than one occasion and had portions of its funding blocked by the regime. The regime refuses to grant legal status to several other rights organizations. [10]

Press freedoms are similarly constrained. In 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Ben Ali to its list of the “10 Worst Enemies of the Press” (2001 was the last year it produced such a list). In 2004 Reporters without Borders’ press freedom index ranked Tunisia 152nd out of 167 countries. [11] Until recently, the government monopolized radio and television broadcasting and thus directly controlled content on those media. The country’s first privately owned radio station began operations in November 2003 ; it is run by a former journalist close to the regime, however, and airs mostly music.

The government encourages Internet usage but routinely blocks Web sites critical of it. While those of Amnesty International (AI) and many French papers can be accessed, many other sites cannot. [12] The government carefully controls Internet service providers in Tunisia, regulates and monitors Internet cafés, and monitors subscribers’ e-mail accounts.Those convicted of creating or surfing banned Web sites receive long jail sentences.

Newspapers are privately owned, although they are licensed by the government. Tunisia’s press code affirms the freedom of the press but holds that journalists may not commit defamation or libel or disturb the public order. Because these crimes are not clearly defined in the legislation, their interpretation is the prerogative of the interior ministry, which tends to equate them with criticism of state policies. [13] Journalists who transgress may be fined, suspended from the profession, and/or imprisoned ; publications found to be in breach of the law may be fined, confiscated, and/or banned. Critical journalists routinely experience substantial extralegal state punishments, including the denial of accreditation, police surveillance, physical assaults, restriction of freedom of movement, and torture during imprisonment. In May 2000 journalist Riad Ben Fadhel suffered multiple gunshot wounds after he published an article critical of the government in a foreign newspaper ; there is no evidence that the government conducted a serious investigation into the attack. Thus, many journalists have resorted to intensive self-censorship.

Other less draconian measures help control content as well. One-half of newspapers’ correspondents must be graduates of the government-run Institute of Journalism. The regime limits the information sources newspapers can draw on to the Tunisian wire service and government press conferences. A copy of all printed materials must be presented to the interior ministry and a receipt obtained before they can be legally distributed (the depot legal process) ; these receipts are withheld from troublemaking publications. The depot legal requirement extends to all printed matter, and while there is no specific policy, creative works that are explicitly political and critical of the regime are likely to be suppressed.

The government also blocks crucial advertising business from publications that displease it. Foreign publications containing content critical of the government do not reach the newsstand.


  • The Rassemblement Constitutionelle Démocratique’s organization should be separated from the state administration to ensure that public funds cannot be used to finance the operations of the party in power.
  • The principle of the secret ballot should be ensured in elections, and independent international election monitors should be invited to oversee the balloting process.
  • All nonviolent political parties that seek to operate in the political arena should be legalized.
  • The government should act on its publicly stated commitment to a free press by rewriting the press code so that it cannot be used to prosecute critical journalists and by dispensing with both the licensing and depot legal processes for printed materials.
  • The government should stop blocking what it considers sensitive Internet site

[1] Susan E. Waltz, Human Rights and Reform : Changing the Face of North African Politics(Berkeley and Los Angeles : University of California Press, 1995), 60.

[2] Michele Penner Angrist, “Parties, Parliament and Political Dissent in Tunisia,” Journal of
North African Studies 4, 4 (Winter 1999) : 89–104, 98.

[3] Ibid., 100.

[4] Yath Ben Achour, “Tunisia,” in Herbert M. Kritzer, ed., Legal Systems of the World : A Political, Social, and Cultural Encyclopedia (Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO, 2002), 1651–1657, 1654.

[5] Stephen J. King, Liberalization Against Democracy : The Local Politics of Economic Reform in Tunisia (Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 2003).

[6] “Tunisia 2004 : Manifesto of Progressive Tunisian Democrats,” issued 20 March 2001, Journal of Democracy’s Documents on Democracy, 12, 3 (2001) : 183–186, 184. See also Emma Murphy, “Ten Years On—Ben Ali’s Tunisia,” Mediterranean Politics 2, 3
(Winter 1997) : 114–122, 119.

[7] Emma C. Murphy, “Women in Tunisia : Between State Feminism and Economic Reform,” in Eleanor Abdella Doumato and Marsha Pripstein Posusney, eds., Women and Globalization in the Middle East : Gender, Economy, and Society (Boulder : Lynne Rienner, 2003), 169–194, 178–180.

[8] Eva Bellin, Stalled Democracy : Capital, Labor, and the Paradox of State-Sponsored Development(Ithaca : Cornell University Press, 2002), 56–57, 80.

[9] Angrist, 95.

[10] “Human Rights Lawyers and Associations Under Siege in Tunisia” (New York : Human Rights Watch, 17 March 2003),….

[11] “Worldwide Press Freedom Index” (Paris : Reporters without Borders),….

[12] Neil MacFarquhar, “Tunisia’s Tangled Web Is Sticking Point for Reform,” New York
Times, 25 June 2004, A3.

[13] Larbi Sadiki, “Bin Ali’s Tunisia : Democracy by Non-Democratic Means,” British Journal
of Middle Eastern Studies 29, 1 (2002) : 57–78, 71.