Transition Arrested

Nate Grubman shows how the repeated failures of Tunisia’s once-promising democratic transition created a crisis ripe for exploitation by a populist outsider

In July 2021, Tunisia's populist president Kais Saied suspended the popularly elected legislature, upending a decade-long democratic transition. Despite the international celebration Tunisia's 2011 transition had garnered, Saied's executive takeover initially precipitated among Tunisians more relief than opposition. This article explores the factors that left Tunisia's newly established democracy so vulnerable. This essay argues that after decades of single-party rule, political elites failed to build political parties capable of parlaying political liberalization into the good governance and economic prosperity that many had expected to come from democratization. These failures not only contributed to the appeal of Saied's antiparty populism but also left the country bereft of guardrails to stop him.