The Army’s Decision to Repress: A Turning Point in Tunisia’s Regime Change
Working Paper

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CDDRL Working Papers, Vol. 151



This article aims to explain the 2011 Tunisian transition by offering a historical institutional and a game-theoretic analysis of how the army played a crucial role in the fall of Ben Ali’s regime. What is the rationality behind the military’s decision to refuse Ben Ali’s order to open fire on the demonstrators? Why did the Tunisian army repressed protesters in the revolt of the Gafsa Mining Basin in 2008, and refused to do so in the decisive uprising of 2011? How to explain the speed at which the Tunisian regime fell? It is argued that the balance of power on the field was such that the army was better-off to back the population and used a strategic entry point to bring a decisive “coup” to the regime. The high degree of institutionalization of the Tunisian army is seen as a precondition to make such an independent decision. The army’s commitment to back the population constituted a strong signal to the protesters as well as to foreign allies, causing a rapid fall of the Tunisian dictatorship. This paper offers the first analysis applying game theory to explain the 2011 Tunisian transition and, more precisely, the interactions between Ben Ali’s regime and the army. While several analyses focus on the unprecedented popular mobilization to explain Ben Ali’s fall, only a few authors attempted to explain the role of the militaries. However, while they emphasize on the “disdain” of the army towards the regime, we, instead, claim that the rationality of one of the most professional army of the region to understand how and why the militaries refused to repress demonstrators in the 2011 national protests. 

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