Tunisia: Is historic gain obscured by democracy vs. autocracy moment?

Amman, Jordan and Tunis, Tunisia

It was always going to be an uphill climb for the Arab world’s first woman chief minister.

If a failing economy and a pandemic weren’t challenge enough, Tunisian chief Minister Najla Romdhane has been appointed just as the Arab world’s lone democracy is at a basic crossroads: a broken political system and a constitutional crisis precipitated by an aloof president wielding near-absolute strength.

instead of a celebration of breaking the glass ceiling, Ms. Romdhane’s unexpected political ascent has taken on new meaning.

Why We Wrote This

Is there ever an strange time for progress? The symbolic victory embodied by Tunisia’s naming of a woman as chief minister comes amid a deepening battle over the quality of the nation’s democracy.

Her appointment has illustrated Tunisia’s uncertainty since President Kais Saied’s assumption of emergency powers in late July, teetering between hope for positive change and fears of a disastrous backslide into authoritarianism.

“Right now, all that matters is whether you are with or against Kais Saied, and that is not good for Tunisia itself. The whole political course of action has become Saied-centered,” says Eya Jrad, assistant professor of security studies at the Tunis-based South Mediterranean University.
“already the first woman chief minister is being scrutinized because she took on the task from Saied in a not-normal state of affairs.”

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