Tunisia. According to human rights organizations Human
Rights Watch and Amnesty International, respect for human
rights in Tunisia deteriorated significantly during the
year. According to
Countryaah, Sihem Bensedrine, spokesman for the Tunisian human
rights organization CNLT (National Council for Freedom in
Tunisia), was arrested in June after taking part in a human
rights TV debate broadcast from London. She was released
after six weeks.
In January 1984, the government decided to remove the
subsidies for a number of foods. The price of bread rose
115% and it came to violent demonstrations that cost over
100 lives. That forced President Bourghiba to suppress price
increases. Following new professional conflicts in 1985, the
national organization UGTT was brought under government
control. Furthermore, there was a strong clash with the
emerging Islamic movement. Hundreds of Islamists were
detained and a number were sentenced to death.
During Bourguiba's presidency, Tunisia developed into the
most Western-oriented in the Arab world. But from 1986, the
Islamic response posed a number of fundamental questions
about civil society: the importance of religion in the lives
of individuals and communities, as well as the Islamic
consciousness of the country. Furthermore, it asked
questions about women's emancipation and the influence of
From 1986, Colonel and later General Zina El Abidine Ben
Ali's path to political power began. In 1987 he was
appointed prime minister and in November he replaced
Bourguiba at the presidential post. Bourguiba was otherwise
president "for life," but a group of doctors declared him
mentally and physically unfit to continue to hold the post.
Now a «national reconciliation process» has begun, implied
that hundreds of political prisoners be released and a
number of closed newspapers be allowed to reopen. The ruling
party is simultaneously renaming the Democratic
Constitutional Assembly (RCD) without abandoning its
dominant role in political life.
On April 2, 1989, presidential and parliamentary
elections were held, which observers considered "the freest"
since independence - despite the fact that 1.3 million were
unable to attend as they were not registered as voters. The
election reflected the polarization between the ruling party
RCD, which got 80% of the vote and all seats in parliament,
and the Islamic movement Hezb Ennahda, which was declared
illegal but with its "independent" candidates, nevertheless
attracted 15% of the vote. Opposition parties in the center
and on the left criticized the irregularities in the
elections, but were still almost completely without support.
President Ben Ali was re-elected with 99% of the vote.
Tunisia had opposed the Arab League's recognition of the
State of Israel in 1968 and severed diplomatic relations
with Egypt following the Camp David agreement of 1979. In
1982, the country welcomed the Palestinians when they were
expelled from Lebanon and served as the PLO headquarters
from the same year.. During the first years of Ben Ali's
presidency, the regime had taken a more conciliatory stance
on the Islamists, but now it decided to resort to the
illegal Hezb Ennahda and other opposition groups. In 1991,
all religious political parties were banned.
In June 1990, Amnesty International published a report on
Tunisia reporting torture and mistreatment of prisoners in
isolation. Amnesty International also requested that two
death sentences be overturned - unsuccessfully. In mid-1991,
personalities from across the opposition called for support
of the student movement's fight for democracy and respect
for human rights.
President Ben Ali responded again by tightening
legislation and increasing repression. A more restrictive
law on freedom of assembly was passed in March 1992, and in
July, members of Hezb Ennahda were sentenced to life in
prison. Representatives from a number of Western countries
understood that the risk of Islamic fundamentalism spreading
to Tunisia justified Ben Ali's policy.
At the same time, human rights organizations continued
their criticism of Tunisia for its use of torture. In
November 1993, Ben Ali passed a new law restricting
"fundamental freedoms". Against this backdrop, in March
1994, the president was re-elected with 99% of the vote,
while the ruling party got 88% of the seats in parliament.