Tunisia

By Cyana Chilton          

           The Arab Spring was launched in Sidi Bouzid, a remote Tunisian town. On Dec. 17, 2010, a government inspector demanded a bribe from Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor who supported a mother, uncle and five siblings by selling fruit from a cart. When Bouazizi refused to pay, the inspector confiscated his produce and equipment. Bouazizi sought aid at government offices. After he was rebuffed, he covered his body with paint thinner and set himself on fire in front of the provincial governor’s office.

Bouazizi’s action sparked the first Arab protests, first in Sidi Bouzid but unrest spread quickly across the country. Police reportedly killed 300 protesters between December and early January. President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali’s pledges of reforms did little to quiet the discontent.

            On January 14, Ben Ali fled with his family to Saudi Arabia, leaving Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi in charge. From January to October 2011, the interim government moved towards reform, recognized new political parties and disbanded Ben Ali’s party. But protests demanding further reform continued sporadically.

            On October 23, Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party, won the national elections and formed a coalition with two secularist parties. Into 2012, the new government attempted to control protests and violence throughout the country as thousands rallied for and against a more conservative religious government. In May, dissatisfied Salafists carried out various attacks on liquor stores and media stations that undermined the religious character of the state.

           Over the next year, Tunisia was deeply divided over the new order, as the elected assembly worked on a new constitution. Ennahda took halting steps on reforms, alternately addressing diverse segments of Tunisian political society. It pledged not to introduce Islamic law in the new constitution, but also filed a bill to prosecute offenses against “sacred values” and fired the Central Bank governor because his monetary policies conflicted with the government’s economic program. In June 2012, former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi formed a secular party to challenge Ennahda in 2013.

          In July and August 2012, Islamists and secularists argued over economic policy, blasphemy laws and women’s rights. The constitutional drafting committee extended its time to finish the document to February 2013. On September 14, Salafis demonstrated against an anti-Islam film and stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Both secular and Islamist leaders denounced the attack and pledged to crack down on militant Salafis.

Chronology 2010-11

Dec. 17, 2010: Street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi sets himself on fire to protest government abuse and corruption, igniting growing protests throughout the month.

Dec. 17, 2010 – Jan 13, 2011: Protests escalate, spreading nationwide. Police kill hundreds in confrontations.

Dec. 23: From Sidi Bouzid, Development Minister Mohamed Nouri Jouini announces a $10 million job creation program.

Dec. 28: In a televised address, President Zine al Abidine Ben Ali promises job creation but warns that protesters will be punished. He fires the communications, trade, and handicrafts ministers and the governors of rebellious provinces, including Sidi Bouzid.

Dec. 29: After 12 days of demonstrations, Nessma TV, a private channel, becomes the first major Tunisian media outlet to cover the protests.

Jan. 13: President Ben Ali promises not to run for office again in 2014, to allow press freedom and to cut the price of basic commodities. He also vows that legislative elections will take place in six months. But he imposes a state of emergency, which prohibits groups larger than three from congregating. In a countermove suggesting the military is abandoning Ben Ali, Gen. Rachid Ammar orders the army not to shoot at protesters and to protect them from police.

Jan. 14: President Ben Ali flees to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi takes over an interim government.

Jan. 17: A caretaker government is formed until elections can be held. The next day, four opposition members quit the interim government, and the president and prime minister quit the long-ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD).

Jan 19 – 26: In central Tunis, hundreds organized by the trade union movement call for the dismissal of ministers affiliated with Ben Ali.

Jan. 21: The RCD dissolves its leadership committee, approves an amnesty law for political prisoners, and promises to recognize all formerly banned political parties.

Jan. 23: The interim government shuts down the oldest and most popular private television network.

Jan. 26: The government issues an arrest warrant for the Ben Ali family, announces a $350 million public spending program, and postpones naming a new cabinet.

Jan. 27: The interim government appoints 12 new ministers and dismisses former RCD members except for Prime Minister Ghannouchi.

Jan. 30: Rachid Ghannouchi, founder of Ennadha, the main Islamic party, returns from two decades in exile, primarily in London.

Feb. 3: The interim government replaces every regional governor.

Feb. 7: New Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi orders the RCD to shut down its activities. It is formally disbanded on March 9. The interim government votes to allow interim President Fouad Mebazza to rule by decree. It also calls in the army reserves to provide more security after widespread police desertion.

Feb. 13: Italy announces it will send its army to help stabilize Tunisia after thousands of Tunisians flee to Italy.

Feb. 15: The Interior Ministry extends the state of emergency but ends the curfew imposed by Ben Ali in January.

Feb. 27: Prime Minister Ghannouchi resigns and sets elections for July 15. Interim President Fouad Mebazaa replaces him with former minister Beji Caid-Essebsi.

March 7: The interim government appoints a new cabinet and disbands the state spy agency.

March 22: After Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit, the U.S. promises $20 million in aid.

April 1: The Justice Ministry announces 18 legal cases against Ben Ali, which include charges of voluntary manslaughter and drug trafficking.

April 26: Prime Minister Essebsi bans senior RCD members from contesting elections.

May – July: Every Sunday, people protest nationwide for further reforms.

May 26: Election officials recommend that elections be delayed until October 23 to allow more preparation and voter registration.

May 27: The Group of 8 industrialized nations pledges billions in aid to Tunisia, with more promised if democratic reforms continue.

June 20: Ben Ali and his wife Leila are convicted in absentia of theft. Both are sentenced to 35 years in jail and fined $66 million.

June 24: The interim cabinet adopts laws allowing lawyers to organize, banks to check the records of amnesty beneficiaries, and creating a committee to manage frozen assets for the state.

July 11: A voter registration campaign begins.

July 14: The World Bank approves a $50 million loan for Tunisia to support small businesses.

July 15 – 7: Protesters and police clash in Tunis and various other cities.

July 27: President Mebazza extends emergency law until Aug 1.

Aug. 23: The EU announces $160 million to aid Tunisia’s economy.

Sept. 6: Security forces are banned from joining unions, prompting hundreds of police to protest.

Sept. 14: Ennahda publishes its election platform, promising a moderate Islamist agenda.

Oct. 9: Protesters attack a TV station for showing Persepolis, which features scenes representing God talking to a young girl. They also protest at the main university against a ban on women wearing the full black niqab, which shows only the eyes. Dozens are arrested.

Oct. 14 – 6: In Tunis, thousands protest the Persepolis screening, and thousands respond with calls for press freedom.

Oct. 23: In parliamentary elections, Ennahda wins 89 of 217 national assembly seats, with over 90 percent turnout in some areas. Among 49 women elected, 42 are from Ennahda. The party forms a coalition with two non-religious parties, Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republican Party.

Oct. 27 – 8 : Protests erupt in Sidi Bouzid after elections officials cancel several seats won by Al Aridha, a political party founded in the town. The government imposes a curfew on Sidi Bouzi.

Nov. 15: Ennahda Secretary General Hamadi Jebali refers to the new government as the sixth Muslim caliphate, leading the Ettakatol Party to suspend its participation in the new governing coalition. It later returns after being promised powerful government positions.

Nov. 18: Jebali is chosen as the coalition prime minister.  Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic Party is nominated for president. And Ettakatol’s Mustafa Ben Jaafar is named speaker of the National Assembly. They are sworn in Dec. 13.

Nov. 22: The new National Assembly holds its first meeting.

Nov 28: Interim President Mebazaa extends the state of emergency until December 2012.

Nov. 28 – Jan 24: Islamist students occupy Manouba University for four days to demand that male and female students be separated, triggering strikes at state universities and protests outside parliament. The Islamists, demanding that women be allowed to wear face veils at school, continue a month-long sit-in that prevents classes and exams from taking place.

Dec. 14: President Marzouki asks for a six-month political truce and a moratorium on strikes and protests, promising to resign if reforms are unsuccessful.

2012

Jan. 14: Thousands march to commemorate the one-year anniversary of their protest movement. Denouncing the Islamist Ennahda-led government, thousands organized by the trade union march through Tunis.

March 2 – April 25: Protesters conduct a sit-in outside Wataniya, the state television network, protesting corruption and calling for publishers of pro-Ben Ali propaganda to be fired.

March 20: On the 56th anniversary of Tunisia’s independence from France, thousands march in Tunis to call for a civil state.

March 24: At a conference attended by 60 political parties, Former Prime Minister Essebsi criticizes Ennahda and calls for a viable alternative.

March 25: Thousands protest in Tunis for the creation of an Islamic state.

March 26: The Ennahda Party announces that Sharia law will not be codified in the new constitution.

April 9: Defying a government ban on protests, thousands rally on Avenue Bourguiba in Tunis. Police use tear gas and batons. Two days later, the government lifts the protest ban.

May 1: In the first ruling on the death of a protester, two Tunisian policemen are sentenced to 20 years in prison for killing a youth during the January 2011 protests.

May 5: The government extends the state of emergency until the end of July 2012.

May 11: The government licenses a Salafist political party for the first time in the country’s history.

May 20: Thousands rally in Kairouan in support of Ansar al Sharia, a hardline Islamist group.

May 18 – 27: Salafists in Sidi Bouzid and other towns burn alcohol warehouses and police stations and threaten the owners of alcohol stores with violence if they don’t shut down.

May 29: Judges begin an indefinite strike to protest the firing of dozens of magistrates by the state on suspicion of corruption and ties to Ben Ali’s regime.

June 12 – 15: In Tunis, Salafists riot, protesting an art exhibit that they claim is offensive. One man is killed, 62 policemen re injured, 160 protesters are arrested, and a curfew is imposed.

June 16: Former interim Prime Minister Essebsi launches a secularist party to prepare for elections in early 2013.

June 24: Prime Minister Jebali extradites Muammar Qaddafi’s former prime minister, causing a political split with President Marzouki. Opposition parties later walk out of the assembly to protest the extradition.

June 27: President Marzouki fires the Central Bank governor because his monetary policies conflict with the government’s economic program.

July 16: Ennahda reelects Rachid Ghannouchi, a moderate, as its leader.

July 27: Finance Minister Hussein Dimassi resigns over differences with Ennahda.

Aug. 1: Ennahda files a bill to criminalize offences against "sacred values."

Aug. 9: In Sidi Bouzid, 800 people protest, calling for Ennahda’s resignation.

Aug. 13: In Tunis, thousands protest against a constitutional article that would lower women’s status.

Aug. 14: The head of the constitutional drafting committee postpones the final phase of the constitution—originally expected in October—until February 2013.

Aug. 22: Hundreds of suspected Salafist militants launch an overnight attack in Sidi Bouzid, triggering clashes with local residents.

Sept. 7: Thousands of supporters of the Ekbes political movement, which means “get a move on,” march in Tunis. They call for purging the media and political sphere of former regime remnants and “counter-revolutionaries.”

Sept. 12-14: Tunisians protest an anti-Islam film in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. On Sept. 14, Salafis storm the compound, burn the American flag and start fires before Tunisian security forces disperse the crowd.

Sept. 21 and 27: Ennahda leader, Rached Ghannouchi vows to crackdown on Salafis.  The following week President Marzouki pledges to do the same.
 

Oula Alrifai , Avideh Mayville and Garrett Nada contributed to these chronologies.

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