AU has a responsibility to help protect Tunisia’s democracy

Tunisians shout slogans during a protest against the referendum on a new constitution in Tunis, Tunisia, 23 July 2022 [Mohamed Messara/EPA-EFE]

On July 25, exactly one year after Tunisia’s maverick President Kais Saied sacked the prime minister, dissolved the parliament, suspended the much-celebrated 2014 constitution and started to rule by decree, Tunisians voted to approve a draft constitution proposed by him that critics warn will help entrench his one-man rule.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the institutional position of International IDEA, its Board of Advisers or its Council of Member States.


With less than 30 percent turnout, there are serious questions about the legitimacy of Monday’s referendum. Nevertheless, the deep divisions within the opposition and the public’s ever-growing disillusionment with the political system mean Saied may face little resistance as he moves to further consolidate his power.

Now, as they watch with worry Tunisia’s democratic backsliding identified by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, many are questioning what the international community, and especially the African Union (AU) – which counts among its objectives promoting “democratic principles and institutions” on the continent – could have done and can still do to keep the North African nation on the path towards true democracy.

A mute African Union

Throughout the past year, as President Saied sacked judges, jailed opposition politicians and stifled public debate on the drafting of the new constitution, the AU chose to remain silent. Indeed, after the president’s July 25, 2021 power grab, the continental union released only one brief and vague statement on the situation in Tunisia, expressing its commitment to the “Tunisian constitution”, “promotion of political dialogue” and “the need to respond to the legitimate aspirations of the Tunisian people”.

Read the complete Op-Ed, published by Aljazeera on 1 August 2022.

About the Author

Programme Officer
Adem Kassie Abebe

Adem Kassie Abebe supports constitution-building processes around the world, and designs and implements projects particularly in transitions to peace and democracy in politically complex and fragile contexts. He convens platforms for dialogue, advises and provides technical assistance to high level constitution and decision makers at national and international levels and to civil society stakeholders. He was an editor of and managed ConstitutionNet from 2016 to 2021, an online platform providing continuous updates on comparative constitutional reform processes around the world. A notable feature of ConstitutionNet is 'Voices from the Field', a series in which local experts provide analysis and updates on the process, content and principal actors in ongoing constitutional-reform proposals.