Security Sector Reform in Tunisia Three Years into the Democratic Transition

Tunisia’s 2011 revolution removed the Ben Ali regime but did not overthrow the country’s security institutions. Reforming these institutions will be an integral part of the larger process of constitutional and political reform for the country. This paper from one of Tunisia’s leading security analysts breaks down the recent political and security changes that have upset the country’s security situation and buffeted its security institutions, before laying out a series of recommendations for pursuing reform.

While the revolution was mostly peaceful, a serious security breakdown took place when the internal security institutions retreated from their front line roles. The fragile security situation was further threatened when revolution in neighbouring Libya sent refugees and extremist militants across the border. Questions remain about the ability of the state to address these security issues while developing a security system that breaks with the past to work in service of Tunisia’s citizens.

There have been several improvements to the security establishment in the last three years, including the revision of laws governing arrest and detention, the legalisation of unions for security personnel and the ending of the electoral role of the Ministry of Interior. Too many changes, however, have been limited or poorly executed and it has been difficult to build political, legal and institutional support for reform. Legislative and policy changes have been largely technical, focused more on system stability than on pursuing the necessary structural changes or developing appropriate oversight mechanisms. To avoid political exploitation of the issue, the formation of a national commission should be considered for developing a clear strategy for security sector reform.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.