Maryon, Rosa

Start date:
October 2017
Research Topic:
How does the securitization of the terrorist threat in Tunisia serve to undermine the process of democratic consolidation and suggest a reversion to authoritarianism
Research Supervisor:
Dr Elisa Wynne Hughes and Dr Simone Tholens
Supervising school:
School of Law and Politics,
Primary funding source:
ESRC Studentship

Tunisia is the only country involved in the so-called Arab Spring that seems to have successfully transitioned to democracy (Diamond, 2016, pp.307).

Extensive research on the securitisation of the terrorist threat and the manner in which it has been used to introduce illiberal practices within western democratic liberal regimes has been carried out (Bigo, 2004). Equally extensive research has been carried out with regards to political exploitation of security discourse by authoritarian regimes as an operative window dressing for illiberal governance practises (Hibou, 2006). However there exists little research the implications of securitisation discourse in infant democracies and it’s dynamics on the process of democratic consolidation. In my research I intend to argue that in an infant democracy, such as Tunisia, securitisation of the terrorist threat and the establishment of exceptional measures, that this discourse seeks to justify, pose far more profound questions than in Western stable democracy as it undermines the process of democratic consolidation.

In Tunisia the undermining of principles such as the inviolability of constitutional principles and rule of law with the introduction of illiberal counter terrorism policies undermines the process of democratic consolidation. It blurs the boundaries of the legal structures that shape a democratic regime and the securitisation discourse manifests itself in such a way in Tunisia that voters feel obliged to balance questions of security and freedom, as though they are mutually exclusive (Berman et al, 2014, pp.27-30). Securitisation discourse therefore acts to undermine citizen investment and valorisation of democracy and freedom by presenting it a cause of political instability, insecurity and terrorism (Berman et al 2014, pp.29). Between 2011 and 2014 the number one concern for Tunisian voters during elections went from questions concerning liberty and democracy, to questions on security and terrorism (Berman et al 2014, pp.29). Within the conceptual framework of consolidation theory, one which I intend to cautiously apply, citizen investment in democracy is perceived to be a major step between transition (an approach of institutionalism in which elites and institutions are ‘democratised’) and a consolidated democracy, ‘one in which none of the major political actors, parties or organised interests, forces or institutions consider that there is any alternative to democratic processes… to put it simply democracy must be the only game in town’ (Juan Linz, cited in: Sorensen, pp.51).

Since 2014 we have seen the emergence of anti-terror measures in Tunisia. Article 77 of the 2014 constitution gives the President the powers to introduce a state of emergency and therefore bring in exceptional measures that circumvent the normal legislative process (Guellali, 2016). A state of emergency has been in place in Tunisia since November 2015; it has been renewed several times, the last time in September 2016 (Ibid). These new anti-terrorist laws threaten human rights and provide no safeguards against human rights abuses (Denselow, 2016). These measures are being used, in particular by the security services, to circumvent normal processes established by constitutional, legal and judicial structures concerning surveillance, policing and detention of suspects (Guellali, 2016).

In my research I intend to use Securitisation theory to analyse these measures and the securitisation discourse around them. Securitisation is a sub-school of the constructivist or Copenhagen school of security studies (Malik, 2015, pp.81). Securitisation is the process by which these political issues, not normally conceived as security threats, become to be perceived as such (Buzan: 1983: Ibid). By depicting something as a security threat, the issue ceases to be perceived as one of normal politics and becomes an issue of security politics, therefore justifying extraordinary measures beyond or outside the boundaries of normal policy responses (Polat, 2011, pp.77). This realm of ‘security politics’ is characterised by exception and urgency that enables the circumvention of normal democratic processes and procedures (Bigo, 2004).

Extensive research has been carried out concerning securitisation discourse and anti-terrorism measures and the arguable threat these practices pose to liberty and democracy (Huysman; Bigo). In response to the terrorist threat we have seen the adoption of certain counterterrorism practices in many states. “Current counter-terrorism measures rest upon variously extended parallel legal frameworks that provide, namely, for the creation of terrorism-related criminal offences; for the extension of the powers of law enforcement agencies; for special procedures for the prosecution of terrorism-related offences; and for exceptional forms of detention” (Tsoukala, 2006, p.1). The state of emergency is also used to justify exceptional measures and their circumvention of traditional policy and legislative processes (Ibid). Despite the fact these emergency rules are introduced to cope with exceptional circumstances, they are paradoxically and gradually transformed into permanent aspects of the domestic legal framework (PayĂ©, 2004, p. 62). Tsoukala argues that ‘law and security are no longer the means to guarantee the exercise of civil liberties but are turned into autonomous aims and, consequently, into internal restrictions of these freedoms’ (2006, pp.623). However Tsoukala recognises that a common characteristic of the French and British case is the extent to which democracy in these countries is both highly consolidated and stable (2006, pp.623). Therefore I will apply securitisation theory to understand how these same types of measures, being increasingly adopted in post-revolutionary Tunisia, have far greater consequences in the context of an unconsolidated and fragile democracy.

Secondly these practices represent a reversion to a discourse and to practices that where used to justify the so called ‘pacte de securité’ under the Ben Ali regime (Berman et al, 2014; Hibou, 2006). The old regime, despite its authoritarian nature, obtained the obedience of citizens through a form of social contract in which certain threats were depicted as being so potentially dangerous, such as Islamism, terrorism and economic instability, that citizens accepted their domination by the authoritarian regime based on the idea that in return the government provided security and economic stability (Hibou, 2006). For example, the Ben Ali regime used the context of the global war on terror to introduce particularly illiberal legislation, such as the 2003 security law and repression of political opponents (Berman et al, 2014). For Tunisians political discourse concerning national security is often synonymous with human rights violations and political oppression (ibid, pp.30). I will argue that the re-introduction of these types of measures, through the process of securitisation, undermines the process of democratic consolidation by creating an environment in which Tunisian’s feel that democratic freedoms undermine security, and therefore this process represents a reversion to the so called ‘pacte de sĂ©curité’ seen in Tunisia under Ben Ali regime.