The rapidly growing population and serious unemployment problems, together with the now advanced age and poor health of Burghiba (Bū Rqūba), created a climate of instability and uncertainty in the political landscape of Tunisia starting from 1977. A government reshuffle by the president, with purging of all dissident ministers, failed to ensure greater control of the situation. The serious political and economic crisis aroused in fact the reaction of the UGTT (Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisiens), which resulted in a general strike called for January 26, 1978. The government decided to tackle the situation with energy: the intervention of the army caused 51 victims, a state of emergency and a curfew were proclaimed, and a extensive repressive policy against trade union leaders. However, the following years were marked by cautious democratic openings, which became more concrete with the appointment of Muḥamad al-Mzālī as prime minister (April 1980).
The new head of the government immediately introduced a policy of greater openness, granting numerous amnesties and starting the debate on multi-partyism. In 1981 Burghiba himself pronounced himself in favor of a more articulated political dialectic in the country, and the Tunisian Communist Party (PCT) obtained official recognition. On the occasion of the parliamentary elections of November 1981 it was decided that the same recognition would be obtained by those parties that managed to obtain 5% of the votes in the consultations.
The electoral results, however, sanctioned an overwhelming victory (94.6%, all 136 seats available) of the National Front, a coalition of the Dexturian Socialist Party and the UGTT. Two other parties, the Mouvement des Démocrates Socialistes (MDS) and the Mouvement d’Unité Populaire (MUP), which failed to obtain the required 5%, were officially recognized only in 1983. The situation seemed to precipitate again in January 1984, when the increase in the price of bread and discontent over the continuing economic crisis caused violent eruption. popular uprisings. Once again the army was called to intervene, and official sources drew up a toll of 89 victims. In the following two years, the work of the government aimed above all at stemming the growing dissent. In April 1986, Zayn al-῾Abidīn Ben ῾Alī was appointed Minister of the Interior, and in the same year Prime Minister Mzālī was replaced by Rašīd Ṣfār.
The main opposition to the Burghiba regime was represented in those years by the Mouvement de la Tendance Islamique (MTI), a formation of Islamic fundamentalism already active since the early 1980s. To a series of arrests, trials and convictions was added a period of difficult relations with Iran, which the Tunisian government accused of supporting the exponents of religious fundamentalism. In a final attempt to rebalance an increasingly precarious situation, Burghiba deposed Prime Minister Ṣfār in 1987 and appointed Interior Minister Ben ῾Alī in his stead. Soon, however, an incurable friction arose between Burghiba and Ben Alī, which resulted in the resounding deposition of the old president.
On November 7, 1987, a board of doctors ruled that Burghiba was no longer suitable for the government, resulting in the appointment of Ben ῾Alī himself as president of the Republic. The new head of state inaugurated his mandate in the name of greater tolerance, initiating a period of amnesties, reforms and openings to the opposition. As a sign of the renewed policy, in February 1988 the Dexturian Socialist Party changed its name to Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD). The first constitutional reforms consisted in the abolition of the office of president for life and in the rule which provides for the election by universal suffrage of the President of the Republic every five years. The new political elections, held on April 2, 1989, registered a great success for the RCD, but the success of the Islamic movements was also notable and unexpected. However, under the majority electoral law, the RCD won all 141 seats in the single chamber. For Tunisia 2018, please check ethnicityology.com.
Ben ῾Alī immediately after his election promulgated a general amnesty restoring political and civil rights to more than five thousand people condemned by the previous regime. At the end of that same year, however, he rejected the request for legal recognition made by the former MTI, now Ḥ izb al-Nahḍa or Parti de la Renaissance, and this caused violent anti-government demonstrations in numerous universities by Islamic fundamentalists. In May 1990 the National Assembly, in response to pressure from opposition parties, approved an electoral reform that introduced a proportional quota for the upcoming administrative elections. The winning party would have obtained 50% of the votes, while the other 50% would have been distributed among all the other parties in proportion to the votes obtained. The local elections, which were held in June 1990, were however boycotted by the legal opposition parties and the RCD thus secured control of 244 of the 245 municipal councils.
In foreign policy, Ben ῾Alī showed interest in increasing the image of a Tunisia moderate and open to dialogue with Western countries. At the same time, a policy of close cooperation with Libya was initiated, and a wider cooperation between all the Maghreeb countries was in various ways fostered. In August 1990, after the Irāq invasion of Kuwait, Ben ῾Alī condemned Irāq, but, due to the growing Arab nationalism within the Tunisia, also disapproved of intervention in the region of the US-led multinational force. This choice did not prevent the formation of a new organized political force, the Comité National de Soutien à Iraq, which included many opposition parties and professional associations. In September, however, the Tunisian government announced that it was approving United Nations Security Council resolutions concerning ῾Irāq, including the imposition of a trade embargo. At the end of 1990, numerous arrests were made in the ranks of al-Nahḍa, accused of preparing terrorist attacks and wanting to establish an Islamic regime in Tunisia. The arrests provoked demonstrations by Islamic militants and in January 1991, coinciding with the start of the Gulf War, thousands of Tunisians took part in pro ῾Irāq demonstrations.
At the end of December 1991 Ben ῾Alī announced some changes to the electoral system, this time at the national level, which would be launched in 1992, in view of the elections of March 1994 and which were intended to limit the power of the RCD by guaranteeing a wider representation to other parties. This apparent willingness to cooperate with the legal opposition was however accompanied by further acts of repression against Islamic fundamentalism, with an increase in censorship of those publications that showed some adherence to the fundamentalists’ theses. In the presidential elections, which took place at the same time as the political elections in March 1994, Ben ῾Alī was re-elected with more than 99% of the votes. The RCD secured 144 seats, while of the 19 seats which, according to the new electoral law, Mouvement de la Rénovation), 3 at the Union Démocratique Unioniste and 2 at the Parti de l’Unité Populaire.