In August 2013, two and a half years after a citizen uprising ousted a long-ruling dictator, Tunisia was at a tipping point. Following the assassination of a secularist politician—the second such killing that year—opposition parties demanded the dissolution of the National Constituent Assembly and the resignation of the interim government, a coalition led by the Islamist Ennahda party. Work on a new constitution stopped amid dueling street protests between the two blocs. In October, four civil society organizations intervened and mediated political talks between the two sides. Under the terms of the resulting deal, the assembly agreed to resume its work and to appoint a new prime minister to run the government. They chose a compromise candidate, Mehdi Jomaa, an incumbent minister of industry with proven managerial experience and no known political allegiances. Jomaa and his cabinet of businesspeople, civil servants, professors, and judges led the country to peaceful, credible elections in October 2014. His government walked a narrow line as it tried to lead government operations without an electoral mandate and to bridge the interests of the civil society mediators, Ennahda, and the secular parties. By the time he left power, Jomaa was one of the country’s most popular leaders, and in 2015 the civil society leaders who had mediated the political talks won the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in crafting Tunisia’s distinctive effort to navigate tensions and avoid political violence.
Robert Joyce drafted this case based on interviews conducted in Tunis, Tunisia, in February 2016. Case published in March 2016.