When Tunisia succeeded in holding its second legislative and presidential elections by the end of 2014, the “Washington Post” wrote: “Remember the Arab Spring? Here’s what’s left,” (November 23, 2014) stating that “while several other countries overthrew their dictators, Tunisia is the only nation to have built a democracy.”
This bitter assessment is explained through the terrible escalation that turned the beacon of hope for democracy and freedom sparked by the Arab Revolutions into a winter of discontent: a chaotic situation in Libya, a military regime in Egypt after the mismanagement of an Islamist government, a civil war in Syria and an everlasting turmoil in Yemen.
However, Tunisia’s success story is precarious. Hard-won democratic gains are more fragile than they appear. They are vulnerable to being challenged by two difficulties: a social and economic situation that is getting worse and a geopolitical environment that is getting more and more volatile.
For four years, politics has dominated debates and overshadowed other imperatives. Its true that there’s been an endless sequence of important political events at a frenetic pace: election of the Constituent Assembly, the drafting of the Constitution, the presidential and legislative elections…. But it is also true that the ongoing conflicts between political parties, partisan and self-serving politics have dominated the scene, overriding the will to deal in depth with an ailing economic and social environment.
The Tunisian political class seems to have lost sight of the main categorical imperatives:
• That democracy and human rights were key catchwords of the Revolutions; the death of the fruit-seller –Bouazizi- was not only a political act of protest, it was a reaction to a lifetime economic repression and social deprivation;
• The success of the democratic transition is threatened by a economic and social policy that remains in line with that of Ben Ali in every aspect;
• It is the responsibility of the government to uncover the truth about the critical economic and financial situation so as to get everyone to take his responsibility. The situation could become more explosive if the government does not identify its priorities facing increasing social discontent in different regions and sectors.
Since this government has been in place, signs of disrepair have multiplied:
– The flooding that had been going in the fragile North-West of the country had laid bare the suffering of a peasant population that has been left behind for a long time: 4200 hectares of irrigated lands have been damaged; villages and towns suffer from a total absence of infrastructure and protection;
– The social protests in Dhehiba and Ben Guerdane , near the Libyan border, pose ,far beyond their political dimension, the question of regional development in districts living on the fringes of the economic arena;
– The series of school teachers strikes go beyond the mere wage claims to expose the crisis of a flawed educational system;
We could spend more time debating on the threats that are close to our doorsteps from our western and southern borders. Just to give a little heads-up on that: these threats are crucially related to the unprecedented difficulties and the widespread poverty that the populations face over there.
This means that success in the democratic transition, progress that’s been made in the fight against terrorism, the relative political freedom…should not divert us from this basic truth: the precarious social situation imposes on all actors a challenging dialogue to get the country out of the rut.
Messaoud Romdhani, Committee for the Respect of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia