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Inside Story

Arab uprisings: Progress or paralysis?

Three years since the start of Tunisia's revolution, we ask if its future is still linked to the legacies of the past.

Last updated: 18 Dec 2013 11:16
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Three years ago, the Arab uprisings began as one man's act of desperation.

A struggling street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid. His death less than a month later unleashed a wave of protests against political repression and economic hardship in the North African country, inspiring revolts and uprisings that spread across much of the Arab world.

Starting on December 17, 2010 - when Bouazizi set himself alight, sparking riots and a state of emergency - the world has watched and waited to see how events would unfold in Tunisia. And it has been a tumultuous three years.

Tunisia is in revolution and in transition. The main thing is that transition does not kill revolution, and revolution does not kill the transition.

Larbi Sadiki, a specialist in Arab democratisation, revolutions and transitions at Qatar University

On January 14, 2011, long time leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down and left the country.

In October 2011, the Islamic Ennahda party won the most seats in Tunisia's first free election, but 2012 saw more protests, and worse was to come.

In February this year, opposition leader Chokri Belaid was assassinated, and a second prominent opposition figure, Mohamed Brahmi, was shot dead in July.

So, three years on, how close has Tunisia really come to achieving the transition from dictatorship to democracy? And has the revolution it inspired improved life for those who rose up - or has it made it worse?

Protesters in the impoverished town where it all began took part in what they called a day of rage on Tuesday. They say their lives have not improved since Ben Ali was forced out of office.

Since then, Tunisia has been gripped by political paralysis.

But the deteriorating political crisis was eased on Friday when rival parties agreed to put in place an independent, caretaker government to supervise new elections next year.

It was a decision welcomed by Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the Ennahda party, who said: "God made of this day a day of democracy's victory in Tunisia; a victory of dialogue over confrontation, a victory of dialogue over violence."

But others were not convinced: "The major issue that triggered the revolt was unemployment. The unemployed hope that they can have more opportunities. But till now, nothing has changed. The politicians are all fighting for power and do not listen to the people's voice," said one protester.

Another added: "[The politicians] have done nothing to improve Tunisia's economy. The economic situation is poor. It is very hard to find jobs. There are many poor people. There's little change. Just like when Ben Ali was ruling the country."

So, is progress being made in Tunisia? And is it just a matter of time before countries involved in the Arab Spring realise real change? Or is the future still linked to the legacies of the past?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Sue Turton, is joined by guests: Amine Ghali, the programme director at the Al Kawakibi Democracy Transition Center; Larbi Sadiki, a specialist in Arab democratisation, revolutions and transitions at Qatar University; and Youssef Cherif, a well-known Tunisian blogger.

"Economy and security, these were the two things that the former regime was strong with. So if people see that the two things that were good before the revolution are bad now, of course they will be totally disappointed with any regime that will come now - and with the revolution itself."

Youssef Cherif, Tunisian blogger

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