Tunisia’s second revolution

Political division and polarisation has taken a major toll on Tunisia’s revolution.

Tunisian youth have been disappointed with the failure of the transitional governments, write the authors [AFP]

Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation on December 17, 2010 triggered mass protests against social marginalisation and government corruption in Tunisia. Thus in January 2011 the jobless youth and the poor defeated repression and ousted Ben Ali. Now three years after the uprising against social injustice and oppression, what has the Tunisian people gained from their revolution for dignity and liberty?

With the fall of the dictatorship, Tunisians are obviously enjoying freedoms of opinion and speech today more than ever before. Thus, people can express themselves and protest freely without fearing repression or intimidation as has been the case under Ben Ali’s rule. Debates that are overtly and severely criticising the government have become a main feature of the post-revolution media scene. Likewise, people even find it funny to see skilled orators and journalists mocking the president and the emerging stars on the political scene from the government, National Constituent Assembly and the opposition as well.

Furthermore, political parties and civil society organisations are increasing in number and have reached an incredible level of growth. Thus, more than 180 political parties were created since January 2011 while associations are countless.

A new vibrant and promising political market has suddenly emerged where actors are continuously seeking for all possible methods to increase their popularity and improve their positioning in the political setting. Of course, all means are available to reach these goals as the new class of political actors embrace Machiavellianism. by  incessantly glorifying the Revolution and its values in public but contradicting it on the ground. Unfortunately, none, in this new reality, is really paying attention to the increasing popular dissatisfaction with the elite in the post-revolution order.

Miserable people remain miserable

The Revolution was carried out by miserable people who remain miserable as Adel Sboui, lawyer from Sidi Bouzid, said. In Bouzayen, Kasserine, Talah, and other remote areas of Tunisia where the first martyrs died in the 2011 revolution, people are not seeing any progress in their living conditions so far.

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Unemployment in this region is officially set above 23 percent. People  are simply left to misery, hopelessness and frustration. Self-immolation, that shows deep depression and pessimism, has become somehow an ordinary protest, coldly reported by media and emotionlessly followed by the public.

The youth, who had been at the frontline during the revolution and who had courageously challenged Ben Ali’s killing machine, are now disappointed by the failure of the successive transitional governments to realise their promises. The unemployment rate among graduate people, set at around 27 percent, is particularly worrying.

It is true that the government is doing all that it can do and is trying to find adequate solutions for socio-economic problems. However, the policies and the decisions are adopted under severe pressure and lack of a long-term vision. Thousands of posts were created in public sector without a real need and big and strategic projects are decided upon more by demagogy and populism than anything else. Thus, the future of the national economy and budget balance is exposed, by these policies, to heavy risks.

This situation is a normal result of the rise of populism and demagogy among the new political class. Politicians are raising the bar to outbid rivals with unrealistic promises. They make their own life more difficult by doing so, mainly when they have to deal with government affairs, as it is the case with the present coalition. Houcine Dimassi, the independent finance minister in the fourth post-revolution cabinet, resigned from his post on July 27, 2012 to protest against what some politicians are doing by putting their interests above that of the whole nation.

The revolution jeopardised?

As a matter of fact, the Tunisian revolution is now facing two main challenges. Firstly, people who have high expectations from the new elite are deeply upset and could no longer tolerate more sacrifices. Thus, disenchantment and discontent have overtaken euphoria and jubilation. The calls for a “rectification of the revolution’s path” have already arisen among youth, marginalised regions and victims of the old regime seeking justice. Some people have even called for a second revolution.

Secondly, the Tunisian revolution is threatened by the counter-revolution. This had happened in Egypt last summer. Nothing prevents Tunisia from catching the Egyptian syndrome where the counter-revolution wave was backed by some influential parts of the society. Particularly, after the assassination of Mohamed Brahmi, member of the parliament from the opposition, this scenario was shadowing the political atmosphere for weeks. The assassination that stormed Tunisia and triggered the most dangerous political crisis, since the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, has showed how risky tolerating terrorist groups is.

Certainly, the problems that Tunisia is facing, in the post-revolution era, are characteristic of any revolution and democratic transition process. However, the exaggerated divisions within the political class are exacerbating the problems which could be easily overcome with a unified elite that puts the major interests of the revolution above any political consideration.

This had not happened during the last three years because of jealously, mistrust and miscalculations among the Tunisian politicians. Tunisia has paid a high price for that, especially as the threat of terrorism has deepened the political crisis. Yet, the current National dialogue sponsored by the General Labour Union, the Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Bar Association and the League for the Defence of Human Rights has opened a new window of hope.

Amor Boubakri is Associate Professor at the University of Sfax in Tunisia and was member of the Commission of Political Reforms in Tunisia in 2011.

Hela Boujneh is a PhD candidate at the University of Sousse in Tunisia, and is an activist in transitional justice process and youth organisations.