Thursday, January 14, 2016

By Simon Speakman Cordall
Jan 14 2016

Five years ago today, as protests paralysed cities throughout Tunisia, autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family fled their palace in Carthage for the safety of Saudi Arabia.

For the region, Tunisia’s revolution ushered in a period of intense chaos and bloodshed that darkens the world map still. However, for the country itself, the events of January 2011 marked the beginning of a unique transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Tunisia Live invited experts from throughout Tunisia and the world to comment on progress, or otherwise, in their specialist area.


Sara Hashash, Middle East and North Africa press officer at Amnesty International

Tunisia has been lauded as the only real success story to emerge from the Arab Spring, but in human rights terms we are seeing a backslide.

The past five years have seen Tunisians adopt a new constitution containing important human rights guarantees, ratify key international human rights treaties, hold democratic presidential and parliamentary elections, and allow civil society groups to strengthen after years of repression.

But human rights concerns remain. Over the past five years, little has been done to reform the security apparatus and we found evidence of torture and deaths in custody, as well as undue restrictions on press freedom and peaceful protest, and harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders, lawyers and critics. Repressive and discriminatory laws remain unchanged. A slow and flawed transitional justice process means many victims are still waiting for justice.

Measures in the name of security have also endangered Tunisia’s modest achievements. The counter-terrorism law adopted by Parliament in July 2015 continues to be problematic; it defines terrorism in overly broad terms and gives the security forces wide-ranging monitoring and surveillance powers. It also allows the security forces to hold suspects incommunicado for 15 days, increasing torture risk.

Emergency measures which were introduced twice last year were abused by the authorities who conducted thousands of raids and arrests and held hundreds more under house arrest.

Tunisia is entering a critical period and the current public discourse that inaccurately pits human rights and security against each other is unhelpful at best. At worst, it risks leading Tunisia back to the draconian tactics that became a hallmark of former President Ben Ali’s rule.


Sarah Feuer, Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Five years into its democratic transition, Tunisians have much to show for their hard work, especially when we consider the gains in personal freedoms and political accountability over the past five years. Civil society is thriving, and I think there’s a general sense that there can be no turning back to the pre-2011 days of a near police state. Compared to just about every other state that experienced political upheaval since 2011, Tunisia remains the lone survivor on a recognizable, if bumpy, path to democracy.

That said, many challenges remain. The country’s economy sputters along, and too may Tunisians—especially those living in the chronically neglected regions of the interior, where the protests started back in 2010—haven’t seen any economic progress since the Jasmine Revolution, so many of the grievances that inspired the uprising remain unresolved. The spate of terror attacks last year killed the mild upticks in tourism the country had registered since the upheaval in 2011, further undermining economic growth. And the security threats remain considerable, not just in the form of spillover from neighboring Libya, but also in the terror cells that are periodically uncovered within the country’s borders. All of this suggests Tunisia’s experiment in democracy is still very much up for grabs.


Ludovico Carlino, Senior Analyst, Middle East & North Africa at IHS Country Risk

Since the 2011 uprising the security situation in Tunisia has gradually and constantly deteriorated, following a trend shared by most of the countries that across the Middle East have experienced such dramatic changes.

I think that in Tunisia this dynamic has been the result of multiple interrelated factors, both internal and external. Domestically, the collapse of the Ben Ali regime opened up a new space for long-time repressed Salafist movements which rapidly coalesced around the militant group Ansar al-Sharia. However, the hybrid and often problematic nature of such movements and the consequent decision by the government to close that space up again (as exemplified by the labelling of Ansar al-Sharia as terrorist group and the clamp down on Salafist activities) have not resulted in a “moderation” of those movements. Rather these factors have triggered a process of gradual radicalization among the group’s members.

This has largely coincided with the dynamics at regional level. The Islamic State has established itself as a new powerful pole of attraction for disaffected young Salafists from all over the region, and especially Tunisia. Similarly Libya has become a new jihadist theater where, again, a significant number of Tunisians have started to flow in or from where attacks targeting Tunisia were plotted and facilitated.

In my view, the impact of the Libyan crisis on the Tunisia security situation has been crucial. Without it, I don’t think that attacks of such magnitude as the Bardo and the Sousse attacks would have materialized, and probably the areas of insecurity would have remained limited to the south and the low-intensity insurgency still ongoing there.


During the revolution there was a renewal of hope among sexual minorities. However, some early attempts to assert ourselves were aborted shortly after the beginning. With the relative stability of the country, this debate was launched once again. It was a predictable path. With the fall of a dictatorship, any oppressed minority has a new sense of hope, and that’s entirely legitimate.

Some people were against making the debate over sexual minorities public. But many sexual minorities were in favor of the creation of this movement which is the fruit of the struggles of many organizations and public personalities. Today these people are expecting something and we want to tell them that we’ll be here until we achieve our goal, which means the abolishment of the article 230. We are trying to answer the needs of these people by defending them. Previous cases of arrests and the support we’ve offered to many people are testament to that.

The vast majority of these minorities are expecting a lot from this fight. We will do whatever we can to make sure we don’t disappoint them.


Aymen Abderrahmen, writer and blogger

“Nothing has changed.” You often hear this when speaking to Tunisians about the revolution, but how accurate is it? Not really. Some things have changed: freedom of speech, access to information, etc. However, perhaps a better question might be this: How important are these changes to the “Average-Mohamed”?

I come from Sidi Bouzid, and not even the best part of it. I come from Al-Mezzounah, a town 80 kilometers away. A town where everyone’s dad is either a peasant, a public servant in one of the few state administrations, or a former employee the plastic manufacturer that was shut down years ago.

Prospects for change are very limited. Either we rely solely on the state’s plans, or in the “best” scenarios, on anti-state solutions: i.e. smuggling. This is the case for many reasons, but one stands out above the rest: Those in power have never been touched by poverty and need and, because of that, don’t feel the urgent need for change.

If I were to blame the state for something, it would be the absence of a revolution with regard to people who are starving and homeless. In 2016, the government still wastes the budget on meaningless festivals and football stadiums, where the revenues go to stars who never think of helping those in need. This doesn’t mean that people coming from the impoverished regions have all the answers. It’s just that most of us are in a position to diagnose the situation and point out the roots of every issue.


Morched Garbouj, President SOS BIAA

During the December 17-January 14 uprising, Tunisians demanded jobs and the end of corruption. After Ben Ali fled the country on January 14, an expected problem surfaced: an environmental one.

Trash invaded the streets and the boulevards of Tunisian cities as landfills across the country were shut down by residents of surrounding areas. Waste management as a whole became a hot topic and people discovered that living conditions near landfills (such as the Jbel Borj Chakir, the one located near Sidi Hassine) were unbearable. The Djerba waste crisis then erupted. It had a major impact on economic/tourist activities on the island. Pollution of Tunisian beaches is another major issue that made the headlines over the past five years. Domestic and industrial wastewater has invaded Tunisian beaches across the country: the Gulf of Tunis, the Gulf of Monastir, Bizerte, Sfax, Gabès, just to name a few. This constitutes a major concern for the country as tourism remains, regardless of last year’s terrorist attacks.

Contrary to what some people might think, and what some government officials say, these environmental problems are not the consequence of the December 17-January 14 revolution. They have been here since the early 90s. Under the dictatorship, discussing environmental problems was a taboo subject as the regime governed the country with an iron fist. After the ousting of Ben Ali, civil society organizations and media outlets exposed the issues listed above to the wider public.


Professor Ridha Chkoundali, FSEG de Nabeul

During the revolution, everyone was shouting about dignity, but you can’t have dignity without work.

In 2010 unemployment rate was 13 percent, now it’s 15.3 percent, with 2015 being a particularly bad year.

In Tunisia, economic growth has been tied to the public sector, which is essentially sterile, while production is going backwards. If you want to create employment through the public sector, you need funds, which Tunisia doesn’t have, leaving it to rely on loans. Normally, an economy would rely on the private sector, but as investors have fled the country during the democratic transition, the country has had to rely on loans and debt has grown.

There are three main areas that are really impacting upon the economy;

Political conflicts: Investors have no idea who’s going to rule in 20 years, so they don’t feel secure.

Transitional justice: The reconciliation law didn’t pass. There’s no trust on the investors’ part.

Terrorism: Private investment has gone down. Investors don’t want to risk their business being hit by terrorist attacks.

The Tunisian investor is afraid.

There’s no production, which means no exports, which means no foreign currency. The value of the Tunisian dinar has been going down, which ultimately means that the repayment of the loans are more expensive than the original loan.

Another problem is the repeated demands by the union UGTT for raises in salaries. These have required tremendous amounts of money, which should have gone into the creation of new jobs.

Before the revolution, Tunisia was a dictatorship. The govrenment could do whatever they wanted without having to consult anyone. Now they have to consult the UGTT, the UTICA, they have to go through a national dialogue, which take a lot of time. The economy is like a sick person. If you ask for a remedy or a medicine, you need to take it now, but waiting and consulting other people will only make things worse.

However, that’s not to say that everything was better before the revolution. We had an economic crisis between 2008 and 2010, with growth down throughout that period. Similarly, the economy relied extensively on two main areas, tourism, which is fragile, and agriculture, which is subject to the climate. That we’ve had good rains over the last few years has been fortunate. It’s saved the economy.

However, even if Ben Ali had remained, we would still be facing the same problems.

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