Political transitions are difficult, but economic transitions are even harder. Ten years after the uprisings that ousted long-established political regimes in the Middle East and North Africa, the social grievances and structural economic weaknesses that sparked the protests all over the region remain largely unaddressed. With its sluggish growth and high unemployment, Tunisia is no exception.
The founding myth of Tunisia claims that the country is the continuation of a 3000-year-old civilization. One therefore might ask what are ten years when compared with three millennia? Even if that mythical past is narrowed down to the emergence of Tunisia as a nation state, around 300 years ago, the same question can be asked: what is a decade in the context of three centuries? But when we take away mythology and consider the seven decades of postcolonial Tunisia, then those ten years mean a lot.
Ten years ago, the Islamists’ victory in the first truly democratic elections in Tunisia was one of the most unexpected – and perhaps unintended – consequences of the so-called ‘Jasmine revolution’.
After decades of secrecy, exile and repression, Ennahda finally was legalized in March 2011 and became an integral part of the Tunisian political scene. Except for brief interludes of caretaker governments, it has since continuously been the incumbent party within different coalition governments and never stopped evolving.
Countless articles have been written over the last weeks about the situation in Tunisia, ten years after the Arab spring. The prevailing tone is bitter. Observers are now more inclined to describe the political, economic, and social shortcomings as well as the daunting challenges of the Tunisian transition rather than to stress how exceptional and unique it has been.
Ten years after the 2011 uprising, instability and uncertainty still prevail in Tunisia. All the indicators are flashing red: growth has more than halved since 2010, public deficit is at 13.4%, unemployment is close to 16% and endemic among young people who make up 85% of the jobless, public indebtedness is at a level never seen before approaching 90% of the GDP with international donors keeping the country on life support.
The Tunisian liberal front has not yet recovered following its severe defeat in the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections. Fragmented and disoriented, it is in search of a new identity and charismatic leadership.
On 14 January 2011, widespread protests in Tunisia ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s longstanding regime. Since then, a unique and complex democratic transition has started in Tunisia, the only MENA country to have embarked on a path of political change in the wake of the Arab spring. Ten years later, Tunisia has achieved important results, but much remains to be done.
Describing a decade of developments in North Africa is no simple task. The last ten years have offered each North African State its own redefining moment(s) to grapple with, making a case for observing their distinctive contexts and the complex processes stemming from the different choices and strategies adopted by these countries.
In many countries, the COVID-19 outbreak brought to the surface the sad reality of poor governance in the public health sector. In Tunisia, the pandemic only exacerbated an already glaring problem. From 2013 onwards, Tunisian health professionals highly mobilized and contested the rapid decline of public health services.
It is hard to predict the outcome of Tunisia’s presidential election, whose first round takes place on 15 September. From one perspective, this is a good thing – an encouraging sign of how much Tunisia’s democratic transition has succeeded. After all, a genuinely open election remains a rarity in the Arab world.