Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Large Protests in Tunisia: An Optimistic View

Tunisian people shoot slogans during a demonstration to mark the 40th day of mourning after the death of anti-Islamist opposition leader Chokri Belaid (featured on poster) on March 16, 2013.(AFP Photo / Fethi Belaid)
Protesters on March 17th rallied around the image 
of assassinated opposition leader,  Shokri Belaid.
On March 17th, the streets of Tunisia were flooded with thousands of protesters in the largest demonstration since opposition leader Shokri Belaid was assassinated in February. Initially beginning as a show of support for Belaid and his secular politics, the demonstration eventually transformed into one that was more focused on general discontent with the current ruling moderate Islamic party, Ennadha.

There were no violent reactions from the government. There was no crackdown on dissent. The people were allowed to voice their opinions and nothing bad happened to them as a consequence of doing so. Some might claim that protests as large as this one are a sign of government failure. However, with an Ennadha-led coalition government at the state's helm, the state appears to be respecting citizens' rights to assemble and protest. In the MENA region, respect for such rights is not entirely common- thus the Tunisian government's restraint in relation to the protest ought to be considered a sign of government success
Tunisian people take part in a demonstration to mark the 40th day of mourning after the death of anti-Islamist opposition leader Chokri Belaid (featured on poster) on March 16, 2013.(AFP Photo / Fethi Belaid)
Furthermore, many of the secularists' fears about Islamic parties in Tunisia have (so far, although time could very well tell a different tale) been disproved. Ennadha, which holds the majority of the seats in the transitional Tunisian assembly, is, as mentioned before a moderate Islamic party. Much of early secularist discontent centered on the fear of an Islamic party gaining control and then establishing an oppressive and religously-driven regime. In a quick assessment of the current situation, this has simply not been the case. Ennadha has formed a coalition government with the moderate secularist party Congress for the Republic and they have not shown any signs of oppression towards secularist protesters or towards people of other faiths (or no faith at all). 

Even with all of this in consideration, though, things could still go sour very quickly in Tunisia. If, for example, the transitional government does not step down, if Ennadha begins to enact oppressive legislation, or if the secular opposition is exposed to more political violence directed towards them, what now appears to be a slow but hopeful progress towards democracy could, unfortunately, become something much different.


  1. I do agree that Tunisia has a hopeful future if the government remains non-violent with the citizens. If there is violence used on the governments part, I believe the people will respond and use violence as well. The best thing for Tunisia's future is for the government to remain not oppressive toward the citizens, and have a open dialogue with the people to make sure the citizens concerns will heard.

  2. I like how you focused on the fact that Tunisia's current ruling party has allowed more freedom for protests and expression compared to the previous ruling regime that outlawed this expression by the people. It is interesting that you have deemed this a success for their government when many Tunisians still express distaste and frustration with what they argue has been little change. But, it does appear that civil liberties are getting stronger in Tunisia. Perhaps the other demands the people are making, for better economic practices, education, and jobs, are things that will take much longer for the government to establish and the population to feel the effects of in daily life. Thus, success in Tunisia seems largely dependent on how complacent the people can be with the speed of the change taking place. Ennadha will be an important party to follow moving forward because if they are successful in marrying Islam in the legislature with other non-religious parties it could present a road map for how other countries could create a productive legislature that still incorporates parts of Islam.

  3. I agree with Joel in your assessment of the current state of action in Tunisia. The fact that the country has remained nonviolent on both sides--govt. and populous--gives great hope to the future of democracy. What makes the situation in Tunisia so different from other countries in the MENA region? Why do people accept and trust in democratic institutions so whole heartedly? It is surprising considering that the main grievance has not changed since the onset of the Arab Spring--economic improvement. Which is where I agree with Kristina--how long will the people be satisfied with their govt. if it cannot address serious infrastructure problems, housing crises, food shortages, and most importantly, unemployment? Only time will tell--but I'm hoping for the best in Tunis.

  4. The fact that the Tunisian government not violently repress a political protest perhaps more a sign of progress than of success. I would not go as far as to say that the Tunisian government is a complete success. There are still many issues facing the country that are perhaps unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. I do see this news as a positive change and a sign of progress towards a type of government that the people of Tunisia truly want and the type of government that they initially took to the streets to protest for in the beginning of the Arab Spring movement.