Friday April 19th, 2013
Struggle for Dignity
The path to democracy is not easy; for that much, Tunisia can attest.
After the dramatic events that unfolded in February of 2013, the country appears to be back on a positive and peaceful track towards democracy.
The mass protests following the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid jolted the country, creating the worst unrest since 2011; fears of total upheaval and greater instability quickly followed within the region and among its people (NY Times). Yet, once again, Tunisia continues to endure, surviving the latest crises.
The country’s legacy of democratic institutions has allowed Tunisia such endurance. Escaping mostly unscathed from the Arab Spring, it is arguably the country’s greatest hope for the future as well. Because its citizenry and elected officials respect the legitimacy of these institutions and trust in its processes, transitions of power can occur peacefully (Al Jazeera). Ali Laarayedh’s transition to Prime Minister provides a vital example.
After accepting his proposed coalition government “for all Tunisians,” Laarayedh was confirmed as the official Prime Minister by President Marzouki and the Constituent Assembly in mid-March (Foreign Policy). The new coalition promised to preserve the state until elections in the fall. It also served to quell major uprisings from taking root by calming the country down with promises of justice for Belaid’s killers and political compromise (Al Jazeera).
While the state government has noticeably bounced back from its short-lived dance with disaster, the state of Tunisia’s economy has not. The status quo retained by the current administration means a continued failure to confront the country’s greatest challenges—rising unemployment and growing debt crisis. The combination of a transitional government with an unemployment rate hovering around 30 percent, means the state’s hopes for a speedy economic recovery remain drastically unrealistic. Still, Tunisia fights on, currently negotiating a $1.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) just to stay afloat (NY Times).
Tunisia’s struggling economy is not an immediate phenomenon, however; it has been on the decline since well before the dethroning of Ali in 2011 (Al Jazeera). When the economy suffers, the people suffer. Rising prices from inflation, a growing deficit, declining job opportunities means more people are not only unemployed. More people are homeless, hungry, and desperate. Such conditions spurred the original “Jasmine Revolution” that rocked the region and jumpstarted the Spring (Foreign Policy).
Yet, the original grievances of the Tunisian population remain largely unchanged—people demand basic rights to work, feed their family, and be sheltered. In other words, the Tunisian people’s greatest desire is simple; they want dignity.
Tunisia's political transition from popular upheaval has been more peaceful than most of its neighbors, specifically Libya and Egypt. Its institutions have permitted the country to move forward with little to no sustained violence or conflict. Its emphasis on constitution framing, elections, and more institution building is promising to its future. However, the democratic bellweather’s path is by no means set; these trusted institutions have to prove their own legitimacy—by finding pragmatic solutions to ongoing economic challenges. If the country cannot ease the people’s qualms of dignity, we might just see the “Birthplace of the Arab Spring” meet its end far too soon.