In early March, a cigarette vendor named Adel Khazri set himself on fire in the capital, Tunis, an act reminiscent of Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation that triggered the beginning of the Jasmine Revolution. He was protesting the high level of unemployment in the country. Overall unemployment is currently 17%, with levels as high as 30% in rural areas (F.T., 2013).
The struggling economy remains the focus of Tunisia’s civil unrest. Despite current changes regarding women’s rights and the reemergence of the Salafist movement, high unemployment and rising debt are the focus of international attention. Many blame “tunisia’s tax code [that] favours exporting companies. Those that sell locally face higher tariffs and more regulation”(F.T., 2013). This creates a dynamic where exports are encouraged rather than investment, trade, and capital flow within the country’s borders. Similar to this globally-focused economic dynamic, many believe that economic policy has been formed in favor of the global market rather than for the benefit of the country, and hope that “economic policy will be written for the Mohammed Bouazizis of the world rather than the bankers” (Ryan, 2013).
|The 2013 WSF was located in Tunis.|
Another aspect of the current economic turmoil in Tunisia is the “looted assets”(Reuters, 2013) from Ben Ali’s rule; recently Tunisia received a check for $28.8 million dollars, retrieved from a Lebanese bank account held by Leila Trabelsi, former president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali’s wife. This is the result of a appointed UN representative’s efforts to recover stolen assets; billions remain missing.
Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Social Forum (WSF) are currently playing roles in the country regarding rehabilitation of the economy and next steps for Tunisia’s government. Tunisia is currently negotiating a $1.78 billion dollar loan from the IMF in order to keep the economy afloat. However, the way in which the IMF is pushing economic reform could undermine the public’s confidence in the democratic transition of the government if the new policies are pushed through without the debate and approval of the country’s elected officials.
In terms of political stability, a reemergence of a "Bourguibist" tradition has been predicted, based upon the rule of Ben Ali’s predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, who was deposed in 1987. Currently, the government is attempting to retain legitimacy in the democratic transition by including more parties; the Prime Minister, Ali Laarayedh, ceded key ministries to non-party figures in response to the assassination of leftist politician Chokri Belaid on February 6th of this year (E.B., 2013).
|Demonstration at the World Social Forum in Tunisia|
Focusing upon the economic instability of the country and ways in which economic policy can reflect negatively upon the democratic transition of Tunisia is important when considering the future of the country. As a “homegrown” revolution originally, Tunisia may face further and increased uprisings if the public does not feel that anything has changed. Based on Tunisia’s past experiences and the current social climate, it seems that future demonstrations will continue to be largely nonviolent. The protests will most likely also continue to include the most affected parties, which are the younger college-graduate part of the population, that is highly educated and in dire need of opportunities.
The public will need to see improvement in job opportunities and over all unemployment rates, as well as accountability and transparency within the government that indicate a successful democratic transition. I would recommend that the government wait until the legislative and presidential elections later this year to make decisions concerning the IMF loan, so that the process is facilitated by elected officials rather than representatives from the IMF. I would also recommend that the government pay particular attention to changing cultural and social factors; the backlash from the states previous restraint of Muslim practices and religious parties and the growing ambiguity of women’s rights will be important changes that could affect economic and political issues as the cultural climate of Tunisia changes. For now, it seems we will have to wait for the elections this fall to see what Tunisia does with this rare opportunity to redefine itself.
E.B. “Macbeth in Tunis: Fair is foul and foul is fair.” The Economist. 25 March 2013. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2013/03/macbeth-tunis>
F. T. “Tunisia’s economy: Still struggling.” The Economist. 19 March 2013. <http://www.economist.com/blogs/pomegranate/2013/03/tunisias-economy>
Reuters. “Tunisia: Millions recovered from ex-leader’s assets.” The New York Times. 11 April 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/world/africa/tunisia-millions-recovered-from-ex-leaders-assets.html>
Ryan, Yasmine. “Tunisia World Social Forum to blast austerity.” Al Jazeera. 26 March 2013. <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/03/201332653645288688.html>