Two Years Later: Assessing Tunisia’s Progress since the Jasmine Revolution
While there are many positive aspects about the transition, major challenges persist, namely uncertainty of the country’s future and increased insecurity. That’s essentially the conclusion that came out of the panel discussion “Two Years Later: Assessing Tunisia’s Progress since the Jasmine Revolution hosted by the Tunisian American Young Professionals (TAYP), the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), and the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on January 14, 2013.
The panel, moderated by founder and President of TAYP Mohamed Malouche, featured Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of POMED; Eamon Gearon, analyst and lecturer in the SAIS African Studies Program; TAYP Member Leila Chennoufi, Senior Environmental Specialist in the InterAmerican Development Bank, and Samia Msadek, Financial Management Director in the World Bank. Daniele Moro, visiting scholar at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS, gave opening remarks.
Great uncertainty – The panelists pointed out that Tunisians are largely disappointed by the failure of the Constituent Assembly to produce a working constitution that can unite Tunisian and the absence of a viable political roadmap to provide certainty over the country’s transition. Portions of civil society are disillusioned, the government is deadlocked, and there are questions about national identity that leave Tunisians feeling in a fog and uncertain. Tunisians now recognize that the transition will be a long journey.
Priority to the economy – panelists agreed that it was more important to create jobs than rewrite the constitution because Tunisians today are not protesting about democracy but jobs. Unless new jobs are created to capture youth, the situation will continue to create a “nothing to lose” attitude among the country’s younger generation. However, the current government seems to be making the same mistake as past ones by only dedicating 15% of its budget to development of any kind. Moreover, the government was not making the difficult decisions to bring Tunisia the non-traditional investment it needs.
Perception of insecurity – Tunisia’s most urgent security concern today is the country’s continuing economic decline. Too often in the past two years, the government seemed to be worrying about defining, or re-defining, the role of religion in Tunisian state and society, which is an error in focus and timing. Although Ennahda has tried to distance itself from some Salifi groups, as a political party that wants to win another election, it tries to retain some of their support. The perception that Tunisia is unstable because of the current, limited increase in violent extremism could easily prove very damaging to the national economy. “Perception of security is half the battle.” The country must fix its image of security.
Strong national identity – Encouraging aspects of Tunisia’s security situation include its strong national identity and a long history of secularism and nonviolence. With borders that have changed little since the Roman Empire, this clearly delineated sense of the nation puts Tunisia in a more secure mindset than either of its neighbors.
Slow progress of secular parties – The Tunisian political scene continues to suffer from the slow progress of secular modern parties to mobilize and unite. International funding for political party capacity-building and training has tapered off and the parties and coalitions continue to shift frequently. Ennahda remains dominant partly due to other parties’ failure to successfully mobilize. Intense political polarization has spilled beyond the political parties into the civil society sphere. As such, the most vital concerns are interpreted differently by Tunisians across the political spectrum, particularly among the Islamist and secular camps.
Summary prepared by TAYP