- Special Pages
Tunisia enjoys pride of place among Arab Spring nations. It’s not only the country where the revolution started first, resulting in the overthrow of one of the region’s most repressive autocrats Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it’s also the country where the transition to democracy has been relatively smooth. Two major factors have contributed to this: the close relations Tunis enjoys with the West and its position as a moderate Islamic state. But the great strides the country has made face the risk of being undermined if its leaders fail to address some challenges, the most important of which is the threat from Islamists who have got a rigid idea of where the country should head. The liberal secularists are locked in fierce debates and even clashes with the Islamists, and the government so far has failed to instill enough confidence among the people.
It’s two years since Tunisians overthrew Ben Ali and a year since constitutional assembly elections were held. It was the first Arab Spring election and pictures of smiling, confident voters were flashed in newspapers and on television channels all over the world. There was relief when the Ennahda Party was voted to power because of its adherence to moderate Islam and the party too reassured Tunisians and the world that it would respect liberal democratic values and not impose a strict Islamic code.
But a spate of recent violent incidents, including attacks on the American embassy in Tunis last month, have fuelled suspicions about the ability of Ennahda to fulfill its promises. The more serious has been the attacks by Islamists on bars and other symbols of what they call unIslamic practices. The leaders making only slow progress in writing a post-revolutionary constitution and there are serious concerns about what the constitution would contain.
The government in Tunis needs to address all these challenges for the country to consolidate the gains it has made on the road to democracy. First, the government must crack down on Islamists, who are taking law into their hands, and integrate them into the system. Secondly, it must work on rebuilding the economy which is in a shambles. Severe unemployment was one of the major reasons for the revolution and unfortunately, no progress has been made in resolving the problem after the revolution. Any delay in rehabilitating the unemployed youth can cost the government heavily and trigger another revolution. The government must also focus on reviving the tourism sector and attract foreign investment to rebuild the economy.
The coming months will be extremely crucial for the government. The Ennahda government must move firmly and decisively to tackle the problems it’s facing. Any failure to do so will push the country back to the years of Ben Ali.