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Tunisia is quietly celebrating the second anniversary of its uprising against a dictator. There are two reasons why these celebrations, though muted, haven’t received huge attention in the international media. First, the country’s transition to democracy, though not flawless, has been free of the kind of upheavals we are currently witnessing in Egypt. Secondly, the global media are focusing their cameras on Syria, where the uprising against President Bashar Al Assad is in a stalemate, and Egypt, where the pangs of transition to democracy have been excruciating.
In the two years since the overthrow of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has been able to manage its affairs fairly well. As Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Al-Nahda Islamist party put it, Tunisians are now for the first time the protagonists of their history and are engaged in an experience that can become a model for democracy in the region. The governing coalition of Islamist and secularist parties is now in its second year. There is an atmosphere of pluralism and equality, and people are free to protest freely against their government and its policies, which they have been doing with unfailing regularity.
If the current leaders work sincerely, with the sole objective of taking their country forward in every sphere, Tunisia can transform itself into a stable and mature democracy and serve as a model for other Arab countries which are either in the throes of Arab Spring, or are facing the threat of revolutions. Much of the success Tunisia has achieved in ushering democracy can be attributed to the liberal values in the country and its proximity to the West.
Despite the huge strides made in many spheres, Tunisia still has to go a long way. The new government has to restore complete security and stability; it has to build a national consensus on key issues like the role of religion in politics and construct a development model that ensures prosperity for all Tunisians. Most importantly it has to rebuild its economy and fight unemployment which is still at unacceptable levels. Economic deprivation was a major reason why Tunisians rebelled against Ben Ali, and the revolution can’t be complete as long as people are denied their daily bread. The tension between Islamists and secularists remains another major concern, with both sides on the path of confrontation. It’s a measure of the grave challenges facing the Ghannouchi government that thousands of people took to the streets yesterday demanding jobs and protesting against price rise and violence. They also warned against religious dictatorship, referring to the presence of Islamist parties in the government. But these protests can only strengthen democracy, and prevent the rulers from sliding back into dictatorship•