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In Tunisia, another jobless man has set fire to himself on Tuesday. The first act of suicide happened in December 2010. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, immolated himself in protest against the confiscation of his wares and harassment by municipal officials. It set off a revolution which has since been called the Arab revolution. The public fury and the uprising that followed the suicide forced the then-President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to flee after 23 years in power. The success of Tunisian protests inspired protests in several other countries which are still continuing.
If the first suicide triggered a revolution, the second one is unlikely to do so. But both are equal in importance. Joblessness was the reason which made the men take their lives, and if the first suicide set off a revolution for economic and political justice, the second lays bare the failure of that revolution to achieve its objectives. Not an abject failure, but a performance far below expectations. Adil Kedhri set himself ablaze outside the municipal theatre in the capital’s Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the focus of protests that toppled Ben Ali two years ago. It happened while Prime Minister-designate Ali Larayedh sought a confidence vote for his new Islamist-led government from the National Constituent Assembly.
Several Tunisians have immolated themselves in the past two years in protests emulating that of Bouazizi. The deaths show the desperation of Tunisians and a lack of hope.
The economic and social problems that fuelled Tunisia’s uprising have yet to be solved. But unfortunately, the post-Ben Ali government hasn’t been able to make significant progress and win the confidence of the people. The country is now deeply polarised between Islamists and their opponents whose positions are hardening, reducing chances for compromises in the interest of the country. A new constitution is yet to become a reality and the economy is continuing to worsen.
None of these problems are insurmountable. All that the country needs is a powerful and determined government. Parties must bury their differences and agree on a common minimum programme to take the country forward.
The new Islamist-led government led by Prime Minister Ali Larayedh won a confidence vote yesterday, winning the backing of 139 of the National Constituent Assembly’s 217 members. It will serve until an election later this year.
At the same time, unlike in neighbouring Egypt where political unrest has put economic reforms on hold, the government in Tunis has been bold enough to carry out some badly needed reforms. It’s implementing tax rises and subsidy cuts to reduce the budget deficit.
These measures have met with public opposition, but in times of crises, options become limited. The new government needs to focus its energy on repairing the economy and healing the political rifts. Tunisia has the potential to become an example for other Arab Spring states•