Tunisia’s Failed Arab Spring Promise


In January, the Maghreb and Middle East were rocked by events in Tunisia unparalleled in the modern history of the region, ones which precipitated the fall of three long-time rulers of Arab majority countries. Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation and the subsequent unseating of Tunisian President Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali constitute the first chapter of the Arab Spring. However, Tunisia has since largely faded from view, and following events in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, the country has arguably been forgotten in the Arab Spring.

Since February, the euphoria and promise have faded and an uncertain future looms. Tunisia was at the very epicenter of regional change, an inspiration for Libya and Egypt and the archetype of the overthrow of an Arab leader. Yet, in the months following these events, Tunisia has stagnated politically, with the promises of those heady months failing to materialize due to prevailing political and socio-economic conditions.

Politically, Tunisia has seen very little change besides the removal of Ben Ali. Although the interim authority has promised multi-party elections scheduled to take place in October, many Tunisians seem undecided ahead of this crucial vote. According to Al Jazeera, 54% of Tunisians are not sure whether they will participate in the election. This is symptomatic of a population skeptical of the outcome and not fully trusting of the results to be borne from it.

Equally, the Tunisian national economy was severely hit after the protests, as tourists and travellers cancelled their stays in the country, opting to stay away in light of security concerns. Also, the tourism in Tunisia continues to suffer due to neighboring conflicts. Consequently, in a country where many make a living from the tourism industry, the result of the Arab Spring has been increased job losses and loss of income derived from tourism, making many Tunisians poorer. The grim reality for Tunisia is that although it has cast off its former dictator, it is still thoroughly dependent on foreigners and foreign currency to stabilize its economy.

Understandably, many Tunisians are concerned about the impact the Arab Spring will have on their income. Considering Tunisia's GDP per capita of $8,254 coupled with an unemployment rate of 13.3%, it is obvious why so many Tunisians expected the Arab Spring to create far more than political change. Indeed, many young Tunisians feel that opportunities in the country are still hard to come by and, faced with high youth unemployment, still favor immigration to Europe for better economic prospects. In that sense, Tunisia has failed to bring about the necessary change in its society to enable the economy to become more diverse and thereby tackle growing youth unemployment.

Faced with these factors, Tunisia has made little progress since the Arab Spring commenced over eight months ago, still suffering from many of the same issues and insecurities that previously afflicted the nation. It is imperative that Tunisia now works to secure its long-term economic future, developing employment opportunities for its young population and creating opportunities for all Tunisians to enjoy the democracy that they have long sought. Tunisia must now succeed in becoming a model for the region, for if the genesis of the Arab Spring becomes irrelevant, it will be a great blow for Arabs in other countries taking the same path towards participatory government and the emancipation of oppressed peoples.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons