A Year After Their Revolution, Tunisia Still Struggles With Democracy


Nearly a year ago, Tunisia, one of the smallest Arab-Muslim countries in North Africa, witnessed popular uprisings that led to the overthrow of the long-ruling dictator Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, who had been in power for 23 years.

But, Ben Ali did not only maintain a dictatorial regime in the country; he also created a complex economical-political system that succeeded in giving him a tight hold on power. Tunisians might have ousted the head of the regime, but they cannot topple the system overnight because they are the system themselves. It is true that Tunisians aspire to achieve democracy, but Tunisia has been a dictatorial state for almost 50 years and democracy will not come easy.

Since January 2011, Tunisians have continued their revolutionary fervor. On February 27, Ben Ali’s former Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, resigned under popular pressure. Massive sit-ins have become a feature across the nation. Last March, the government, under pressure from Tunisian citizens, announced the suspension of the constitution and elections for a constituent assembly – a parliament – to draft a new constitution for the country.

The elections occurred on October 23 and they were overall “free and transparent” as most national and international observers attest. But a report released by the Carter Center lists a couple of elections infractions which violated international law. The report reads that “[The Independent Commission for the Elections]’s lack of clear procedures and the delayed delivery of the results ... negatively impacted the tabulation process.” The commission also failed to grant all candidates equal rights to appeal following the announcement of the results. 

Two months later, people from all across the country still express discontent about the laws passed in the provisional constitution and the work of the constituent assembly as a governing body. Tunisians gathering in local cafés and lounges doubt the state of democracy in their country.

While Samir Dilou, the new human rights minister and member of the leading Islamist party Ennahda, defines democracy as "rule of majority with respect to minority," the opposition minority in the constituent assembly is almost voiceless.

Abdel Jaoued Jounaidi, a leading member of the secular party the Democratic Progressive Pole and the wider opposition, thinks that the laws drafted by the constituent assembly are influenced by only three major winning parties, chosen by Ennahda.

“The election of the new president and the designation of the new government was a premature consensus between three parties, exclusively,” Jounaidi said.

Many are concerned about the political power held by the majority, which seems to influence new laws passed, especially those which define the powers of the head of government. 

With a week and a half until the January 14 anniversary of the Tunisian uprising, the young democratic country still has issues to work on. Despite Tunisian policymakers’ efforts to establish a genuine democracy in the country, many are still deprived of a descent living, good jobs, solid finances – all of which impact Tunisia’s success to democracy.

Photo Credit: tunisia-live.net