Arabs Rise for Rights, Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

Arab Spring Slips Into Tunisian Fall

Simba Russeau

TUNIS, Aug 22 2011 (IPS) - Seven months after Tunisia’s historic uprising which saw the ouster of long-time dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and gave birth to the region’s Arab Spring, many Tunisians are losing confidence in the progress of their revolution.

A poster in Tunis declares that the revolution must continue. Credit: Simba Russeau/IPS.

A poster in Tunis declares that the revolution must continue. Credit: Simba Russeau/IPS.

Last year, Tunisia registered one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 14 percent. With nearly half of Tunisia’s population of 10 million under the age of 25, university graduates – who account for nearly 25 percent of the jobless – have been hardest hit.

Rising unemployment has struck a nerve with young people in Tunisia as many had hoped their successful ‘Jasmine Revolt’, which forced former president Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14, would quickly result in rapid job growth.

“I think the revolution that we need right now is one of the mind because the only way we will be able to progress forward is if people make changes within themselves,” 21-year-old Myriam Ben Ghazi tells IPS.

“Even after the revolution people are still thinking with the same mentality of the past and believing that nothing has really changed. But we have gained our freedom, we’re facing the corruption and in time we’ll grow economically.”

In the aftermath of Tunisia’s uprising the tourism sector – which employs about 500,000 and generates almost 3 billion dollars annually – plummeted more than 50 percent.


Tunisia’s central bank has reported a 2 billion dollar loss this year in tourism revenues and trade, mainly due to neighbouring Libya’s civil war. Of the nearly seven million tourists that visit Tunisia yearly, about two million are Libyans.

But some Tunisians are not buying the rhetoric that the market and a crippled tourism industry are the reasons why the interim government of Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi has failed to make good on promised reforms. “Many people talk about how tourism is down in Tunisia and how it has caused severe damage to our economy, but this is just politics,” 30-year-old medical doctor Abdullah Naybet said in an interview with IPS.

“The real issue is the corruption of the former régime and their failure to create employment and economic growth in the country. ”

“Ben Ali’s government made Tunisia look like a touristic country that couldn’t survive without tourism and they worked so hard to make us a one-source country while neglecting agriculture and commerce,” 23-year-old youth Rabii Kalboussi tells IPS.

“I believe Tunisia has great potential if the transitional government were to focus their attention on establishing development projects in sectors like agriculture because the country has many resources to draw upon that could at least provide for the internal needs without reliance on imported goods.”

According to a new poll by the Applied Social Sciences Forum, optimism amongst Tunisians fell from 32 percent in April to 24 percent in August.

The Central Tunisian town Sidi Bouzid, which is considered the birthplace of the uprising, recorded the highest levels of distrust in the progress of Tunisia’s revolution at 62.1 percent.

Lack of political reform, social development and a belief that remnants of Ben Ali’s Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) party are staging a counter-revolution has led to a series of strikes and protests in capital Tunis and surrounding towns in recent months.

To many Tunisians, the televised trials of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, while Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi are sentenced in absentia highlights the continued corruption.

Doubts over the independence of Tunisia’s judiciary were heightened following the escape of presidential aide Saida Agrebi and the release of former justice minister Bechir Tekkari and former transport minister Abderrahim Zouari. “Ben Ali’s trial is a piece of theatre. It’s basically a drug that they give the public in an attempt to calm the situation. Personally I wouldn’t even qualify what happened in Tunisia as a revolution. It was just a series of street protests that eventually forced Ben Ali and his family out of the country,” adds Kalboussi.

“It will take some time before people will be able to really trust the justice system because the same system that we’re fighting is the same system that is judging him.”

Just ahead of the country’s first free elections, mistrust has also translated into a lack of interest in exercising civic rights, with only four million of an estimated 7.5 million, or 13 percent of Tunisia’s eligible voters, registering to vote.

The Oct. 23 elections are aimed at creating a constituent assembly to reform the constitution, which was amended nine years ago after the Tunisian constitutional referendum of 2002.

“Most young Tunisians lack interest in the political sphere and fear that the current political players still maintain ties to the former régime, which prevents many from registering to vote,” adds Ben Ghazi.

“But we should focus our attention on the elections because voting is one way that young people can express their discontent to political leaders, and progress towards democracy.”

“The reality is that this generation will continue fighting to preserve the revolution,” adds Naybet. “But it will be the next generation that will actually reap the benefits.”

 
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