News / Middle East

Tunisia’s Troubled Transition Turns a Corner

Tunisian Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi (L) greets former Prime Minister Rachid Sfar (C) during a session of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), on October 23, 2012 in Tunis, (FETHI BELAID / AFP)
Tunisian Islamist Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi (L) greets former Prime Minister Rachid Sfar (C) during a session of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), on October 23, 2012 in Tunis, (FETHI BELAID / AFP)
Mohamed Elshinnawi
After months of turmoil, the assassinations of two leading secular politicians and a sinking economy, Tunisia’s leading political actors have managed to achieve something that has eluded governments elsewhere in the region – a political compromise between secular and Islamist political parties that puts in place a caretaker government designed to steer Tunisia towards elections next year.  

Tunisian Islamists under the banner of the Ennahda party and under the leadership of Rachid Ghannouchi won 40 percent of the vote in post-revolutionary parliamentary elections in October 2011.  But disenchantment soon set in with the Islamists seeming inability to manage a modern state, and anger over their perceived tolerance towards extremists blamed for assassinating secular politicians, Chokri Balaid and Mohammed Brahmi earlier this year. 

To defuse the crisis a national dialogue process was agreed to in September.  Intensive talks between Ennahda leader Ghannouchi and Beji Caid Essebsi, a former prime minister who emerged as the leader of Tunisia’s secular forces with his Nidaa Tounes party finally led to a political deal on December 15th

Now a caretaker government will lead Tunisia and agreement was reached on laying the groundwork for establishing a truth commission, and addressing extrajudicial killings, torture and rape that occurred under previous governments.

Osama Romdhani, former Tunisian Minister of Information, says many Tunisians are breathing a collective sigh of relief.

“The latest public opinion poll shows that 63 percent of Tunisians feel the selection of a technocrat to lead the new government provided a glimmer of hope,” Romdhani said. However he said there are challenges ahead.

“The socio-economic problem which has sparked the Tunisian uprising in December 2010 is still haunting youth and university graduates, with an unemployment rate as high as 22 percent in some areas,” Romdhani said.

He argues that a weak economy can’t create jobs and security issues have hurt Tunisia's all-important tourism sector.

“Proliferation of weapons from Libya contributed to a wider security gap that negatively impacted tourism as a major source of national income,” he said.

Extremism a danger for the future

Romdhani points to another serious challenge facing Tunisia.

“Extremist Salafi groups that resorted to assassinations of political leaders are a serious threat to any attempt to attract investment and tourism that are crucial to encounter the economic problem,” he said.

Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, is more hopeful about tackling the economic challenges.

“There are some signs of progress.  Tourism is picking up, and the Tunisian export sector can recover if the economic situation in Europe improves,” she said. But Ottaway doesn’t believe that Tunisia can expect much help from the European Union, Tunisia’s major economic partner, which is experiencing its own economic crisis.

Ottaway argues that in spite of the challenges, Tunisia’s transition remains the most successful of the Arab Spring.

“It is the only transition that has the hope of succeeding in generating a reasonably democratic government.” 

Marwan Muasher, Vice President of Studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is cautiously optimistic about prospects for a successful transition in Tunisia. 

"The process is more promising but still under threat," he said. "2014 will most likely see the approval of a new constitution and the holding of parliamentary elections.  The ruling Islamists face a real danger of losing to a secular coalition in those elections."

Tunisian transition as a model

David Pollock, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring, is now offering the region another valuable lesson.
 
“Probably it is the first time ever - anywhere - in which an Islamist party has voluntarily ceded political power, without civil war, mass violence, or military intervention of any kind,” he said. 
 
The fact that the Tunisian army is less involved in Tunisian politics and in its economy is a major factor, says Pollack, in avoiding what has taken place in Egypt.
 
Ottaway says she doesn’t expect that any potential success of Tunisia’s transition will have any positive impact on Egypt.
 
“What happened in Egypt is a military coup that produced a government that doesn’t tolerate any dissenting voice whether from right, center or left,” Ottaway said.
 
But Pollock says that Tunisia's largely secular society - at least by regional standards - makes it a possible model for its neighbors.
 
“Other Arab societies -- especially those that followed Tunisia's example of revolution - can begin moving toward a more promising future if they learn the lessons of this new Tunisian model as well,” Pollack said.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mike from: USA
December 21, 2013 7:07 AM
"a political compromise between secular and Islamist political parties that puts in place a caretaker government designed to steer Tunisia towards elections next year."
When will next year's elections be held? Has a date been set?

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs