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

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs