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

China’s Influence Grows With New Infrastructure Bank

Multibillion-dollar China-backed and BRICS-supported Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank seen as possible challenger to such lenders as IMF, World Bank More

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

Rabbi Michel Serfaty makes the rounds in his friendship bus to encourage dialogue and break down barriers between the two groups More

Post-deal Iran Leaders Need 'Economic Momentum' to Solidify

Economists say deal could inject more than $100 billion into coffers - not enough to entirely rescue ailing economy - but maybe adequate to create 'economic momentum' 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.
US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impacti
X
Michael Bowman
June 28, 2015 10:05 PM
Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video US Gay Marriage Ruling Yields Real-life Impact

Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the United States is an outcome few thought possible just years ago, and shows a nation that increasingly tolerates and even celebrates the hopes and aspirations of gay people. VOA’s Michael Bowman spoke to a same-sex couple that will benefit from the high court ruling, and to a Christian scholar who is apprehensive about its potential consequences for America’s faith community.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Syrian Refugees Return to Tal Abyad

Syrian refugees in Turkey confirm they left their hometown of Tal Abyad because of intense fighting and coalition airstrikes, not because Kurdish fighters were engaged in ethnic cleansing, as some Turkish officials charged. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer, in Tal Abyad, finds that civilians coming back to the town agree, as we hear in this report narrated by Roger Wilkison.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Chemical-Sniffing Technology Fights Australia's Graffiti Vandals

Cities and towns all over the world spend huge amounts of resources battling graffiti writers who deface buildings, public transport vehicles and even monuments. Authorities in Sydney, Australia, hope a new chemical-sniffing technology finally will stop vandals from scribbling on walls in the passenger areas of commuter trains. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Cambodia Struggling to Curb Child Labor

Earlier this year a United Nations report found 10 percent of Cambodian children aged 7-14 are working – one of the highest rates in the region – and said one in four children in that age bracket are forced to quit school to help their families. Although the child labor rate has dropped over the past decade, Cambodia has a lot more to do – including keeping more children in school. Robert Carmichael reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

VOA Blogs