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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More