News / Middle East

Tunisians Fear Democracy Transition Stalling

Lisa Bryant
Almost a year after Tunisia held its first free elections, many fear the North African country's transition to a vibrant democracy has stalled. The economy is struggling, the government is divided, and Tunisians are locked in intensive debates about their future.

After a tumultuous 2011, things are getting back to normal. As the evening falls, Tunis residents gather in cafes to drink tea and maybe smoke a water pipe.

On the main Habib Bourguiba Avenue, coils of barbed wire and the occasional tank spark memories of last year's revolution - a revolution that triggered the wider Arab uprising.

Looking forward

Many here are worried about the future. Among them: architecture student Miriam Kricha, 19, who is strolling down Habib Bourguiba with her boyfriend.

Kricha says she's worried about finding work, even with a university diploma. She believes it will be especially difficult as a woman. 

Young people aren't the only ones looking for jobs. Former minister and diplomat Hatem Ben Salem says the government has sidelined a cadre of experienced civil servants from the old regime.

"They wanted to build Tunisia, to build a state, to develop the country. And they are here, looking at what is happening, and they are excluded," Ben Salem says, adding that what is happening in Tunisia is worrying.

Economy

The economy is struggling to get back on its feet. Tourists are back, but not in the droves of pre-revolutionary days and Tunisians complain that basic services and security have eroded.

Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, says despite its problems Tunisia is moving forward both economically and politically.

But Ghannouchi acknowledges that Tunisia is experiencing a very difficult democratic transition. After half a century of dictatorship, Tunisians are learning how to balance freedom and order.

Striking that balance isn't easy. Along with economic problems, there are enormous political and religious tensions.

Today, Arab Policy Institute head Fares Mabrouk says, a negotiations are underway over the role of government, civil society and human rights.

"Actually, it's a negotiation about what type of democracy we want. We have to create something new, something that does not exist. We don't have a reference," explains Mabrouk.

Islam's role

The role of Islam is among the biggest issues being debated in this young democracy. Rights advocates worry that conservative interpretations of the Muslim religion will roll back free expression and women's rights.

Extremist Islam is one of the biggest worries. Salafists are increasingly visible, not only on the streets but in politics.

Mokhtar Trifi is a senior member of the Tunisian League of Human Rights. Little by little, Trifi says, extremists are trying to impose an aggressive form of Islam. Sometimes through violence, sometimes through fear.

But Ghannouchi says Salafists have the right to air their views and form political associations - so long as they don't break the law. Free expression, he says, is one of the victories of the revolution.

Tunisia's transition to democracy is taking longer than many anticipated. There are growing doubts that parliament will complete the new constitution by its October deadline. Or that elections will be held early next year, as was hoped.

But hope is still something Tunisians like Mohamed Aouani believe in.

Aouani says completing the revolution will take time. And people here appear willing to wait for a better future.

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

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